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  • Rylie Goodchild

New York

The effect Art and Culture have on the Selfhood of an Individual: How a Self is formed through their Contextual Society.

The year is 1967 and our muse is walking down 5th Avenue, before turning onto 16th East Street, and upon Union Square. Her heels click as she enters the lobby of the Decker Building, where the lift ascends to the 6th floor. The table is set for a happening, the cameras ready to shoot. She almost forgets that this is a factory, and that he is an industrialist beneath his big wig, as she accepts a kiss from Andy Warhol.

A portrait session with Andy was more than getting your photo taken. These formal work appointments would turn into whole events. He would paint the women, of which Andy loved to make the most beautiful and feminine creatures, with white makeup and tie a cloth around their nudity (in a ritualistic way) before reaching for the camera. He would poise them, wanting to capture a Hollywood glamour reminiscent of a passing age. Once he started photographing he move like a bee over the model, polaroids lining themselves up on a table behind him as he went. After the man was finished, he would often host extravagant lunches with only the greatest guests. Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith might be at the table, supplying what Andy called ‘a good tape’ of scandalous stories to bounce off the wood panelled office of 33 Union Square West.

The whole happening was exactly to his taste, materialising a small world floating above Manhattan that held beauty, art and gossip the most sacred components of life. The people he cast in his merry band of socialites upheld a playful, yet traditional, regard for gender and class. In his own work, Andy actively portrayed women and men as fulfilling a magazine-like gender presentation. He bought into the American dream of the 50s, and it took him for a ride. Yet, during this time he and his self had begun a smaller journey into the masquerade of what it meant to be a man, how he existed in relationship to this masculinity, and his queer status within society. He has come from a working class family in Pennsylvania, always stuck out and was his mothers favourite. As a young man he moved to New York and explored who he was further, realising it went much deeper than he was allowed to express during his childhood. It was this outsider energy, his oddness of a shy child, that drew people to Andy. The little shy boy inside him was always scared, and can be seen throughout his life to emerge and take him into his make believe world of plush capitalism where he fit in. Whether he realised it or not, he brought this fantasy to fruition, and left an unbreakable bond between the art world and consumerism after he left.

Here now a young wasp sits before the buzzing artist, besotted with him; she is none other than our darling muse Edie Sedgwick. She appears as a lost child on the verge of tears: a horse girl, wealthy and run-right-through with the troubles of life at the age of 21. Stable or not, she put on a huge grin with dimples in her face at the sight of our industrialist. What Andy saw when he looked back at her was a canvas, a person so insecure and vulnerable that they’d be anything you wanted them to be. They were but grown up children, spoiled in different ways, always searching for an unattainable level of validation from a harsher world than they could have ever imagined.

He called her Taxi, writing about her later in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, like one of those fast bright little things you’d find down every street of New York City. She was a debutant, and he loved that she had the upbringing he hadn’t. In said book he describes her in a very detached way, that holds her (and only her) accountable for her wayward lifestyle. Though he may have been her world for a time, she was just a skinny chapter in his philosophy. His narrative voice almost laughs at her, referring to a phase when she would only eat sandwiches named after famous people, and then throw them up after. Edie was from an extremely wealthy all American family, with mansions and cars and a dad that made moves on her when she was barely tall enough to reach his hand. Andy found this all so inspiring, all so artistically traumatic and far away from his own life experiences. In his film Poor Little Rich Girl he exhibited her in all her tyranny, amongst a messy apartment being superficial. A young girl in just her underwear. I think we can begin to see here that our industrialist lacked the empathy to deal with anything outside of himself. Now too, I wish to remind you that the queer man is capable of misogyny, (a fact often forgotten in our modern time!). Andy did in fact make the prolific take away that: “Art? That’s a man’s name.” of course. Though, in none of Andy’s own released works or writing does he ever discuss Edie as a romantic partner, yet it seems to be known that they were for a time.

They met at Tennessee Williams' birthday party of course!

and had sex in that streetcar, with the cat on the roof?

I forget how the story goes.

Andy’s refusal of this representation is interesting to see however, as he never wished to be known as a straight man, albeit his obvious desire to attain the status quo. She was his woman, that is evident in an extract from a Vanity Fair piece written about their relationship retrospectively:

“Edie’s method of seduction was to take her shoulder-length dark hair, chop it off, bleach it a metallic shade of blond so that it matched his wig, and dress herself in the striped boatnecked shirts that had become his uniform. In other words, to turn herself into the reflection of his dreams.

At long last oh, rapture! oh, ecstasy! his self-love was requited” (Lili Anolik, 2017 Vanity fair)

She was more in fact him as a woman.

See that’s what she did, she’d emulate another to test out if they’d sussed the game of life better than her, getting even more lost every time she did it. I feel that Edie is an extremely interesting reference with regard to identity. For, certified by Andy, she held all the perfect attributes of the American dream. Yet, this pressure and circumstance did not serve her in any kind of positive way throughout her life. When she gained autonomy over her self sometime in her twenties, her presentation can be seen to somewhat reject conventional femininity; cutting her hair, and expressing no style that nods towards womanhood, rather looking more like a little boy dressed up in luxury from a distance. This exemplifies the emptiness of the age’s trite aspiration, written into Fitzgerald novels and displayed in all of Andy’s work. In fact, Andy’s work could be said to be post-american, and the consumer loved him for being radically kitsch in referencing a universal dream that failed a generation of America.

Andy was the same as Edie in a lot of ways, yet he had more protection than her.

The obvious goes without saying: he was a man, so it could be assumed that he faced less adversity than her. Although his identity was not a magpie of others, he did perform a formulated self that could be argued to be inauthentic. It is known he was always insecure about his skin, and famously wore wigs to cover his prematurely thin hair. This was the armour he chose to cloak himself in, hiding under a mop like a moody teenager. The consistency he obtained with his hair was remarkable, and critical comment certifies that: "The wigs are a part of him, and Warhol himself was an artwork." (Gregor Muir, 2020 Director of Collection International Art Tate.) As a very successful man, he fooled the world (and himself) into thinking that he was special: living in the clouds. This arrogance angered people too, how could a queer man live it up formulating art all day while America worked! This attitude extended to a woman from within his Factory that shot him in 1968. This demoted him, and reminded all of Andy’s human state. As embarrassing as this scandal would have been, it was an even greater insult to him that he had to wear a corset for the rest of his days. He may have experimented with drag, but this was not an accessory of the American businessman. He was not free, he never was, and none of the people he ran into for an escape were any closer to it than he was, running into them.

Danny Fields, close friend of Edie Sedgwick commented that; “being gay was never an impediment to being in love with Edie Sedgwick. She made everybody feel hairy-chested. It was clear that she was the female and you were the male, and if you’re gay, you’re not always so sure which one you are.” (Danny Fields, a close friend of Edie Sedgwick 196-.) which was a feeling I suspect Andy enjoyed, for in the light of day he wished to not be seen as anything but a man. Evidently, this comment applies binary where it is not warranted, misunderstanding how queer relationships function without the structure of a heterosexual dynamic. Still, Andy loved power, that is simple to see, and he loved Edie's power too. She was the perfect actress, with no strong identity of her own she could morph into anyone to gain the approval of her viewer. This was mesmerising to Andy: in his possession was a person who could escape their strife by ceasing to exist entirely, in a way he sought to escape also. Such reminds me of a line Chris Kraus wrote in I Love Dick metaphorizing the process of reinvention that our being has to undertake in order to grow: “We suicide ourselves for our own survival,” (Kraus, C. I love Dick 1997) she writes, but this was not the Warhol methodology.

He hid behind his wigs and people and masc-urade of society floating above Manhattan. Untouchable, touching others, taking their stories and retaining capital, the money of the modern man ending up in his possession to fuel the factory culture. He was clever in the sense that he identified a gap in the art market in the shape of the working class imagery he brought with him. He arrived with his dialect of bean cans and capitalism like a fetishised foreigner to the upper class commercial art market. His art was comedy to old money, and he was willing to laugh at himself in order to sit with the popular kids at lunch on the upper east side.

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