When Andy Warhol decreed 15 minutes of world fame as modern man's birthright he obviously wasn't speaking about himself. Nearly a decade after his death, the painter-filmmaker-scenemaker is more famous than ever. This year, two Warhol-related films ("I Shot Andy Warhol" and "Basquiat") are scheduled for release, and the parade of books that began with the "tell-all" opuses of Victor Bockris, Bob Collaciello and Pat Hackett shows no sign of abating.
What's different now is that the spotlight has shifted from Warhol to his circle at the Factory. This legendary studio/hangout on East 47th Street in New York was ground zero in the mid-1960s for a gay bohemian demimonde that Warhol ruled before retiring in the 1980s to the position of Euro-trash court jester, Studio 54 mascot and Roy Cohn crony.
As might be expected from its title, the anthology "Pop Out: Queer Warhol" presumes to deal with the avant-garde overlord's gayness in a forthright manner. It doesn't. The introduction by a trio of editors criticizes recent efforts to "de-gay" Warhol by speaking of his paintings rather than his films, like "Couch," "Blow Job," "Horse," "My Hustler," "The Chelsea Girls" and "**** [Four Stars]," and the homosexual coterie they portrayed. But while "Pop Out" contains useful essays by Simon Watney and Tom Waugh about the impact of Warhol's gang on pre-Stonewall culture, its primary interest isn't Warhol at all, but the "factory" of academe.
That's where you'll learn how "the shame-delineated place of identity doesn't determine the consistency or meaning of that identity, and race, gender, class, sexuality, appearance and ableness are only a few of the defining social constructions that will crystallize there, developing from this originary affect their particular structures of expression, creativity, pleasure and struggle."
No, I'm not making this up. These are the words of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a Newman Ivy White professor of English at Duke University who, though homosexually challenged, has somehow risen to the level of grand high pooh-bah of all collegiate "Queer Studies" courses. Here you'll find Warhol reduced to a petri dish specimen while Kosofsky Sedgwick and her "Pop Out" colleagues (nearly every one of whom acknowledges this all-powerful okoge--Japanese for gay camp follower--in their footnotes) set about their real work: attacking other academics.
If you want the real Warhol story, look no further than "The Velvet Years," an anthology of photos by Stephen Shore with an essay by novelist Lynne Tillman and interviews with 16 key Factory workers.
Only 17 when he took these pictures, Shore demonstrates a sure sense of how to photograph those for whom posing was as natural as breathing. Complementing his portraits of Edie Sedgwick, Lou Reed, Nico, Ondine and Warhol is Tillman's essay, which correctly identifies Warhol as "an artist provocateur, an early warning system of things to come. That was his appeal, in part, to the people who spent time with him at the Factory." What they thought of him personally, however, is another matter.
"It was hard not to like Andy," actress Mary Woronov tells Tillman, describing him as "never not nice." Factory major domo Gerard Malanga, on the other hand, claims that "Andy loved to manipulate people." Both are right. Moreover, the fact that each has gone on to an important post-Factory career speaks well of Warhol's intuition about his many talented proteges.
"Mythologies of the Heart" is Malanga's 28th volume of poetry--an avocation begun well before his Warhol years. Warhol makes a brief appearance in a poem called "Whereabouts Unknown," trying to break down the door of a bedroom were Malanga is making love to a girlfriend. But Warhol's real influence on his former assistant can be seen in another poem, "Uma Thurman's Breasts," in which Malanga tellingly remarks that "there are limits to what one can imagine, so we do everything with our eyes."
Woronov, Malanga's former "whip dance" partner at Warhol's "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" shows, has learned similar lessons from Warhol--and then some. Long recognized as a cult film star for "Eating Raoul" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School," Woronov is also an excellent neo-expressionist painter. The follow-up to "Wake for the Angels," a book of reproductions of her paintings accompanied by darkly funny stories about modern Los Angeles, "Swimming Underground" shows Woronov to be a first-rate prose stylist as well.
Writing of Nico, her only peer in "ice queen" cool, Woronov says, "I had seen chairs creep across the carpet in the hopes she might sit in them." She also neatly pegs a transvestite with superstar ambitions as "the overdone showgirl-type of queen-stripper tits, bimbo hair, Louise Nevelson eyelashes and a mouth brought to you by Chevrolet." But Woronov doesn't spare herself, recounting the streak of genuine sadism her role in "The Chelsea Girls" unleashed and her dealings with "the mole people," the Factory subset who introduced her to the joys of controlled substances.
Warhol makes only a few walk-ons here, but Woronov is so skillful at evoking him through tales of inner-circle players like Ondine and Rotten Rita that even the most demanding Warhol-philes should approve.
Now if only someone would get around to writing the ultimate Warhol book: The biography of that most gris of all factory eminences, Dorothy Dean.
Just so long as that someone isn't Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.