POP: THE GENIUS OF ANDY WARHOL
by Tony Scherman and David Dalton
Reviewed by Robert Sievert
I remember in or around 1975 going to
OK Harris to
see Andy Warhol's show of large 'political'
paintings of Mao and his 'Hammer And Sickles'
wanting to hate them, but resigned that they were
just too good to disparage. Warhol had made
serious painting irrelevant, which annoyed me.
Reading this book was quite a revelation. I really
admire the scholarship that made the intense
decade of Warhol's genius come to life. Moment by
moment details begin with Andy moving into his
Upper East Side townhouse in August of 1960, bought
with the earnings he made doing commercial art.
Slowly he insinuated himself into the art world
which by 1960 had tired of Abstract Expressionism
and was in search of new phenomena. His fey
passive aggressive personality is wonderfully
illustrated as Andy makes his way into the fine
art world. His goals were fame and money and he
was the archduke of "camp". From the earliest days
he was in New York he pursued a life of camp
starting with a devotion to a tea shop called
Serendipity 3 on East 60th street. The authors
offer a continuous, day-by-day who, what and where.
Susan Sontag describes camp as a vision of the
world in terms of style -- but a particular kind of
style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the
"off of things." Throughout his career Warhol
pursued the totally different; not always
intellectually secure in his reasons, he sent
Gerard Malanga across the street to the
supermarket to purchase items he could paint.
Malanga is a continuous presense in the book,
minion, evil genius and co-inventor of Warhol's
silk screening technique and perhaps the only
"straight" man in the Warhol coterie of homosexual
men. It took a while for Warhol to catch on but
eventually one of his Silver Elvises sold for
$720,000. Bored with painting he began to make
He declared "Painting is dead" and in his infamous
Factory cavorted with speed fueled drag queens.
Warhol's use of obetrol, a speed-like drug, is well
documented with prescription records. Soon he is
producing films of New York's underbelly. As his
weird films caught on Andy Warhol became more and
more a brand.
He invented a rock group which he tried to tour
the country with -- The Velvet Underground, but
America was not ready for his brand of nihilistic
decadence, They were booed out of San Francisco
where a more communal celebration of love, ecstasy
and music hummed on acid vibes was happening. (The
Warhol crowd feasted on speed and heroin.) They
sort of make today's vampire films and video shows
seem clean-cut by comparison.
Warhol films were mainly improvised situations
where the actors got high and proceeded to "act on
camera" I remember loving Viva in Bike Boy
and Joe Dallasandro in Trash. They were
what my friend Robert Smithson called "advanced".
While I did not know Andy Warhol, I did know
Smithson who also made a meteoric climb to the top
of the art world and had a very similar
passive-aggressive homosexual take on the New York
The authors felt that Warhol had hit bottom long
before Valerie Solanas shot him in a paranoid
delusion in 1968. The film I Shot Andy Warhol
documents and validates much of what is recounted
in the book. I find both to be fascinating
breathtaking documents of an era that still seems
immediate although it was close to 50 years ago.
Nico (Detail of book illustration, from frame of 'Chelsea