By Robert Heide
The title for the spectacular new Whitney art show is simply Andy Warhol From A to B and Back Again. The chief curator of the show is Donna De Salvo who has assembled a fully comprehensive Warhol art retrospective of more than 350 of his world famous Pop Art originals. Warhol had been turning out his Pop silk screens, lithographs, and experimental films for over four decades and this show to my mind is pure Americana at its best. The extravagant show which one viewer I overheard at the gala premier party refer to as “Warholmania” opened to the public on November 12, 2018 and will remain there until March 31, 2019, after which it will be seen in Chicago and San Francisco. My partner John Gilman and I were invited to a press preview held at the Museum from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on November 6. The New York Times and the Daily News were there as well as press reps I talked to from Chicago, Canada and other far-away places. In the afternoon John and I had lunch and went on to cast our mid-term election votes.
After that came a short rest followed by the VIP opening reception where superstars from the Warhol Factory years like Bibbe Hansen, Penelope Palmer, Bob Colacello, and Danny Fields were in attendance. Where was Bob Dylan, I wondered, who was often at the Factory and who once sat while Andy filmed him for his Screen Test series? On hand was Jamie Warhola, Andy’s nephew, who has written and illustrated wonderful children’s books, with one describing his visits with his Uncle Andy when he was a child. During my own halcyon days at the Factory I acted in two Warhol films playing opposite the famous avant-garde filmmaker and actor Jack Smith (Dracula/Batman and Camp). After seeing my play in 1965, The Bed (with two attractive men together in bed), Andy decided to make a film of it. John and I saw Andy’s split screen version of The Bed at Jonas Mekas’ Filmmakers Cinemateque on 41st Street that year. A few weeks ago we were invited to the Whitney archives at a gigantic warehouse in Chelsea near 12th Avenue where Claire Henry, the Whitney curator writing Warhol’s Film Catalogue Raisonne showed us scans of sections of film of The Bed, remarkable to see so many years later. Currently the seven reels (three and a half hours) of footage are being scanned and digitized in conjunction with the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art and Pittsburg’s Warhol Museum
Alas, at this juncture, many Warhol superstars are no longer with us, including some who were my good friends such as Billy Name, Ultra Violet, Ingrid Superstar, Taylor Mead and the singer-songwriter Lou Reed. In 2007 at the Gershwin Hotel a crowd of us who were referred to as Warholites, including all of the above, received beautifully executed Warhol “superstar” awards featuring a large shining silver-chromium star sitting atop a Lucite base with names engraved such as “Sally Kirkland—Superstar” who, yes, is still out there in Hollywood making movies. For years Sally lived upstairs from me on Christopher Street. Absent at the Whitney reception were Gerard Malanga who worked alongside Warhol for years helping him make his giant silk screens of car crashes, suicide leaps out of buildings, and skulls as well as his famous Campbell Soup cans and celebrity silk screen portraits of Chairman Mao, Elvis Presley, Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlon Brando. Also not there was artist Alan Midgette who for many years put on a white Andy wig and went on lecture tours to colleges and high schools as a pretend “stand-in” for Andy, and yes, Andy of course set that up.
Another Whitney “special” pre-opening invited-only event took place earlier at the Whitney August 9th to celebrate Andy’s 90th birthday (see WestView News, September 2018—“Andy’s and Everyone Else’s 90th Birthday,” by John Gilman). Though he died in 1987, birthday parties continued at places like the Gershwin Hotel on August 6, his actual birthday, which is also the day in 1945 the first atom bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Others born in 1928 include Shirley Temple, Edward Albee and one of Andy’s favorites whom he painted giant repetitive images of—Mickey Mouse! At the Warhol 90th birthday party at the Whitney this year I had my own 15 minutes of fame when I was interviewed by Sarah Larson in the ‘Talk of the Town’ section of the New Yorker’s August 27th edition that went thusly:
Upstairs De Salvo encountered the playwright Robert Heide (seersucker suit, Campbell’s-soup-can t-shirt, cane) and his partner John Gilman (Interview-cover shirt). In 1965 Warhol filmed Heide’s play The Bed, first performed at the theatre Caffe Cino, about two men who stay in bed for days. Heide also wrote a screenplay for Warhol’s movie Lupe from 1966, starring Edie Sedgwick. “I really miss him, as a person today” Heide said, “he was sort of like a little child. I could be quiet with him. But he was interested in gossip.” As Heide told a story that involved a café, Sedgwick crying into a glass of brandy, Warhol and a Blonde on Blonde-era Bob Dylan pulling up in a limousine, Gilman reached into Heide’s suit pocket, extracted a pair of reading glasses, and turned back to his conversation.
In the New York Times Arts and Leisure section Sunday November 4 a huge visual layout on Warhol ran with two super articles by Blake Gopnik, one entitled Legacy of Business Art and the other Myths and the Man. Blake and I chatted at the reception about his giant forthcoming biography of Warhol, which he is finishing up for publication in 2019. He told me the page numbers may reach one thousand. Another writer, Thomas Kiedrowski, was on hand also. Thomas wrote a popular guidebook focusing in on everywhere Andy lived and worked and hung out, entitled Andy Warhol’s New York City, published in 2011 by The Little Bookroom. Continuing the Andy publicity on November 15 in the Styles section of the New York Times, Guy Trebay and Ruth Ferla put together a splendid and informative oral history with the headline Andy’s Factory: A Look Back focusing in on some of those who were regulars at the Factory over the years. Photos of “superstars” like Viva, writer Fran Leibowitz, and the infamous super-drag queens Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn are a part of the report as well as Lou Reed and the hunky sex symbol Joe Delassandro. Mary Woronov and Viva speak frankly about Andy’s often peculiar inverted personality. I (also featured) talk about Andy’s early torrid sex-love affair with the photographer Edward Wallowitch (a disciple of Edward Steichen) in the early sixties. A photo still of me in the article is from the Warhol film Batman/Dracula. Warholmania or Warhol in Wonderland USA yeah! That’s what it’s all about. Do not miss this great Whitney show. It’s fantastic all-the-way-a-must-go-have-a look. Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, whitney.org.
Robert Heide’s book Robert Heide 25 Plays includes the plays The Bed and I Shop: Andy Warhol and the film script for Lupe and is available at bookstores and on Amazon. Many of Andy’s films including Lupe are also available online.