New York: Lipper / Viking (Penguin Lives), 2001.
$21.95, 230 pages, ISBN 0670030007.
October Files #2
Edited by Annette Michelson
Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002.
$40.00, 142 pages, ISBN 0262134063 (hardback).
$14.95, 142 pages, ISBN 026263242X (paperback).
Université de Rouen
This is the second Warhol-related review Ive written for Cercles,
and presumably it wont be the last, as there is plenty of room
for more: how can anyone hope to produce the definitive analysis and
/ or biography of someone who has reached such a flabbergasting mythic
status? How can any muckraker and / or academic ever hope to become
a universally acclaimed authority on Warhols (private) life
and / or artistic production?
Andy Warhol by Wayne Koestenbaum has a superb cover, there is
a circular hole in the dust jacket that allows you to see a black
& white picture of Warhols face, and underneath there are
interesting graphics. The publisher has given other celebrities the
same treatment, but it is particularly fitting for Warhol, as this
presentation is somewhat Warholian.
Wayne Koestenbaum is a professor of English at the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York. I have yet to read his poetrywhich
I am told / sure is rather good, but I have read and enjoyed his non-poetry
works. He has already delighted readers with books like Cleavage:
Essays on Sex, Stars, and Aesthetics (2000), The Queens
Throat: Opera, Homosexuality and the Mystery of Desire (1993)
and Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon (1995). The
latter in particular demonstrated Koestenbaums rare talent for
camp scholarship (no, thats not an oxymoron). That book is an
extraordinary mixture of politics, psychology, sociology, media studies,
cultural studies, Queer Theoryyou name it. Oh yes, and biography.
Some of its lines will forever remain associated to Jacqueline Kennedy,
at least in my mind. When I first went to New York I was mesmerized
one morning by a T-shirt in a Christopher Street shop-window. Of course,
the owner of the place had been clubbing all night and only opened
at lunchtime, so I came back in the afternoon to buy it. The front
bore a picture of Jackie, sporting an amazing bouffant hairdo, and
the back quoted what has my hairdo got to do with my husbands
ability to be president? I decided there and then that I would
teach at some university when I grew up, just so I could teach a course
on the Kennedys and talk about Jackies hairdos (since I could
not be a Kennedy). Years later, I read in Koestenbaums book:
These are excessive hairdos. In their artifice, they are nearly obscene:
or their monumentality surpasses the proper function of
a hairdo. So large is the hair, it seems a mission. Looking at photos
of Jackie with her hair at its hugest, I marvel at the willpower and
audacity implied. Who but Jackie could have carried it off?
That text is extracted from a chapter which is actually entitled Jackies
hairdos. Who but Koestenbaum could have carried it off? He is
totally unembarrassed to tell us that he first dreamed about
Jackie when he was nineteen: they kissed, and tresses of her
bouffant got tangled in [his] mouth. He also writes, memorably:
I suppose that her hairdo is a sexual object, or that I am treating
it like one, though I am not aroused by her hairdos. I admire them;
they blur the distinction between real hair and wig, an ambiguity
that advertises her superior sense of irony, as if she were getting
away with petty theft. [
] I am tempted, watching the progression
of Jackies hairdos, to see them as [
] allegories for her
movement through lifes rigmaroleeach hairdo a Station
of the Cross. [
] Each year her hair grew larger, reaching its
climax in the late 1960s; ever afterward it remained a fortress, inviting
us to lionize it. I consider her hairdos to be like Zeppelins or Goodyear
blimps. Her hairdos are hyperbolically sized and they encourage, in
Indeed. The rest is just as good, with sections entitled Jackie
and Liz, Exotic Jackie, Jackies sunglasses
and scarf, Dream Jackie, etc. Plus historical depth
and analytical insight. And, I am rather glad to say, Andy Warhol
has been given a similar treatment in Koestenbaums new book.
Camp scholarship again, again fitting the subject like a glove. Although
I suppose this book is less flippant than the Jackie book; and you
can read it on its own, as it were, whereas it does no harm to read
Jackie Under My Skin as a companion piece to a classical
History book on the Kennedys. Besides, you feel that Koestenbaum does
not admire Warhol quite as much as he admires Jacqueline Kennedy.
It is adequately divided into three parts, Before, The
Sixties, and After, and the middle part is adequately
longer than the others. Koestenbaum does not linger on Warhols
early or 60s paintings, yet details his 70s and 80s paintings. He
has a lot of stimulating things to say about Warhols films though,
and about daily life at the Factory. I am not entirely sure I agree
with him as far as distinguishing between private and public life
is concerned; indeed at some point he uses the phrase home life
(as opposed to private life), as he himself knows that with Warhol,
things are not so simple. He writes for instance:
split between public and private operated as surgically in Andys
case as in the career of a proper Victorian gentleman named Oscar
Wilde, whose wife stayed at home while the aphorist invented decadence
at dim hotels.
To me the distinction should be at least threefold, and not simply
twofold: Wildes private life #1 as a married man, Wildes
private life #2 as a voyeuristic aesthete / homosexual, and Wildes
public persona, gracing salons with his wit and lilied lapels. Likewise,
Warhols private life #1, close to his mother, possibly not bewigged,
church-going, bourgeois homosexual, etc., Warhols semi-private
semi-public life at the Factory as a voyeuristic aesthete / homosexual,
in total Warhol gear but grooving on all sorts of shenanigans
involving sex and drugs and rock n roll; and Warhols
public life. And I am grossly oversimplifying. I regret one thing:
that Koestenbaum is very much an opera buff and not a rock n
roll guy, so he does not make much of The Velvet Underground, candidly
telling us that it is not exactly his cup of tea and so we should
not expect analytical feats in that area of Warhols endeavours.
Call me a sectarian, but to me Lou Reed and Nico provide a much better
soundtrack to Warhols works than La Callas.
Otherwise, Koestenbaum duly records the excesses of the compulsive
shopper, the antics of the collector (of antiques and other stuff),
the groupie tactics of the star-struck stargazer (in every sense of
the word), the editorial policies of the Interview guru and
the nightclubbing of the Studio 54 patron. His book has become my
new favourite Warhol book, and God knows Ive read plenty (Warhol
is actually one of the closest things to God in my universe). I recommend
it warmly (in spite of its lack of index) for some of its tremendous
dont know how someone who turned thinking into sex, and sex
back again into thinking, could be called asexual. If anything he
How gay was Warhol? As gay as you can get. [
] Like another wig
artist, Mae West, he infused sex into every sigh.
Perhaps Andy needed to put feelings behind him if he wanted
to turn, like Lana Turner or Henri Matisse, into a myth.
Warhol appreciated any immediately recognizable image, regardless
of its value. In 1963, when he began wearing a silver wig, his own
appearance (documented in self-portraits) acquired the instantaneous
legibility that he demanded of Pop objects.
Of course, in a Warholian perspective, it is the fact that they are
immediately recognizable that gives those images their value.
Among the new Warhol books, Andy Warhol, intelligently edited
by Annette Michelson (with a very welcome index), does not fail to
inspire either. It was released in March 2002 but it is a collection
of five essays that came out after the Pope of Pop Arts death:
Benjamins H.D. Buchlohs Andy Warhols One-Dimensional
Art 1956-1966 (1989), Annette Michelsons Where Is
Your Rupture? Mass Culture and the Gesamtkunstwerk (1991), Thomas
Crows Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early
Warhol (1996), Hal Fosters Death in America (1996)
and Rosalind E. Krausss Carnal Knowledge (1996).
There is also an interview with the king of the postmodern conducted
by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh in 1985.
Hal Foster is often remembered as the editor of The Anti-Aesthetic
(constantly reprinted since 1983, notably as Postmodern Culture),
a book of essays that are very helpful if you try to define the postmodern.
Foster, who calls Warhol the great idiot savant of our time
begins Death in America with a J.G. Ballard quote, from
The Atrocity Exhibition. Thats pre-The Empire of the
Sun Ballard, when he was still young and British and subversive
and hadnt yet been Hollywoodized and French-Rivierized into
distressing harmlessness. That quote says it all, and in a twelve-page
article and sixty-one notes (!), Foster calls upon Barthes and Lacan
and Ballard again to address notably Warhols morbid
paintings in an engagingsometimes practically engagéway,
pointing out how some may project all sorts of things onto the smooth
surface of Warholand. One of the things I like about Foster is that
he does not take all that Baudrillard-the-image-as-simulacral-and-nothing-else
thing as Gospel, unlike others. If you are interested in the way Warhols
works and Ballards reflect each other, incidentally, I strongly
suggest you read Jeremy Reeds novels, especially Diamond
Nebula (1994). You also get Bowie and Madonna and Marilyn for
the same price. Reeds novels are to fiction what Krauss, Crow
and Michelson are to criticism.
Buchlohs piece deals with the (lack of) opposition between Warhol
the business / low art artist and Warhol the museum / high art artist:
Toward the end of his career, Warhol seems to have successfully
integrated the two halves of the dialectic of consumption, his existence
between what he once called his favorite places to go,
the department store and the museum. Buchloh speaks of Warhols
strategically brilliant blagues and strives to
determine what the painters schemes owe to modernism. He wonders
about techniques as much as subject matter and sometimes seems to
be defining the postmodern without actually saying thats what
hes doingwhich is postmodern I suppose. In his article
as well as in his interview of the Factory master, Buchloh seems amusingly
desperate to verify that Warhol was influenced by John Cage,
but Warhol was so good at resisting theory, even if he is a perfect
support for theory
Warhol is surprisingly articulate in the
interview, but then it dates back to 1985, when he no longer sounded
so much like a cross between the village idiot and an inspired centuries-ahead-of-us