When people think of Andy Warhol, they usually think of his innovative works of art. But Warhol constantly sought a variety of ways to express himself and tell stories about the celebrities he surrounded himself with.
A new exhibition opening at the Andy Warhol Museum on Saturday is dedicated to media mogul Warhol.
“Andy Warhol’s Social Network: ‘Interview,’ Television and Portraits” looks at a cross-section between Warhol’s longest-running project, Interview magazine; his television shows Fashion, Warhol TV and Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes; and his portraits of famous and influential people.
“It shows you that Warhol is really tapping into a piece of young culture and is kind of ahead of it,” said the museum’s chief curator, Jessica Beck. It’s also a result of Warhol’s fascination with celebrities.
The focus of the exhibition is the 204 issues of the magazine “Interview” that were published between 1969 and 1987, the year Warhol died. It was his longest-running venture and continues to this day. Displayed in chronological order, the Warhol Magazine permanent collection has never been fully displayed.
“What I find fascinating is that the early magazine (produced in black and white) has this underground film influence,” Beck said. “It also has a mix of those ’60s magazines at the beginning of ‘Rolling Stone,’ but also pornographic undertones.”
But then the magazine underwent a drastic change in format that drew many people to Interview, both readers and subjects.
“In the ’70s, Warhol’s social network is changing and he’s connecting more to the fashion world — Halston, Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and you’re seeing these more dynamic covers,” Beck said.
To create these dynamic covers, Warhol turned to fellow artist Richard Bernstein, who became a central figure in New York’s social scene and Studio 54’s club culture. According to his nephew, Rory Trifon, he and Warhol met at Bernstein’s first solo show in 1965, President of the Richard Bernstein Estate.
“A lot of Richard’s paintings were inspired by Warhol, and the two got along really well,” Trifon said.
Bernstein worked for Interview magazine for 15 years from 1972 to 1989 and created more than 120 portraits for the magazine cover. He edited black and white photos and created vibrant color images or collages that caught the eye and fell off the cover of the large format magazine.
Seventy of the covers are on display in a second floor gallery.
Trifon explained that the process would begin with Bernstein cutting out a 16-inch by 20-inch photo, which he then blew up, airbrushed, and then painted in the colors. Bernstein knew all these celebrities as well as Warhol. So he knew what colors to use for skin tone, hair and eyes.
“Richard used blush, pencil, there were just a lot of different techniques used,” Trifon said. “What fascinates me is the trust that every single photographer has (had). They didn’t want anyone to paint over just her (portrait), but they trusted Richard to do a phenomenal job. And obviously Andy Warhol trusted Richard to do a great job on the covers. When you saw ‘Interview’ magazine on newsstands, it really lit up and popped out.”
Bernstein’s portraits have ranged from Cher, Diana Ross, Olivia Newton-John and Minelli to Brat Pack stars Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald.
Other famous people featured on the cover include Twiggy, Farah Fawcett, Ali MacGraw, Michael Jackson, Brooke Shields, Joan Rivers, Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, Nastassja Kinski, and John McEnroe.
Initially making no money, the magazine was not only aesthetically pleasing but eventually became profitable, attracting large advertisers such as liquor companies, fur and jewelry companies, and makeup and perfume companies.
Warhol conducted many of the magazine’s interviews, which he recorded on audio cassettes.
“What’s really interesting is that Warhol didn’t like editing the interviews,” Beck said. “He was adamant that things should be as they were in the conversation.”
Warhol also took an intense interest in video interviewing, which led to the television shows Fashion, Warhol TV and Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes.
Warhol TV debuted in 1979. The first episode featured an interview with Debra Harry, lead singer of the band Blondie, along with the band’s co-founder and guitarist Chris Stein.
The show begins with a video of Warhol at a photo shoot with Harry wearing a revealing black outfit while the song “Call Me” plays in the background. Then the interview begins with rock columnist Lisa Robinson asking the questions.
There are reaction shots of Warhol, but he doesn’t say anything until nearly three minutes into the show, when he asks a question about them, considering the recording of an album in which one song is performed in multiple styles.
The show lasted two seasons and the pilot episode is a fascinating time capsule.
Episodes of “Fashion, Warhol TV” can be viewed on the second floor of the museum along with “Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes,” which was eventually acquired by MTV. It aired there from 1985 until Warhol’s death in 1987.
On this show, Warhol flipped the interview format on its head a bit, with celebrities interviewing celebrities.
For example, in a mid-season episode, Warhol and Bianca Jagger interview Steven Spielberg, who is sitting on a bed. Just before the opening credits start, Warhol runs straight towards the camera in slow motion.
The show begins with a clip from the movie “Poltergeist,” and the three talk about “ghost images” that used to appear on TVs with antennas that pick up distant signals. Spielberg spoke about growing up finding ways to scare his sisters, like showing up at a window with a flashlight under his face.
The conversation veered to the Spielberg film ET the Extra-Terrestrial, which Jagger says was “very touched” before Warhol chimed in, “We were all crying.”
Warhol asks Spielberg about working with actors. He responds by saying that he would like to work with actor George C. Scott because “he’s different in each of his films.”
The informal nature of the show must have upset people at the time. Another example of Warhol being ahead of his time.
“The interesting thing is that Warhol starts doing it in his office, in his studio, or around town in New York City, whether it’s Studio 54 or someone’s home,” Beck said. “But then it is slowly being produced more and more. When MTV comes in and starts production, it’s going to be highly produced.
“The last episode was footage of Warhol’s funeral.”
There is a lot to see at the Andy Warhol’s Social Network: ‘Interview,’ Television and Portraits exhibition. So visitors should allow enough time to take it all in.
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