I feel that Andy Warhol spoke for all of us when he said: “You can’t take a princess to dinner and order a cookie for starters no matter how much you crave one. People expect you to eat protein and you do, so they won’t talk. If you decided to be stubborn and ordered the cookie, you’d wind up having to talk about why you want it and your philosophy of eating a cookie for dinner. And that would be too much trouble, so you order lamb and forget about what you really want.”
Quel truth! Quel profundity!
You must excuse my exclamation marks and my demented enthusiasm. I have been living with the ghost of Andy Warhol for a while now, and it’s starting to get to me.
Here’s the story: Along with my esteemed colleagues, I have spent the last year concocting the ultimate art/commerce/Warhol marketing assault. The goal? Enticing holiday shoppers to drop their shekels into Barneys’ coffers. This season, thanks to my ghost, every aspect of the Barneys holiday promotion—windows, shopping bags, gift cards, etc.—bears the Warhol imprimatur. We’re even selling Andy’s Art. Our limited edition Warhol Campbell’s Soup Cans ($12 a pop) have been flying off the shelves. Barneys has turned into a veritable D’Agostino (price check on aisle three!)—proving, if nothing else, that people really do love art, especially if it’s bargain-priced and has a wholesome edible component.
Re wholesomeness: As tempting as it was to pack the Yuletide window displays with raunchy images of drug-addled transvestites, Brigid Berlin’s boob paintings, seedy hustlers, Taylor Meade’s nude buttocks, car-crash victims, syringes and electric chairs, I somehow managed to restrain myself. I bowed to the spirit of the season and privileged more savory fare. The bulk of the appropriated Warholabilia consists of non-contentious illustrations from the early part of the artist’s oeuvre. And then there are the Warhol quotations.
As I researched the world of Warhol, I was struck anew by the charm and pithiness of Andy’s homespun philosophizing. Part Erma Bombeck and part Dan Quayle, the goofy Warhol aphorisms are hilarious and totally lacking in pomposity. And I found so many gems that I had never heard before.
Andy on Christmas in New York: “Christmas is when you have to go to the bank and get crisp money to put in envelopes from the stationery store for tips. After you tip the doorman, he goes on sick leave or quits and the new one isn’t impressed.”
Andy on dour, pretentious Debbie-downer artsy-fartsy people: “In some circles where very heavy people think they have very heavy brains, words like ‘charming’ and ‘clever’ and ‘pretty’ are all put-downs; all the lighter things in life, which are the most important things, are a putdown.”
Andy on the subjective nature of beauty: “If everyone’s not a beauty, then nobody is.”
Andy on (bad) movie acting: “When I played an airport person in a movie with Elizabeth Taylor the lines they gave me were something like, ‘Let’s go. I have an important date,’ but it kept coming out of my mouth, ‘Come on girls.’”
Andy on hiding from the cleaning woman: “When I go to a hotel, I find myself trying to stay there all day so the maid can’t come in …. I just don’t know where to put my eyes, where to look, what to do while they’re cleaning. It’s actually a lot of work, avoiding the maid, when I think about it.”
Andy on the perils of borrowing: “After you PAY SOMEBODY BACK you never run into them any more. But before that, they’re EVERYWHERE.” (Andy’s caps.)
Andy on Central Park: “I’m a city boy. In the city they’ve set it up so you can go to a park and be in a miniature countryside, but in the countryside they don’t have any patches of big city, so I get very homesick.”
Andy on the delights of hokey-ness: “I can only understand really amateur performers or really bad performers, because whatever they do never really comes off, so therefore it can’t be phony.”
Andy on saving energy: “If you can convince yourself that you look fabulous, you can save yourself the trouble of primping.”
What, I wondered as I put the finishing touches to the Barneys displays last Friday, at the same time marveling at the hordes of Louboutin-shod groovy chicks streaming down Madison Avenue, would Andy have made of the primp-fest that is New York today? What would he have made of the narcissistic shenanigans of Art Basel? What would he have made of the fact that businessmen now dress like members of the Velvet Underground? What would he have made of the fact that everybody is “groovy” and nobody is “square” anymore?
Lots of really heavy people—the irate, elitist counterculturalists with the heavy brains referred to above—are down on 21st-century Manhattan. They hate the lack of esoteric nightclubs and the democratization of that downtown grooviness that was once the prerogative of the select few.
These heavy people are convinced that New York, having reached a hipster apotheosis during the swinging Factory years, is now in decline.
Would Andy have become one of these things-ain’t-what-they-used-to-be kvetchers? I think not.
I am convinced that, were he alive today, Andy’s populist sensibility would have prevailed, and he would be in a permanent state of amused delirium. His relentless, indiscriminate socializing would have continued and, with a “Gee!” or a “Wow!”, he would have embraced any and all changes, no matter how cheesy or craven. He would be hanging out with everyone from Donald Trump to Paper magazine’s Mr. Mickey. Rich as Croesus, he would be living in a glass Richard Meier penthouse down by the river, alongside a reality-TV film crew and a couple of good-looking male minions whose sole job it was to YouTube Andy’s every activity.
Every grotesque hilarity of our culture—especially the obsession with celebrity and glamour that he jump-started—would be embraced and enjoyed by Andy. There’s no question in my mind that he would own an apartment in Dubai, wedged between Sir Elton and the Beckhams.
In the course of prepping the window displays, I solicited quotes from former members of the Warhol crowd. The most hauntingly apposite came from the pen of former Interview columnist Glenn O’Brien: “In the future everyone will be Andy Warhol for fifteen minutes.”
Glenn is right: Despite what the heavy people say, everyone can now be as cool and groovy as Andy. Hipness, that mysterious downtown sensibility which once eluded the bulk of the population, can now be bought just like a Coke or a can of Campbell’s Soup.
The spirit of Andy lives!
Death to elitism! Long live populism!
Since we are in a celebratory mood, let’s end with a festive money-saving tip from Andy: “Employees make the best dates. You don’t have to pick them up and they are always tax-deductible.”
PS: I think it is also safe to assume that, when dining with an employee, one could order a cookie for one’s main course without fear of censure.