By John Gilman
They were celebrating Andy Warhol’s 90th birthday August 9th with a big champagne gala at the Whitney Museum, and when we were personally invited by Claire K. Henry, assistant curator of the Andy Warhol Film Project, as her special guests, we were told to dress up in a gala Warhol manner. First of all, we (Robert Heide and myself) knew that Andy’s actual birthday had occurred three days before, on August 6th, Hiroshima Day, and that his 90th in 2018 was not that exclusive because the nonagenarian shared his birth year with other world famous people including Mickey Mouse, Shirley Temple, and Edward Albee—of course all but Mickey are dead and most of us know that the cartoon icon who was hatched in the mind of his creator Walt Disney and is not an actual person at all (despite the grotesque humanoids imitating him in Times Square) was born November 18, 1928 when his starring role in the first talking film cartoon Steamboat Willie opened to great acclaim at the Colony Theatre in New York.
Mickey Mouse was a special favorite of Andy’s, as was Shirley Temple, who was one of the top money-makers in Hollywood while Andy was growing up in the Great Depression. He actually sent away for an inscribed picture of Shirley and later paid tribute to Mickey in several of his fabled art projects; it is also documented that Warhol met three-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Edward Albee several times, hobnobbing in New York’s social circles. We dressed carefully for Andy’s birthday party, which was put on as a preview of the largest exhibition (it will open this November 12 and will run through March 31, 2019, after which it will travel to Chicago and San Francisco) devoted to a single artist ever presented at the downtown Whitney and by far, the largest in scope, uniting all aspects, periods, and media in his 40 year career. The exhibition is entitled ‘Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again.’ Donna DeSalvo, deputy director of international initiatives at the Whitney and the senior curator of the entire show greeted us as we made our splashy entrance stepping out of the elevator onto the 5th floor of the futuristic new museum. Robert was wearing his summer Brooks Brothers seersucker suit, an understated backdrop to his sensational Warhol Foundation authorized single-can Campbell’s Tomato Soup T-shirt; I wore my grey1950s miracle fabric slacks with a rare vintage T-shirt featuring an image of Mark Jacobs in a Warhol wig on the cover of Interview Magazine, a specialty item created for Andy’s 80th birthday, 10 years earlier. Donna, shadowed by a New Yorker reporter writing her up for a Talk of the Town feature, was impressed as were we when she said that her re-appraisal of Warhol would examine his art and career as a continuum. She proclaimed that Andy’s intense experimentation in the Pop Art l960s and the later decades of the 70s and 80s “anticipated the digital age” and that he was a “seer of the 21st century.” Of course Andy has already been declared the most famous artist of the second half of the 20th century—Picasso took the prize for the first half. Scott Rothkopf, Whitney’s deputy director for programs says Warhol’s career is “an extremely rare case of an artist whose legacy grows only more potent and lasting— his example continues to inspire and awe—and even vex—new generations of artists and audiences with each passing year.”
Claire K. Henry, who is in the process of completing Volume ll of the Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne (the first volume which covered all of the Warhol ‘screen tests’ was published in 2006 by the late Callie Angell) has chosen a group of seminal films which will be shown at the exhibition on a continuous loop in their original 16 millimeter format. The catalogue Miss Henry is working on in conjunction with the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and MOMA covers Warhol’s films made between 1963-1968 among which are The Bed, Warhol’s split screen film version of Robert Heide’s famous play which premiered at the Caffe Cino in 1965, as well as Lupe, a film written by Mr. Heide for the luminous Edie Sedgwick; a lost reel of this latter film was recently found by the filmmaker and Whitney film scholar Tom Kalin. The party was a huge success, and in addition to the champagne there was dancing to the music of the 60s and 70s provided by a talented DJ on the main floor overlooking the Hudson River; it also afforded attendees the opportunity to view other simultaneous exhibits including David Wojnarowicz’s ‘History Keeps Me Awake at Night’ (featuring a photo by the artist of his mentor Peter Hujar—dead) which runs through the end of September. As a team, Robert Heide and I (with our late good friend ‘Hoop’ the self proclaimed ‘King of Art’—who loved anything and everything Warhol) presided over some far out and spectacular Andy Warhol birthday parties ourselves at the Gershwin Hotel in the heady days of the 20 aughts and teens. In attendance, among others, were such Warhol luminaries as Ultra Violet, Taylor Mead, Billy Name, Mario Montez, Bebe Hansen, Jamie Warhola, Ivy Nicholson, and Penelope Palmer.