In the summer of 1970 Andy Warhol purchased a building on the Bowery and bought out one of the three tenants living there — all of whom were artists — for $300. The other two, James Cuchiara and John Firth, held out for more because, as Clark Whelton reported in the July 2, 1970, issue of the Voice, “Similar lofts in the SoHo-Bowery area now sell for a minimum of $2000, and without more cash from Warhol the two painters could find themselves in the street.” Cuchiara made his feelings clear: “I’ve put in 25 years of sweat as a painter and now I’m being kicked out by a guy who made it on Brillo boxes. It’s a cultural crime.”
Warhol could not be reached for comment, but his film-directing partner, Paul Morrissey, told the Voice, “We want to move to the Bowery to be near our talent.” When asked about some of the denizens of the area famous for its bums and derelicts, Morrissey was succinct: “They smell.”
The following year, Warhol’s own art was moving on up to much tonier digs uptown. In the May 13, 1971, issue, the Voice’s ever-questing art critic John Perreault covered the pop-art star’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum: “Some dumb reviewer once called Jackson Pollock’s great paintings ‘expensive wallpaper.’ What a great idea! It takes an artist of Warhol’s stature to actually do it.”
Perreault notes that the museum’s walls are covered with Warhol’s cow wallpaper, even “that huge trapezoidal window that looks down on Madison Avenue. Approaching the Whitney, you can see the cows from street level, so that the window becomes a delicious advertisement for what is within.”
Perreault mentions another obtuse critic who “wrote recently that the Warhol silk-screen paintings no longer looked campy. They never were campy. If they are or were campy, then life and death is campy, a proposition that I refuse to entertain. Perhaps the death penalty is campy. Perhaps the hydrogen bomb is campy. Perhaps suicide is campy. Perhaps alienation and boredom and anxiety are campy. I sort of doubt it.
“Everyone knows Andy Warhol, but nobody does.”
Perhaps visitors to the new Whitney in Chelsea will get to know Warhol better than Perreault did almost a half-century ago. But we doubt it.