Bob Colacello Thinks in 2018 Warhol Would Be ‘Dating Kim Kardashian’
Andy Warhol’s biographer sits down with GARAGE to discuss the artist’s legacy on the occasion of his Whitney exhibition.
Andy, Bianca, and Bob. Photograph via Getty Images.
Bob Colacello has all the best stories. The former editor of Interview who became Vanity Fair’s special correspondent and an independent curator, Colacello is also the author of the 1990 Warhol biography (and de facto autobiography) Holy Terror. In it, Colacello chronicles Warhol’s halcyon days oscillating between New York’s high and low cultures, dispensing his anecdotes in a way that seems at once wicked and gracious, and always utterly true.
On the occasion of the Whitney’s epic exhibition, Warhol—From A to B and Back Again, the first Warhol retrospective staged in America since 1989, Colacello sat down with GARAGE for a quintessentially Warholian discussion that spanned from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump, Mick Jagger to Jasper Johns, Cecily Brown to Kim Kardashian.
On the Enigma of Andy
Everything Andy did was so deadpan, so matter-of-fact, that it confused people in a way. Was he promoting this? Was he criticizing that? Is he for American capitalism? Is he against American capitalism? Americans just couldn’t deal with it. Critics and art historians try to pigeonhole Andy as a gay artist or a Marxist artist or even as a Pop artist, but you can’t put Andy into any one category because Andy was so good at having his cake and eating it too.
Andy’s genius came out in so many ways, some very small and some very large. He was so open. It was the opposite of the way artists like Jasper Johns or Frank Stella were. They were stuck in their ivory towers, and that's why Andy still seems so much more relevant and has had such a huge influence on successive generations of artists. You know, I don’t see a lot of Jasper Johns lookalikes.
On Kim Kardashian
Andy was the first to believe that “bad publicity is good publicity.” We now have a subscriber to that school of thought in like that in the White House. It seems like Andy predicted our entire future, for better or for worse. People ask me, “What would Andy be doing if he were alive?” I say, “Well, he’d be dating Kim Kardashian.” Taking her to the White House, probably. He and I would be having a huge fight. He’d want to run her on the cover of Interview and I’d be screaming, “Over my dead body.”
On Donald Trump
I think on one hand, Andy would say, “Oh God, he's really horrible.” But on the other hand, he would say, “Oh gee, I mean, he really knows how to stay famous.”
Donald commissioned portraits of the Trump Tower—this had to be back in 1984, after I left Interview. Trump took took one look at them when they were finished and said, “I hate these, they make my building look ugly. Get them out of here.” I heard that Ivanka tried to buy them a couple of years ago but she thought the price was too high.
On Mick Jagger
Andy had met Mick Jagger back when Jane Holzer did the first dinner party for the Rolling Stones in 1964, so they went way back, Andy and Mick. As for the cover of 1971’s Sticky Fingers, I don’t know if it was Andy's idea or the Stones’ to do a close-up of a man’s crotch in Levi 501s with a zipper you could unzip. 501s were what everyone wore, they were the jeans. Andy asked Glenn [O’Brien] to pose, and the twins Jed and Jay Johnson, I think. He must have shot a dozen guys in the same pose, and it’s always been a mystery just who ended up on the cover. Glenn always maintained it was his basket, and it might have been, and it could have been, but people assumed it was Mick.
On Meeting Andy Warhol
Andy hired me when I was 22. After graduating Georgetown, I went from wanting to be a diplomat to wanting to be a filmmaker, so I went to Columbia film school. The film criticism class was taught by Andrew Sarris, the film critic for the Village Voice. He would assign a review a week and then he would take the two or three he liked the most and publish them in the Voice. After I published five or six reviews, I got a call from someone who said he was the editor of Andy Warhol’s new magazine, Interview. He said Andy liked the way I wrote and thought maybe I could do things for their magazine. I was beside myself. It was like Lana Turner being discovered at Schwab Soda Fountain by Louis B. Mayer. My idols were Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, William Burroughs, Godard—you know, all the rebels.
Anyway, I was back living with my parents on Long Island, and this call came in about 7 o'clock at night when we were having dinner. My father was like, “You are not going to work for that creep who makes movies about boys who want to be girls.” Not that my parents had seen an Andy Warhol movie, but everything Andy did was so controversial that it was in the tabloids.
On One Thing Everyone Gets Wrong About Warhol
Andy wasn’t Roman Catholic; he was Eastern Rite Catholic. The church he attended growing up in Pittsburgh was called St. John Chrysostom Greek Russian Catholic Church and, like all Orthodox churches, the altar was framed by this grid of portraits of the saints called an iconostasis. In the Byzantine style, they were two-dimensional, with gold leaf backgrounds—not unlike Andy’s portraits of Marilyn, Liz, and Elvis.
On Andy’s Book Tours
The lines of kids waiting to have their books signed would go on forever. Andy would not leave until every single person had something signed, and not only books—Velvet Underground record jackets, or soup cans, or back issues of Interview, forearms, beasts…The only thing Andy refused to sign was people’s dogs. Sometimes these would go for three hours. It was part of his generosity and openness to young people.
When local newspapers would interview Andy, the first question would often be, “Are you rich?” Artists were not supposed to be rich before Andy came along, but he was very open about wanting to be rich and famous. But he didn’t want to get specific about just how rich he was, so he would answer, “Oh look at my shoes,” and they were like, these Brooks Brothers tie-ups that were splattered with paint. Then they would ask, “Are you gay?” And he would say, “Oh gee, sex is such hard work.”
On Andy Warhol’s Politics
Andy was slippery. He was a liberal Democrat, but of course, when were trying to get Tommy Kempner to pay for Nan Kempner’s portrait, and Tommy couldn’t wait to go upstairs and watch his football game, Andy would say, “Oh gee, Bob really likes Nixon.” Andy would say anything to sell. The truth of the matter is we needed those commission portrait sales to pay for Interview, which didn’t really turn a profit until 1980, and to pay for all the experimental video projects Andy was doing with Vincent Fremont.
On Reagan and Andy
People sometimes ask me, “How do you go from a book on Andy Warhol to a book on the Reagans?” And my answer is: Andy was called the pope of Pop, and Reagan was the first Pop president. Both Ronald Reagan and Andy Warhol came out of nowhere, rose all the way to the top of American culture, and were still not taken seriously. Andy had to die for MoMA to give him a retrospective. Reagan had to wait a decade before people started comparing him to Harry Truman and Andrew Jackson. While he was in the White House, they never tired of saying he was a “B actor,” who starred opposite a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo.
Now, Reagan is seen as one of the most popular former presidents by far and, after Picasso, there is no artist who is as popular or well known as Warhol.
On What Andy Would Have Thought About the Art World Now
I think he would be fascinated by someone like Cecily Brown, who manages to make sexual pictures in a way that’s not obvious. I can hear him say, “Oh gee, why didn’t I think of that?” A constant refrain of his was, “How can I do abstract art that’s not really abstract?” The “Shadows” paintings were his first attempts along those lines: they were a shadow of something concrete, but unknown. The “Camouflage” paintings were on one hand abstract designs, really, but were also a depiction of military fabric.
It also occurs to me that with the prominence of female artists, such as Cecily, and Kara Walker, and Cindy Sherman, he’d be saying, “Oh gee, all the girl artists are better than the boy artists. They're really coming up.”
Andy was in love with Jean-Michel Basquiat and his work. But I think he would be astounded by the prices Basquiats go for. Then again, I think he would be thrilled by his own prices. He was always saying, “When is our ship going to come in, Bob?” And I would say, “Your ship has come in.” But this like a fleet.
On Living in a Warholian Age
It’s clear that we’ve been living in the age of Warhol for a long time. But now I think we’ve gone beyond Warhol and back to Dalí. The news is just surreal: the Kavanaugh hearings, the Saudi murder, the shooting in the synagogue, the pipe bombs in the mail, the worst forest fires in California history…It’s all in the realm of the bizarre. It’s beyond Pop. It’s beyond.