The Detached Cool of Andy Warhol

 May 6, 1965
Andy Warhol makes movies with the same unruffled objectivity that he looks at life. His usual procedure is to set up the action—often a group of people interacting—point the camera at them, turn it on, and step back. The camera makes the movie: whatever happens, planned or not, is the film. Sometimes in the studio (which he refers to as "the factory") there will be interruptions: telephone calls, people going up or down in the elevator, somebody dropping something or walking inadvertently in front of the camera. All is recorded. No trace of surprise or annoyance registers on Warhol's face.

He is totally cool or very uptight, depending on your point of view. The latter school says: "Andy's been trained in Madison Avenue. He's like a high-powered executive who doesn't show his feelings, but he's seething inside." Personally, I think it the height of coolness to regard everything with a detached eye and rely on intuition to make instant decisions. Warhol's intuition is usually correct.

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He is the subject of intense curiosity and heated discussions. When does he DO, people ask, that gives him such a reputation? His public work is more a subject for humor and wisecracks than for serious study: representations of soup cans, silkscreen reproductions of famous faces, multi-colored lithographs of flowers, murky six-hours movies of a man asleep or Henry Geldzahler smoking a cigar. Maybe his true talent lies in provoking so much argument about whether he's an artist without doing any of the recognizable things that the public accepts as "art." Warhol is an artist, a catalyst, a perceptive observer of contemporary life whose comments are sometimes astute by being no comments at all.

Fabulous 15 minutes. Andy Warhol with Mr. America and Gerard Malanga at Filmmaker's Cinematheque (December 1965)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
Fabulous 15 minutes. Andy Warhol with Mr. America and Gerard Malanga at Filmmaker's Cinematheque (December 1965)

There are very few words wasted around the Andy Warhol milieu, little idle conversation. Andy himself sizes up situations instantly, and his instructions or comments are brief. Most of his closest friends are as laconic as himself, their thoughts presumably having taken them beyond trite responses. Andy is cordial and willing to converse but wary of cross-examination. He sometimes seems slightly surprised that you have not reached the same conclusions as himself. I have never seem him "rude," but people who believe that artists must justify themselves in words (if an artist could explain his point of view by words alone, why would he need to do anything but talk or write?) sometimes choose to put him down because he doesn't always respond according to the accepted canons.

He is a provocateur by his mere presence—the silvered hair, the dark shades (lately he has not been wearing them much), the slightly enigmatic and faintly expectant look of an amiable polar bear. "I didn't expect him to look like such a twerp," said a girl at one gallery opening. She was provoked by just the sight of him as many people are provoked. "I bet he's wearing a wig; I'm going to pull his hair and find out," she said. Andy smiled, with nervous embarrassment, and ducked into the other room to escape. Does he wear a wig? Does it matter?

Art as Weapon
I don't propose to get into a long discussion here on what I think is beyond saying that in one direction at least I favor art as a revolutionary weapon—as something to upset and bug people, to change their prejudices and preconceived opinions, to make them angry, excited, and confused, as well as delighted, happy, and (hopefully) more tolerant about differences. By these standards Warhol is superbly successful at his chosen task.

He gives the impression that he doesn't care, and yet he obviously loves the publicity that has come to him. When he opens the New York Post he first reads the anecdotal Leonard Lyons column, in which he is frequently mentioned. He is adored excessively by the social set, and it is a rare Sunday when the Trib doesn't mention his name or carry his picture. For some weeks now he has been accompanied almost constantly by a writer-photographer team who are planning a book on him and his activities: about 20,000 words and the rest pictures. The book is at least partly Andy's own idea, and will probably increase public curiosity about him rather than satisfy it. Next month he goes to Paris for a show at the Sonnabend Gallery.

There are rumors that a syndicate is behind him—a group of financiers who promote him and finance him, as a boxer might sell 50 per cent of himself for a business proposition. The rumors are almost certainly untrue, if only because Andy Warhol is his own man—one of the most inner-directed characters around. He dominates, often silently, most of the people around him, many of them with bigger or at any rate longer-established reputations than his own.

Revolutionary Movement
Where does his money come from? He has been spending an estimated $400 per week on film and although his gallery, Castelli, is known to allows its substantial advances to other Castelli artists: Johns, Rosenquist, Lichtenstein, Chamberlain, it is doubtful that Warhol sells works at that place. Castelli's Ivan Karp says: "He is probably spending more on them than he can afford."

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