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About the Author
Wayne Koestenbaum is professor of english at CUNY's Graduate School and is the author of several books of criticism, essays, and poetry. He lives in New York City.
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I'LL BE YOUR MIRRORThe selected Andy Warhol Interviews 1962-1987
By Andy Warhol
Carroll & Graf PublishersCopyright © 2004 Kenneth Goldsmith
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Pop Art? Is It Art? A Revealing Interview with Andy Warhol"
Art Voices, December 1962
The fall of 1962 was the season of Pop and an explosive time for Andy Warhol. While he had gained notoriety in Los Angeles that summer showing his Campbell's soup can paintings for the first time, he was still without representation from a major New York gallery. This changed when he was unexpectedly offered a November solo show at the prominent Stable Gallery where he exhibited silkscreened paintings of Marilyn Monroe, soup cans, dollar bills, and Coke bottles. The show, which was lauded by the art world, subsequently sold out, making Warhol a leader of the fledgling movement.
Warhol's show coincided with his inclusion in the group exhibition "New Realists" at the established Sidney Janis Gallery, which was the most talked-about art show of the season. The show-a pivotal moment for the New York art world-represented a changing of the guard. The Janis Gallery, which had made its name in the 1950s presenting the previous generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, suddenly switched its alliance, showing new artists like Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg for the first time. The style, as yet still unnamed, was dubbed "Pop Art" a few weeks later on December 13 at a symposium of critics, collectors, dealers, and artists at the Museum of Modern Art.
The following interview from a small art journal picks up on the zeitgeist of the moment with the tag line "Love is not sweeping the nation, Pop Art is." In this interview, Warhol introduces many of the strategies that he would use with remarkable consistency over the following 25 years: elusiveness, passivity, and mirroring.
An excerpt from the interview's introduction sets the stage: "We visited Warhol in his studio and found the young man to be a true original-fey, wry, impossible to engage in serious conversation. He is a lark. We said let us interview you as spokesman for Pop Art, and he said no, let me interview you. We said no, let us interview you. Well, he said, only if I may answer your questions with Yes and No. We sat on a sofa, surrounded by new canvases of Marilyn Monroe and Troy Donahue (the latter is Warhol's favorite movie star only he has never seen him on the silver screen). Movie, baseball and physical culture magazines were strewn about. Bookshelves, barren of books, held cans of beer, fruit juice, cola bottles. Jukebox pop tunes played incessantly so we yelled our first question above "Many a tear has to fall, but it's all in the game." -KG
QUESTION: What is Pop Art?
QUESTION: Good way to interview, isn't it?
QUESTION: Is Pop Art a satiric comment on American life?
QUESTION: Are Marilyn and Troy significant to you?
QUESTION: Why? Are they your favorite movie stars?
QUESTION: Do you feel you pump life into dead cliches?
QUESTION: Does Pop Art have anything to do with Surrealism?
ANSWER: Not for me.
QUESTION: That's more than one word. Sick of our one-word game?
QUESTION: Do billboards influence you?
ANSWER: I think they're beautiful.
QUESTION: Do Pop Artists defy abstract expressionism?
ANSWER: No, I love it.
QUESTION: Do Pop Artists influence each other?
ANSWER: It's too early to say anything on that.
QUESTION: This is not a Kennedy press conference. Is Pop Art a school?
ANSWER: I don't know if there is a school yet.
QUESTION: How close is Pop Art to "Happenings?"
ANSWER: I don't know.
QUESTION: What is Pop Art trying to say?
ANSWER: I don't know.
QUESTION: What do your rows of Campbell soup cans signify?
ANSWER: They're things I had when I was a child.
QUESTION: What does Coca Cola mean to you?
Chapter Two"Warhol Interviews Bourdon"
DAVID BOURDON 1962-63 Unpublished manuscript from the Andy Warhol Archives, Pittsburgh
Art critic David Bourdon conducted this interview during the Christmas holidays following the heady Fall 1962 season. The two had originally met at a party on the Upper East Side in the late 1950s when Warhol was at the peak of his career as a successful commercial illustrator, before turning to Pop Art. Both collected art and they began going to galleries together. In the early '60s, after not having seen each other for some time, Bourdon happened to pick up an art magazine and read that a new artist named Andy Warhol was going to be showing some paintings of soup cans. He called his old friend in disbelief and asked if, in fact, he was the same Andy Warhol that he had known as a top commercial artist. Warhol confirmed this and over the next few years Bourdon became one of Warhol's staunch supporters and confidants.
As part of Warhol's inner circle, Bourdon was involved in many Factory activities, from helping silkscreen silver Elvis paintings to sitting for a three-minute screen test, eating a banana as slowly as he could. With Warhol's help, Bourdon went on to become an art critic for the Village Voice in 1964. In 1966 he was hired as Life magazine's art critic, thus exposing Pop to a national audience. Bourdon's support of Warhol continued for the rest of his life, culminating in his authoritative art-critical text, Warhol, published in 1989. David Bourdon died in 1998.
All notations and corrections found on the original manuscript have been retained by the present editor. -KG
Interview begun 12/24/62, completed 1/14/63 Draft dated 4/22/63
WARHOL: Am I really doing anything new?
BOURDON: You are doing something new in making exclusive use of second-hand images. In transliterating newspaper or magazine ads to canvas, and in employing silk screens of photographs, you have consistently used preconceived images.
W: I thought you were about to say I was stealing from somebody and I was about to terminate the interview.
B: Of course you have found a new use for the preconceived image. Different artists could use the same preconceived images in many different ways.
W: I just like to see things used and re-used. It appeals to my American sense of thrift.
B: A few years ago, Meyer Schapiro wrote that paintings and sculptures are the last handmade, personal objects within our culture. Everything else is being mass-produced. He said the object of art, more than ever, was the occasion of spontaneity or intense feeling. It seems to me that your objective is entirely opposite. There is very little that is either personal or spontaneous in your work, hardly anything in fact that testifies to your being present at the creation of your paintings. You appear to be a one-man Rubens-workshop, turning out single-handedly the work of a dozen apprentices.
W: But why should I be original? Why can't I be non-original?
B: It was often said of your early work that you were utilizing the techniques and vision of commercial art, that you were a copyist of ads. This did seem to be true of your paintings of Campbell's Soup and Coca-Cola. Your paintings did not depict the objects themselves, but the illustrations of them. You were still exercising the techniques of art in your selection of subject, in your layout, and in your rendering. This was especially true of your big black Coke painting, and in your Fox-Trot floor-painting, both about six feet in height, where the enormous scale did not leave enough room for the entire image. In Coca-Cola the trademark ran off the right side of the canvas, and in Fox-Trot, step number seven occurred off the canvas.
In these works, you were taking what you wanted stylistically from commercial art, elaborating and commenting on a technique and vision that was second-hand to begin with. I believe you are a Social Realist in reverse, because you are satirizing the methods of commercial art as well as the American Scene.
W: You sound like that man on the Times who considers my paintings to be sociological commentary. I just happen to like ordinary things. When I paint them, I don't try to make them extraordinary. I just try to paint them ordinary-ordinary. Sociological critics are waste makers.
B: But for all your copying, the paintings come out differently than the model, because you have changed the shape, size and color.
W: But I haven't tried to change a thing! You must mean my unfinished paint-by-number paintings. (The only reason I didn't finish them is that they bored me; I knew how they were going to come out.) Whoever buys them can fill in the rest themselves. I've copied the numbers exactly.
B: You don't mean to say that otherwise you have copied the picture exactly. It's so identifiable as your work. The flower stems in your still-life have an awkward grace that is typical of your work.
W: I haven't changed a thing. It's an exact copy.
B: (Then your hand has slipped.) It's impossible to make an exact copy of any painting, even one of your own. The copyist can't help but contribute a new element, or a new emphasis, either manual or psychological.
W: That's why I've had to resort to silk screens, stencils and other kinds of automatic reproduction. And still the human element creeps in! A smudge here, a bad silk screening there, an unintended crop because I've run out of canvas-and suddenly someone accusing me of arty lay-out! I'm anti-smudge. It's too human. I'm for mechanical art. When I took up silk screening, it was to more fully exploit the preconceived image through the commercial techniques of multiple reproduction.
B: How does it differ from print-making-serigraphs, lithographs and so on?
W: Oh, does it? I just think of them as printed paintings. I don't see any relationship to printmaking but I suppose, when I finish a series, I ought to slash the screen to prevent possible forgeries. If somebody faked my art, I couldn't identify it.
B: I have always been most impressed by your multiple-image paintings, especially your paintings of movie stars, like Marilyn and Elvis.
W: So many people seem to prefer my silver-screenings of movie stars to the rest of my work. It must be the subject matter that attracts them, because my death and violence paintings are just as good.
B: The two paintings of Marilyn Monroe, hung side by side in your show at the Stable Gallery, were two of the most moving modern paintings I have seen. I was surprised by the differing effect they had on me. Their format was identical; each had been silk screened with fifty identical portraits of Marilyn. The black-and-white painting was the more tragic. In the central area, the silk screens had been printed with great care, and the portraits had the crispness and reality of a newsreel, or one of Marilyn's own movies. But around the edges, especially on the right, the black lost intensity, becoming almost grey, so that the portraits seemed to fade away to some ethereal place. Yet the portraits were still legible, and it was like the persistence of memory after something is gone, or the anticipation of forgetting something before it is gone.
The colored portrait was much different in tone: it was brassy, strident, bordering on vulgarity. You used very acrid colors: lemon yellow, bright orange, chartreuse, red. It was like overworked Technicolor. Through misprinting (presumably intentional as well as accidental), you somehow achieved fifty different expressions. In one portrait the green eye shadow would be printed too low, so that she looked sulky and wicked. In another, the red lips would be off-register like the rotogravure in the Sunday tabloids, where it is usual for the cover girl to have her lips printed on her cheek or chin. Sometimes the mouth was pursed, sometimes it was opened in hedonistic joy. Marilyn was given expressions that were never caught on film. (It was possible to believe that in your painting we had seen the entire spectrum of Marilyn's personality.)
W: Can you talk like that about my soup cans?
B: Your six-foot-high soup cans remind me of red-and-white Rothkos. You both seem preoccupied with minimizing the elements of art.
W: But he's much more minimal than I am. His image is really empty.
B: But I see a comparison in that, like him, you seem to be attempting monumentality in your painting. Your images, immobilized and frozen, have a quality of grandeur about them.
W: I didn't know anybody was monumental any more. Rothko's paintings are full of movement ... all that shimmering and hovering. How can they be monumental? I've always thought they were big empty spaces.
B: His paintings are like vacuum cleaners, swallowing up the space in front of them.
W: ... and mine are vacuous.
B: Whereas Rothko's paintings are subtle nuances of a single idea, yours are brutal repetitions of a single idea.
W: (I don't think there's any connection between my work and Rothko's.) Too many people who say my work is vacuous are judging it either from a reduced illustration or even as an abstract idea. They say, "Who's interested in a can of soup? We know what it looks like." But so often they think I've changed something. "Oh, look at the pretty fleur-de-lis!" You'd think most women wouldn't have a soup can on their shelf that didn't have a fleur-de-lis on the label. Nobody really looks at anything; it's too hard. I think someone should see my paintings in person before he says they're vacuous.
B: Campbell's Soup must be just as familiar as the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is seldom looked at as art, because it has become the symbol of art. And the soup label isn't looked at, because it isn't expected to be art.
W: You know, people have been comparing my soup cans to the Mona Lisa for so long now. "How can you call this art?" they say. "You can't paint as well as what's-his-name ... and your model isn't as pretty to begin with."
B: Perhaps the people who make that comparison are exhibiting an unusual perceptivity to line and shape, because there is a similarity of form between your soup cans and the Mona Lisa. Do you have a picture of the Mona Lisa handy?
W: Just this paint-by-number diagram which I decided not to copy. Why doesn't she have any eyebrows? Have they left out the numbers?
B: Let's set it up next to a soup can. As you can see, the neckline of her dress has the same contour as the bottom of the soup can. The outline of her head and throat areas are almost identical to the outline of the can. Her smile has the same curve as the can and falls in the center of the flesh area, corresponding the place occupied by the gold medallion on your soup label.
W: I've heard that she's smiling because she's pregnant.
B: And I've heard that your soup can is a symbol of the womb, expressing your deep-seated desire to return to the foetal state. That's another similarity to be thought about.
Excerpted from I'LL BE YOUR MIRROR by Andy Warhol Copyright © 2004 by Kenneth Goldsmith. Excerpted by permission.
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