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Friday, July 27, 2012

NAT FINKELSTEIN AND ANDY WARHOL: THE FACTORY YEARS

andy, the double tambourine picture by nat finkelstein


Sitting here looking through a book of photographs by Nat Finkelstein called ANDY WARHOL: The Factory Years, 1964-1967. Finkelstein was a photographer in New York when the Warhol Factory was happening. He saw right away this was something that needed recording. He was thinking of some of the photographers of the day making picture books from New Guinea and other remote places. Finkelstein saw that the Warhol bunch of "superstars" were as remote as someplace uncharted. He said he felt like a spy photographer. He was not one of them, but he moved about among them freely. His text is as good as the photographs, full of insightful humor about the people involved. They were largely upper middle class drug addict runaways. People with absolutely no inner resources posing for cameras and being in the scene. What they amounted to, simply, was junkies. Warhol was not a junkie. He was a manipulator who used everyone around him.


Finkelstein said of Edie Sedgwick of big California money, a vacant twit who lifted into the air for a moment of stardom when Vogue photographed her, but there was nothing to follow it up. For a moment, she was the next new thing in New York. "She was a representative of something so selfish and so superficial that the only thing she was able to destroy or change was herself. Her life is a pop tragedy, a manufactured, superficial tragedy. American society produces disposables, Edie was not Bionic woman, but Disposable woman." Edie had a period of time as Bob Dylan's lover, who hated that she hung with the Warhol crowd. He wrote LIKE A ROLLING STONE about her. Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you. People call, say, beware doll, you're bound to fall, you thought they were all kiddin you. You used to laugh about everybody that was hangin out....


Several years ago I found a paperback biography in the grocery store, EDIE, the story of Edie Sedgwick. Expecting it to be boring, I started in the middle when she got up with the Warhol crowd. It turned out to be so good that I went from the last page to the first page and read up to where I began. Pathetic individual, the kind you're glad other people know. A film turned up called CIAO MANHATTAN, showing Edie after she fell through the bottom in New York when she was living in the deep end of the swimming pool at home in California with a tarp over it to keep the rain out. It was her room. The drain took care of the rain water that came in at the shallow end. It was a totally cheezy film, but it was interesting as a companion to the biography. Her story paralleled Janis Joplin's in that both were junkies who fell through the bottom and died. Only Edie had no talent, no mind, nothing at all but looks and money. They bought her a place near the top when she appeared in New York, but she didn't have what it took to sustain it. She was a definition of a shooting star. She didn't even give off much light, just fizzled.


Finkelstein goes on about Warhol, "Andy was a hunter-gatherer. Edie was one of the things that he collected. He toyed with her, played with her, just like a child plays with a watch, destroys it and throws it aside. Everything became Andy's material. All the casualties that came around him...none of these people were really important to him. They each were searching for self-importance, but never realized that they were only raw material, that's what destroyed them." I've had this book for several years, c1989, have looked through it several times, looking at the black and white photographs that are awfully good photographs. This is the first time I looked at the text. I tend not to read text in art books or photography books, because it's not what I want. I want the image. I'd rather look at Robert Motherwell's Ode To The Spanish Republic than read about it. I don't care about the private life of an artist. It's the work I prefer. Though a good biography of an artist is good reading, like Georgia O'Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Whistler.


I've read I think three biographies of Warhol, saw a couple of documentary films about him, saw some of his films when they were current, have a book of his works, a book of his photographs called AMERICA, a book of black and white photos by Billy Name in the Factory. I regard him an artist of tremendous influence when it comes to his place in the art world. He thought his name and art would fade away like Dale Evans, but I don't believe it's going to be like that. Freak that he was, and he really was a freak, he made American art all the way. He illustrated American glitter. The glitter was his subject. Funny thing is, he got it right. America is glitter. We're not aware that in quality of life we figure way down the list in countries of the world, because it's glossed over with glitter, television glitter. Warhol, who, himself, was nothing more than a shell of an individual, like nobody home, surrounded himself with people who, themselves, were vacancies. They kept him going with ideas, distraction, labor, "actors" in films. They were his volunteer staff.


Then one day, a shit happens moment occurred when this man-hating victim of a son-of-a-bitch daddy, Valerie Solanis, shot Andy Warhol because he would not make a film of her screenplay. She had a lesbian society called SCUM, Society for Cutting Up Men. She was the only member. Saw a fairly good film made of her life, I Shot Andy Warhol. Well made film of the life of somebody from the bottom. They have valid stories, too. When Andy hit the floor, the Factory, the way of life, the friends, the distractions all came fluttering down like falling pixels to the floor around him. It was all over. He survived, but only slightly. He didn't trust people so much anymore. He started aspiring to the upper class New York jet set where he would be taken in as the token artist at the cocktail parties. I still have the clipping from the NY Times of the Warhol shooting. As they would say in his crowd, he was a sick bitch. Gauguin was too. Dali was too. Who isn't in the world of art? You have to be a sick bitch to have an artist eye. It's about inability to do anything else but make art, whatever the form. As an artist, himself, Finkelstein had the good fortune to recognize something was going with Warhol early on, and filled the need for a photographer to make reality of the ongoing party.

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