The Andy Warhol diaries
It’s hard to find a more fitting idea than that of a TV documentary made about the artist who wanted to be a television star: Andy Warhol. Netflix has just released a documentary series made by Andrew Rossi composed of six episodes and entitled “The Andy Warhol Diaries”, which is a true masterpiece.
People will always find things to complain about, such as the importance placed on the comments of the dealer Jeffrey Deitch or those of the artist Glenn Ligon over figures close to the artist like Vincent Fremont (See here an interview of him), Benjamin Liu, Bob Colacello (See here an interview of him) and Tama Janowitz, but the end result is a fascinating piece of work made up of composite material.
It’s innovative in that it focuses less on Warhol’s art and more on his romantic sentiment, a subject that hasn’t been covered much until now. Its primary asset, which makes it so captivating, lies in the vast array of documentation sourced from the vaults of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
The institution, which has been reluctant to grant access in the past, has clearly opened wide its archives. Andy collected everything from his daily life (cinema tickets, handwritten notes, menus) which he placed consciously in “time capsules”, but he also spent his time taking photos and videos.
This would justify the rather accurate description made by the art historian John Richardson at the memorial mass held for the artist on 1 April 1987 at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, who spoke of him as a “recording angel”.
Prodigious Andy’s reconstructed voice
The skilful televisual puzzle concocted by Andrew Rossi is completed by sections of docufiction footage in which a Warholian figure speaks on the telephone or sits in a studied blur by a window. But above all it is Andy’s reconstructed voice, created using artificial intelligence and which reads out his diaries, that is truly prodigious.
Warhol’s museum TV
Concomitantly, the Warhol Museum has just announced that it will be making public through streaming an entire video production by Warhol, which up until now were only accessible for a fee through the institutions that loaned them.
Petrified in front of a camera
Andy is a child of the television age, fascinated by the medium, and he ardently longed to feature on the magic box himself. People are often unaware of it, but he was nonetheless petrified whenever he was due to be on camera. He became flustered and tripped over his words.
His own television
That’s why between 1979 and 1987 he developed his own television shows with his own team, which would be broadcast on the major American cable channels.
I have always been interested in Warhol’s life, initially thanks to my friend Tim Hunt, who died in 2017, and who was for a long time curator at the Warhol foundation and opened up my curiosity towards him. In the early 2000s I noticed that television, in relation to and made by Warhol, was the last theme left to explore with regards to this great 20th century artist.
Warhol TV show
That is how I was appointed curator of the exhibition Warhol TV, which went on display in 2009 at the Maison Rouge, Fondation Antoine de Galbert in Paris, then at the Berardo Museum in Lisbon before being shown in Brazil in Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte.
To accompany this project I conducted a series of interviews, mainly in the United States, for which I still have the recordings, where I was seeking to learn about Warhol and his relationship with television. For me, the most fascinating aspect of it at the time was the fact that all these people were keeping a part of art history alive within themselves.
A real family
In fact, they seemed to constitute a real family, striving to keep the Warhol temple intact, while all the people who had been less acquainted with him sought instead to appropriate him.
Many of them have now passed away and since the various versions of the catalogues for my Warhol TV exhibition are now hard to find, here are some extracts that may serve to supplement Andrew Rossi’s project.
–Douglas Cramer (1931-2021). Producer of “The Love Boat” in which Andy Warhol played himself on the occasion of the 200th episode
“On set when the time came to speak his part he’d forgotten what he had to say, he giggled and got his words mixed up. It was very difficult. It took three days to get it done. On set he didn’t want to act. He couldn’t. He is one of the most complicated people I’ve ever met”.
–Brigid Berlin (1939-2020). Muse, friend and confidant to Andy Warhol.
I can honestly say that he wanted to know everything about our private lives. In the morning I would arrive at the factory and he would call out and say to me word for word: “Hi Brig, what’s new?” I’d say: “Nothing at all Andy. It’s 8h30.” “Ok Brig (…) So did you do it yesterday? Was it a big one?” You can guess what that meant.
Bob Colacello worked at the factory from 1970 to 1983. Writer.
Warhol’s leitmotiv was: fast, easy, cheap and modern.
Roger Prigent (1923-2012) fashion photographer
Andy told me “Forget Vogue. You don’t care. This is a country for the masses. If you go and see the magazines with bigger circulation they’ll be absolutely delighted to take you on”. I followed his advice. That’s how I became really famous. Even the TV guide had fashion pages.
Vincent Fremont, producer of all Warhol’s television programs.
The idea of doing television in his mind had nothing to do with making art. He just wanted to do a new TV show. He wanted to combine real art and television. At the time there was a TV show on PBS called “An American Family”. He was really envious of that show. It was in about 1973-74. We even met the family who starred in it.
Glenn O’Brien (1947-2017), legendary columnist in Interview magazine, writer.
The end of his life: you can’t generalize about that period. As for his career, some people may have thought that he was a very commercial artist, like when he did the portfolio for Mercedes. In his private life he was pretty lonely in the end, even if there were always people around him. In fact he was looking for love, which is not easy. Never easy.
John Giorno, poet artist (1936-2019)
At that time the art scene in New York consisted of very few people. A hundred and twenty-five people. Bob Rauschenberg hated Andy. People used to say that Bob was the grandfather of Pop Art and Andy was the father of Pop Art. That used to make Bob furious: “There’s only a year between us”. Andy loved Bob’s art.
Pierre Bergé, founder of the Yves Saint Laurent couture house, friend of Andy Warhol
“Oh Jesus!” He was always saying it. If he was given sushi at the restaurant or if he was told that the price of petrol had gone up he would simply reply: oh Jesus! He had no time for preconceived ideas.
Tama Janowitz, writer, close friend of AW
Once he was doing some public speaking at Rizzoli, the downtown bookstore, and some kids came and pulled off his wig and ran off with it. He lifted his head up and carried on reading. That was in 1986 I think. It was horrible.
Jay Shriver, painting assistant to Andy Warhol from 1980
It’s a shame that he did not get more recognition for his television work because a lot of shows have copied the ideas behind Warhol’s TV: the gossip magazine format, the studio shows with famous people and then that form of reality TV.
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