The Whitney’s Warhol(11)Not Well Hung?
Pat Hackett and Ronnie Cutrone stood musing in front of the black-clad mannequin of the artist Andy Warhol. “My God,” said Mr. Cutrone, for years an assistant to Warhol and later a columnist at Interview . “Andy must be spinning in his grave. He would never have worn relaxed-fit jeans.” Ms. Hackett, who edited The Andy Warhol Diaries , could only nod in agreement as they regarded the plastic Andy, which wore a filthy turtleneck, tired-looking Reeboks and black Levi’s. The setting: a re-created shop window, one of the many curiosities in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s tribute show to the Pope of Pop.
Since the exhibition, The Warhol Look: Glamour Style Fashion , opened on Nov. 8, many of Warhol’s friends and former colleagues have been mourning what they see as a slapped-together, thinly documented tribute to the artist and his 30-year career. What particularly pisses them off is the fact that they themselves were not consulted in the hanging of the show.
“Nobody who knew Andy was asked what should go in [the exhibition],” said Brigid Berlin, who for 25 years worked for Warhol and was viewed as perhaps his best friend. “I don’t think it was hung well.” Bob Colacello, another close friend of Warhol, was asked for about 15 photographs, but not for his advice. Even Vincent Fremont, the agent to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and another longtime friend of the artist, admitted to not having been consulted for the exhibition-despite the foundation’s having lent Warhol’s clothes to the show and its recent donation of more than $750,000 to the Whitney for the development of a catalogue of Warhol films.
“We did make a conscious effort to be in touch with lots of people who were close to Warhol,” said the show’s co-curator, Mark Francis. He added that in putting up a show like this, “you’re involved with many people at many different levels … but you don’t necessarily have 20 people in, installing the show with you.”
Though he knows much about American art and Warhol’s contributions to it, the fact remains that neither he nor his co-curator, Margery King, ever boogied at Studio 54 with Warhol or went jewelry shopping in midtown with him. And to Warhol acquaintances, whose memories are apparently sharp, such detachment from the artist’s social scene is a major offense.
According to the Factory veterans, Warhol would have hated aspects of the exhibition. Ms. Berlin was apoplectic over the re-creations of the store windows-the curators put Warhol mannequins in them-that the artist designed. “I thought those mannequins were in really bad taste. I just thought they were horrible!” she said.
Mr. Fremont was more scholarly in his assessment. “[Andy] did not like distortions,” he said. “When he did people’s portraits, he made almost a fantasy of them; he took the essence of them and turned them into movie stars. To turn Andy into a caricature, a mannequin … it would have been better not to have a face on there, as opposed to a bizarre-looking caricature.”
Glenn O’Brien, a former Interview columnist, agreed. “Putting a dummy there didn’t duplicate [the actual window] in any way,” he said. Half-jokingly, he added, “They should have hired Allen Midgette, the famed Andy impersonator, to stand there through the duration of the exhibit. I’m sure he could have used the money.”
Some friends of the artist snickered over factual omissions or inaccuracies that made it into the exhibit. Benjamin Liu, a frequent companion to Warhol during the early 80’s, pointed out that one image referred to the noted photographer Steven Meisel as an unidentified friend standing with Fran Lebowitz and Teri Toye. “I just started laughing because it was so obvious who they were,” said Mr. Liu. Mr. Francis and Ms. King countered that with tens of thousands of Warhol photographs to sift through, a few mistakes were inevitable. “But we’re very happy to have [those] correction[s],” said Ms. King.
But there were more gripes. Ms. Berlin said that, among other things, she was irritated by the presence of Andy’s toiletries-eye drops, laxatives, zit cream-which were displayed in a plastic case similar to the one containing his wig. “This stuff doesn’t belong,” she said. “What does it have to do with Andy and fashion?” In fact, Ms. Berlin argued with the whole notion of Warhol as a fashion icon. “Andy looked like a hobo half the time,” she said. “He stuffed his pockets with Magic Markers that he would walk down Madison Avenue with, and a hundred Interview s that he’d sign … and the ink would get all over his jacket, and I used to plead with him to get a new one. I’d say, ‘Andy, you don’t look like you have a dime.'”
Still, if the Whitney is perceived as opportunistic in its depiction of Andy’s personal archives, the Factory culture was just as manipulative. As Ms. Berlin put it, “[Andy] wasn’t into fashion, he was into people who were rich and famous because [they represented] another possible portrait.” And the innumerable hangers-on who partied with Warhol at bars, nightclubs and private parties throughout the 60’s and 70’s did so in part because they wanted some of the Warhol chic for themselves. Even Pat Hackett, the artist’s beloved assistant and friend until his death in 1987, noted in her introduction to the Warhol Diaries : “[G]oing down to the Factory to see if Andy Warhol needed a part-time typist seemed like a good way to inject some glamour into my college years.”
Not all of Andy’s Kids were unhappy with the Whitney exhibition. Don Munroe, who made films with Warhol that were used in the exhibit, noted that the show “presented Andy in a very accessible way so that a lot of people would come to see it. [And] it gives people the opportunity to meet the real Andy.” Julian Schnabel, too, was upbeat about the show. “It’s too easy to be distracted by the politics that surround an exhibition. You have to look at the work in the time it was made and see its influences on the world around it. [Andy] had a huge effect on everybody, and people are still trying to decipher what he was doing,” he said.
At least Mr. Munroe and Mr. Schnabel were invited to the opening night fete on Nov. 6; artist Kenny Scharf, who was featured in exhibited photographs, apparently was not. Mr. Scharf, who, in addition to being Keith Haring’s closest friend, was tight with Warhol, attended as the date of Benjamin Liu. And Ms. Berlin said she had to pull strings at Hearst Corporation Inc., where her father was once chairman, in order to secure a free ticket. A spokesman for the Whitney said that the museum “tried to be very democratic about who was involved in the Factory party” that followed the opening night gala, as well as in its guest lists for the museum’s two other Warhol-related events. But, she added, this was a fund-raiser with limited space.
In the end, people wondered whether the party was worthwhile at all without the presence of its subject. “An Andy Warhol party without Andy Warhol is an oxymoron,” said Ms. Hackett.
Sweet Jayne Fights
The Battle of Max’s
Jayne County was spinning records in Los Angeles nightclubs when she got word that she should return home. Tommy Dean Mills and a restaurateur named Christopher Smith were starting up another Max’s Kansas City in the vacated Village Gate space on West 52nd Street and, as she recalled, “I was led to believe that I should come back.”
Ms. County returned to New York City and the promise of reinhabiting the role that helped make her a star of New York’s underground in the 70’s: deejay for Max’s Kansas City. A room above the new Max’s also came with the deal, she said. Just a few months after returning to Gotham, however, Ms. County said that she was no longer involved with the new Max’s. “I feel very wanked around,” she said of her dealings with the restaurant’s owners. “They are not treating the name ‘Max’s Kansas City’ with proper respect. It is an abomination.”
For those like Ms. County who lived and breathed the rock-and-roll 70’s, Max’s Kansas City was a hallowed place. The nightspot had actually been around since 1965, but in its first incarnation, the restaurant’s originator, Mickey Ruskin, catered more to an art crowd. When Max’s went belly up in 1974 and Ruskin walked away from it (he died in 1983), Tommy Dean Mills took over the restaurant for a song in 1975.
Peter Crowley, who would emerge as Max’s music director during this second coming, told The Transom that Mr. Mills’ first instincts about the club he had taken over leaned more toward disco and Top 40 than the bands that over the years would become inextricably linked with Max’s history: the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, Blondie, Alice Cooper, even Bruce Springsteen.
“After two weeks, nobody came anymore,” recounted Mr. Crowley. He added that Mr. Mills (who is known as Tommy Dean) knew enough to hire back a number of Max’s original characters, including Ms. County, who had deejayed on and off at Max’s during the Ruskin era. Jayne County was Wayne County back then (she is a transsexual who never made the complete physical transformation to womanhood), and habitués of the original Max’s said that Ms. County turned the upstairs dance space at Max’s into a place where the too-cool-to-dance crowd of the nightspot’s famed back room went to get actually down with their bad selves. “He was the first disco deejay to play rock records for dancing,” said the writer Danny Fields, who was a regular. “I can’t tell you how good he was.”
Wayne County continued to deejay on and off for Mr. Mills until Max’s closed in 1981. Ms. County said that she’d been hearing of rumors of Max’s resurrection for years, but that the idea of a new Max’s began to jell this year. It was only natural in this era of the commodification of cool that the Max’s Kansas City concept began to look ripe for profit-mining. Speculation is that it would be a theme restaurant, along the lines of a Planet Hollywood. Mr. Smith denied this. “We’re not trying to re-create the old Max’s Kansas City,” he said. Rather, Mr. Smith said he intends to “evoke” the spirit of the original with photos depicting events there and other design elements such as church pews and neon sculpture. He said that the 200-seat club (taking up two of five levels; another floor may be earmarked for a future live performance space) will have an “electric, upbeat environment.” He also used the word “kitschy” at least twice. He said that “mood music” that spanned the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s would be played, and that it would be “not unlike what you find in any other restaurant.”
This past summer, Ms. County said she went into a studio with Mr. Crowley to record an updated version of a “Max’s Kansas City” tribute song. The 1997 version of the song was going to be used as a “commercial” for the new club, Ms. County said, then added: “I did it because I was led to believe that everything was going to be fabulous. I was going to deejay, and Tommy was going to help me find a place to live. He said I was going to be taken care of.”
But Ms. County said that when she returned to New York, it was clear that the project was not anywhere near making its intended October opening. Eventually, Ms. County did move into an empty dressing room in the new Max’s space. She said that Mr. Mills made several promises, usually via Mr. Crowley (who also did some consulting on the project) that Ms. County would eventually get an apartment above the new restaurant. She also said that the only remuneration she’d received from Mr. Mills was a $500 advance.
The new Max’s became even more delayed when Ruskin’s longtime companion, Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin, who said she holds the trademark “Max’s Kansas City,” got a temporary restraining order preventing the new owners from using the name. According to Ms. Sewall-Ruskin, whose book about Max’s is to be published by Thunder’s Mouth Press in 1998, Mr. Mills at one time did own the copyright to the name, but let it lapse. She said that a Federal judge is in the process of looking over each side’s papers. Mr. Smith said that the restaurant would open regardless of whether he has permission to use the Max’s name. He also said that his partner was not Mr. Mills, but Mr. Mills’ son, Thomas Mills.
Mr. Crowley told The Transom that he was attending one of the hearings that resulted from the legal imbroglio when Mr. Smith told him that construction workers were about to build a wooden fence across the front of the building that housed the new Max’s-and Ms. County’s future living quarters. The fence, said Mr. Smith, was going to be padlocked to prevent anyone from getting in or out of the building. “I was presented with this picture,” said Mr. Crowley. “I called Jayne and said, ‘You’re going to be trapped in the building. I hired a car and helped her move.'” Ms. County took shelter with photographer Leee Black Childers, another original Max’s regular with a tie to the new spot: He’s providing photos for the décor. Mr. Childers declined to comment, and Mr. Smith told The Transom, “It wasn’t my understanding that Jayne was living in the building. It’s a violation of my lease to have someone living there.” He added, “It’s a commercial space.”
Ms. County had complaints about some of the people working on the building, whom, she said, were “very tranny-phobic and homophobic.” But it was the music that really burned her up. Ms. County alleged that Mr. Smith, who also owns a restaurant on the Upper West Side called Mad Fish, “doesn’t have a clue” about Max’s “rock ‘n’ roll heritage.” She said that his music tastes run more toward the Top 40-ish Little River Band and Whitney Houston. “Without the soul of the place, without the feeling and the music of the era, you will not be doing the name justice,” said Ms. County.
As for her role with the club, Mr. Smith said, “She will have one in the future. There’s nothing for her to do right now.” Meanwhile, Ms. County is moving on. She told The Transom that she’s close to finding a new apartment and that beginning early next year, she and Mr. Crowley would be doing “Sweet Jayne,” a regular Max’s-style party at Acme Underground. (Mr. Crowley, by the way, said that he’s taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding the new space.)
“Where’s the soul of Max’s?” she said. “The soul of Max’s Kansas City was the people that understood music and loved rock-and-roll. They made Max’s a part of pop history and culture. All these other people are just fighting over the name. I just find it very, very sad.”