By Robert Heide
At 222 East 6th Street (just off the Bowery) the ultra-modernistic Ukrainian Museum—which features multiplex galleries and a charming gift shop selling authentic embroidered shirts, dresses, books and oddities from Central Europe—is now presenting a splendid exhibition entitled Andy Warhol: Endangered Species. The ten striking silkscreen prints commissioned by Ronald Feldman (Feldman Fine Arts) and executed by Warhol in 1983 are portraits of the San Francisco Silver Spot (butterfly), the Pine Barrens Tree Frog, the Bald Eagle (now making a return to Long Island, according to a recent news report), the galloping Grevy’s Zebra, the climbing (Rocky Mountain) Bighorn Ram, a Siberian Tiger, a Black Rhinoceros, an African Elephant, an Orangutan, and a Giant Panda. In addition to these ten artworks is an eleventh image (a different size from the others), a Sea Turtle, which was added to the portfolio in 1985. All of these are at the Ukrainian Museum until February 7, 2019, on view to the public Wednesdays through Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The museum is celebrating the 35th anniversary of this collection—on loan from the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming—which was originally exhibited in 1983 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Warhol made 100 prints of this evocative group of animals and donated them to ten different conservation organizations involved in fundraising efforts.
James (Jamie) Warhola, Andy Warhol’s nephew, is a consultant for this remarkable exhibit. He has included memorabilia, from his own personal collection, such as dime-store Depression era Big Little Books with titles like Houdini’s Book of Magic and Dick Tracy and Dick Tracy Junior. On one wall is an oil painting of a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup done by Jamie at age fifteen in honor of his Uncle Andy. Later, Jamie went on to his own career illustrating and writing popular children’s books including Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous Visit with Andy Warhol and Uncle Andy’s Cats, both on sale at the museum’s gift shop. Also, in a glass vitrine, visitors will see Campbell’s soup can labels signed and inscribed by Andy Warhol.
Andy Warhol was born on August 6, 1928. He was baptized as Andrew Varchola which later became Warhola with Andy ultimately dropping off the last “a.” His family had lived as peasants in the mountainous regions of Eastern Slovakia and were identified as Carpatho-Rusyns, referring to themselves as Ruthenians when they emigrated to the United States; today there are over one million Carpatho-Rusyns living in America. Andy’s parents settled in a Ruthenian community in Pittsburgh and spoke the Rusyn dialect at home. Deeply religious, they attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic church where, later, Warhol said he was influenced by the portraits of Jesus Christ. The colors and golden gilt in the icons and religious paintings are reflected in his portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor and others, which also incorporated the super bright colors used in Ukrainian and Polish Easter egg decoration. Andy remained committed to the Greek Catholic church.
I first met Andy in the Village in 1958 through photographer Edward Wallowitch. I spent a great deal of time with him at the Factory, where I appeared in two of his movies—Dracula/Batman and Camp—which starred the eccentric Jack Smith. He made a split-screen filmed version of my play The Bed, which was originally performed at the Caffe Cino on Cornelia Street. The film is now being digitally restored, under the supervision of Whitney Museum curator Claire K. Henry, by a triumvirate of museums which includes the Warhol Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. At Andy’s request, I also wrote a film scenario based on the tragic suicide of Lupe Velez (the Hollywood star known as “the Mexican spitfire”) for his top superstar Edie Sedgwick. It was the last of Edie’s many films for Andy.
Andy became my mentor and a forever friend that I will never forget. Now an icon for the ages, I still miss him on a personal and creative level.
Andy Warhol from A to B and Back Again, the largest exhibition at the downtown Whitney devoted to a single artist, opens on November 12th and runs through March 31, 2019. According to chief curator Donna De Salvo, it is a reappraisal which examines his art and career as a continuum. She has also said that Andy “anticipated the digital age” and “was a seer of the 21st Century.”
Robert Heide’s new book, entitled “Robert Heide 25 Plays,” is available at select stores and on Amazon; it includes “The Bed,” a new play called “I Shop: Andy Warhol,” and the scenario for the Warhol film “Lupe.”