Warhol “wake” becomes a fabulous Factory happening

By Ed Hamilton

A raw warehouse space in the newly trendy Meatpacking District was transformed into a semblance of Andy Warhol’s Factory for a reading and art opening last Thursday night, February 22, the twentieth anniversary of Warhol’s death. The walls and the columns of the Carrozzini von Buhler Gallery were lined with aluminum foil, and long, silver tinsel streamers hung in the windows. Mirror balls glittered overhead, and silver mylar balloons dangled from the ceiling. Colorful, Warhol-influenced art covered the walls.

“I looked at a lot of photos and then I improvised,” said artist and gallery owner Cynthia von Buhler, statuesque and futuristic in her silver vinyl mini-dress, like Jane Fonda from “Barbarella.” “Some of the details are very accurate, like the columns, and the legs.” She pointed to the bottom half of a silver-painted mannequin. “There were legs just like that in the original Factory. In some respects I’ve been faithful to the pictures I’ve seen, but I took some liberties, too. The foil-wrapped chandelier is an extrapolation. I was playing with the aesthetic a little bit there.”

The art show is titled “Warhol: In His Wake,” and as befitting a wake, there was a note of sadness to the proceedings, as all assembled grieved at the passing of the great artist. But Warhol’s work is nothing if not uplifting, and a brighter mood prevailed as the drinks and the conversation flowed freely. The revelers were of all ages, some old enough to be Warhol’s contemporaries, others much too young to have known him, but who nonetheless fell under the very large shadow of his influence. It was a decidedly Downtown crowd, gathered to pay homage to one of the art world’s major cultural icons, but more importantly, one of their own. Jaded eccentrics lounged on the vinyl couches, while slender models in mod, silver lamé dresses slinked and posed, looking as underfed as Edie Sedgwick herself.

“It’s just like the old Factory scene,” said Dorothy Friedman, organizer of the reading part of the evening. “The only thing missing from the night is people on drugs.”

Andy Warhol founded his original Factory in 1964 in a manufacturing loft on East 47th Street, tacking up aluminum foil on the walls and painting much of the rest silver, because for him, silver was the color of the future. Warhol called the space The Factory both because it was actually a former factory, and because he intended to use the space to mass-produce his art. But the character of The Factory changed quickly as it became more of a party place for Andy’s odd friends and acquaintances, many of whom were indeed drug users. Nevertheless, the space provided a source of inspiration for many artists, filmmakers, and musicians who helped shaped popular culture in the ’60s and beyond.

The evening was tinged with a further note of sadness, as Friedman announced that her longtime companion, the artist, photographer, art journalist, and art editor for Downtown Magazine Gary Azon, had recently passed away after a long illness. “Gary idolized Warhol,” Friedman said. “[After Picasso], he considered Andy the greatest artist of the second half of the 20th century. He really felt that Andy opened up the art field in a new direction.” Dorothy read a selection from one of Gary’s pieces, an epitaph to Andy that concludes:

Farewell Andy, America was your playground, art amigo, and we all watched with wonder, wizard and whore, as you cannibalized the century.

As Anton Perich’s movie “Candy and Daddy” played silently on a screen behind them, the readers paid tribute to Warhol, each in his own fashion. Ron Kolm, co-founder of the Unbearables, read his poem “Games of Love” against a screen showing Warhol superstars Taylor Meade, Craig Vandenberg and Candy Darling cavorting at someone’s apartment. Thad Rutkowski, author of the excellent novels “Rough House” and “Tetched,” read a poem about attending a Van Gogh exhibit on the drug Ecstasy, in which he “Looked for God in the details and saw only the devil.” The wickedly funny poet Hal Sirowitz, who has a deadpan sense of humor reminiscent of Warhol’s, told us that: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, my father said, which is why we didn’t call you Jack.” Star Black read a poem that began: “How do I love thee?/Well I don’t really.” And Patricia Carragon enlightened us with what, in Warhol land, must surely pass muster as a Zen koan: “Mama watches Teletubbies, swallows a TV, and becomes dada.”

The title of the reading series was “Five Minutes of Fame,” presumably cut back from the usual fifteen because, in reading time as in life, poets often get the short end of the stick. The one exception was the star of the evening, poet, performer, film star and Warhol friend Taylor Meade, who stood before a film of his younger self, “Candy and Daddy.” Wearing a ski-cap in a nod to hip-hop fashion, the mature Meade joked and ad-libbed with his trademark sense of humor, finally getting around to reading what he said was Warhol’s favorite poem: a bawdy, unprintable lyric, filthy as the cushions of the old Factory couch. As he read, the younger Meade appeared on the screen behind him, and pulled down his pants to moon the camera. Noticing this, Meade said that a hostile critic had written scathingly of the movie, “We don’t want to see any more two hour films of Taylor Meade’s ass.”

When asked if the space reminded him of the Factory, Meade said, “No, it looks nothing like it, but Andy would have loved it anyway. And he would have loved this evening. He loved anything in New York. And even if he didn’t love it he would have said he did. He was overly agreeable to everything. That’s what always got him in trouble.”

Some of the later readers were drowned out by the din of those arriving fashionably late for the art show. But that was just like the Factory, the artist Pamela Martin pointed out — “a group of people reading on one side of the space, another group off mumbling in a corner. Several things going on at once.”

The art on display is a testimony to Warhol’s continued influence. Hung near the reading stage, Steve Joestler’s collages of Warhol and Mick Jagger were an obvious, though welcome and comforting homage and backdrop to the proceedings. Anton Perich’s computer line drawing of Warhol as bar code furthered the artist’s fascination with the commodification of art. Taylor Meade has a couple of paintings on view, right next to Billy Name’s familiar Factory photographs. Gary Azon’s striking photo of an older woman lifting her skirt looks like a decadent Queen Elizabeth I. William John Kennedy’s trippy flower-power photos of Warhol standing in a field of black-eyed susans succeed exceedingly well in capturing a more private, personal, vulnerable side of the master. And in a provocative sculpture by gallerist von Buhler, a naked woman with a dart in her neck and arrows piercing her torso stands on a trash fire, staring up in adoration at a bottle of Mr. Clean — martyred for consumerism, it appears, upon a Warholian altar of ironic product worship.

When asked how she would compare the work in this show to Warhol’s, photographer Lilly Von Binder said, “This work is all so individual, filled with passion, whereas Andy’s work was cold, objective, dispassionate. I don’t see much of his influence, except of course in the derivative subject matter. His work was cleaner, and more removed. The work here is visceral.” But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “There’s a reason for the passion, as Warhol has touched all these artists’ lives deeply,” she said.

“Warhol’s work was all copied, so it’s fitting that the works in this tribute should be derivative,” added artist Pamela Martin, who also owns a vintage fabric company. As she posed in front of her black velvet Warhol quilt, one of the most popular pieces in the show — she had trouble shooing the models away so she could have her own photo taken beside it — Martin said, “I created this work out of vintage ’60s fabric, from the same period as the Factory. The quilt is like the Factory people: some of the fabrics have aged well, while others are slightly damaged, like some of the Factory people themselves.”

But according to Jacob Fuglsang Mikkelson, artist and curator, what the art world misses most is less Warhol’s art than Warhol himself: “Warhol’s continued relevance is in his power, his persona, his way of accumulating people around him. Every time he talked to someone, he knew it would influence them. He had so much confidence that he didn’t have trouble sharing it through encouragement and compliments. Old Factory people are always complaining that they never got paid. That may be so, but Andy paid in another way. Certainly he took, but he also gave back.”

“Warhol: In His Wake” is open through March 14 at the Cynthia von Buhler Gallery at 407 W. 13th St., 646-336-8387, https://cvbspacegallery.blogspot.com.