The first time that I ever heard of Andy Warhol was when he died.
It was February, 1987, and I had just turned ten, and some girl in my 4th grade class mentioned that he was dead. The name meant nothing to me (not many ten year old boys care about glam art) but in the passing years I learned about Andy Warhol, the artist, the man, the legend.
I learned about his iconic paintings -- Campbell Soup cans, Marylin Monroe, etc. I learned about The Factory, his downtown space where he made art and helped others to do so. I learned about his involvement in helping to launch my favorite band, The Velvet Underground, to prominence. And I learned his most famous quote about everyone being famous for fifteen minutes.
Warhol was a native of Pittsburgh (like my dad's family) who migrated to NYC as a young aspiring artist. In the 1960s, when he was producing his cutting edge art, he also became a celebrity, wearing his iconic jackets and over sized sunglasses, being seen at clubs and shows, and having lots of hangers on abuzz around him. Until his death, Warhol basically defined the New York art scene. He was New York art.
His death was a trauma to the New York art world and it has never fully recovered from it.
No one ever really did (or could) take his place. I suppose Warhol was sui generis -- a unique man producing unique art at a unique time, in a city that was very different from today. He could never be replaced. Back in '87, New York was still recovering from the fiscal crises, crime was high, white flight still occurring, a malaise still shrouding the town. Warhol wasn't just producing art, he was giving the city a much needed boost of confidence. A quarter century after his death, the city is much different (and much less depressed) and Warhol's work is now the stuff of art school curriculum).
So what was his New York, what was the town that he inhabited -- and how did he inhabit it -- all those years ago?
This article sheds some light on the subject. A few takeaways about Warhol's NYC:
When he first came to NYC, Warhol practically stalked Truman Capote, so obsessed was the young artist was with the great writer's work.
Warhol was an intense, practicing Roman Catholic, and often worshiped at St. Thomas More on East 89th street (a rather uptown, bourgeois place that the downtown, hipster Warhol went).
He may have been the coolest man in town, but Warhol lived with his mother in NYC for 20 years.
He was shot by a deranged woman named Valerie Solanos but survived. You can see the movie "I Shot Andy Warhol" for the full story.
And so much more.
Today Warhol has merged into NYC's collective memory. No longer a man, he's now one of our favorite myths. But he's still around. Oh yes -- go to Union Square and you'll see a hideous chrome statue of him. Personally, I think it does him a great injustice.
I'm sure Andy would have loved it.