NEW YORK — One of Manhattan's least known architectural landmarks, the Bayard Building near Washington Square, has all but disappeared behind scaffolding while undergoing renovation. Few passersby even glimpse the vertical terra cotta moldings and ornate reliefs on the facade of the 1897 structure--much less guess that it's the only building in New York designed by Louis Sullivan, the architect known as the father of the skyscraper.
Those who enter the building on Bleecker Street and take an elevator to the seventh floor are in for another surprise. Here in a 7,500-square-foot, high-ceilinged space--divided into work stations and bare-bones offices--is the nerve center of Andy Warhol's philanthropic legacy. Money comes in from art sales, licenses and investments. And money goes out to support contemporary art, freedom of expression and scholarship on Warhol. Paradoxical as it may seem, the artist who is sometimes dismissed as a flash in Pop art's pan has gained lustrous stature through a high-minded nonprofit foundation.
During his closely watched life, Warhol often answered reporters' long, searching questions with a cryptic yes or no. At his death, in 1987, he left an enormous body of work with a brief directive to use it for "the advancement of the visual arts." His family, friends and business associates didn't have much to go on, but the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has become the nation's leading funder of cutting-edge contemporary art. Since its inception in 1988, the foundation has given $51.2 million in grants. An additional $6 million is budgeted for grants in the fiscal year that ends April 30, 2003.
"Andy was an incredibly liberating force, and that creates the framework for the foundation's philanthropic efforts," said Joel Wachs, the longtime Los Angeles city councilman and contemporary art collector who moved to New York and became president and CEO of the foundation last October. "He really represented democracy in terms of being yourself and valuing diversity. In his name and his spirit, we want to help provide opportunities for creative people to make and show their work, whether it's popular or not, without the pressures of government support. We try to nurture an environment from which future Andys will come."
The foundation--which got $25.3 million in seed money from a 1988 auction of Warhol's personal collection--has had a tumultuous history. But it has come a long way since its birth, when Warhol's close friend and advisor Frederick W. Hughes established it with the help of Vincent Fremont, a longtime colleague, and John Warhola, the artist's brother.
"We wanted to be nimble, engaged, not stuffy or bureaucratic," said Archibald L. Gillies, who served as foundation president from 1990 to 2001 and played a major role in shaping its programs. But first Gillies and his colleagues had to not only organize mountains of Warhol's art, archives and related possessions, but also fend off a batch of lawsuits.
The worst was a court battle instigated by Edward W. Hayes, an attorney for Warhol's estate and the foundation who claimed that the estate had been grossly undervalued and that he was owed a percentage of it amounting to $16 million. After eight years of countersuits and appeals, Hayes was forced to repay the foundation some of the fees already paid him.
Despite such distractions, the foundation managed to give away $1.8 million to $2.5 million annually during its first seven years. And the sum has grown steadily since then.
"Arch Gillies deserves a lot of credit," said Werner H. Kramarsky, the foundation's board president. "In the early years, he was an embattled person in a difficult situation. There will always be intellectual property lawsuits; those go with the territory. But when Arch left, he had disposed of all the troublesome lawsuits. The foundation was as solid as could be. Joel came in with a wonderfully clean slate."
The foundation gives grants to cultural organizations, not individual artists, but the money funds projects that benefit artists as directly as possible, program director Pamela Clapp said.
She and two associates travel widely to "seek out the best and brightest people involved in contemporary art at a range of institutions, from contemporary art museums to artist-driven organizations that give artists their first opportunities to show their work," she said.