Monday, March 31, 2008

Factory Made

I just finished the massive tome "Factory Made: Warhol And The Sixties" by Steven Watson. Because of my love of art and pop culture, the Factory has always interested me and this was a great opportunity to learn the behind the scenes stories.

I will start by saying I'm not sure I'm any more able to explain Warhol's greatness now than I was when I started. It's more clear what made him special, but why that's special escapes me to some degree. The confusion probably stems from his similarity to Marcel Duchamp, which I had never really considered before. If Duchamp could take a toilet or a bicycle wheel and say it's art, then a bunch of Brillo boxes could be as well. Silk screening? What is that exactly?

This goes to the heart of what art is and who says so and why, etc. It's a never ending, tiring argument that will be debated for years to come. In my opinion, it basically comes down to if someone who considers themselves an artist calls something "art" and gets validation from someone who claims to know the difference, then it must be art. My appreciation for it runs much deeper than my understanding of it.
I will say it's clear that if "artists" catered my wants and opinions they would cease to be anything. If they don't stick to their vision, they've lost anything that made them unique in the first place. Rothko saw beauty in only a couple colors at a time. Lichtenstein thought remaking comic panels was interesting. For Pollock it was drips. Whatever it is, it forces the viewer to sit back and to determine how they feel about it. Art isn't always like your favorite song.

The book digs into the lives of the peripheral figures of the Factory and it's their stories I found the most engrossing. So many freaks and outcasts who found a home and a creative outlet under Andy's avuncular wings. First of all, it makes sure to mention where they came from, their sexuality, the drugs they were addicted to, and what became of them.

Billy Name, Taylor Mead, Edie Sedgewick and the rest equal Andy in their compelling stories and you see the part each played in advancing the Warhol myth. You also see that Warhol would be very little without them. What Andy was was a terrific meastro of creativity. He allowed it, encouraged it, gave people a place to do it, he collaborated, he organized it, he labeled it. His openness brought out the best in his players and each played a part in his career. The book makes fairly clear that others did much of the silk screening, others positioned the cameras and replaced the film, others certainly performed the music. He was the umbrella. He turned it "on" both literally and figuratively.

He was also a massive voyeur, which was the motivation for much of what he did. Film seems to be where his heart led him and where he felt the most satisfaction because it allowed him the opportunity to just sitback and watch. He allowed mistakes, they were part of the story. He wanted to see people at their most real and vulnerable, which included sex and drug taking, and some violence. Now I know what inspired the scene in American Beauty with the floating plastic bag.
Andy saw the world as though it was covered in a glossy enamel. Every object, alive or not, had inherent glamour that a camera could just unlock and set free. Being burned in celuloid would make everthing famous. It was the difference between normal and spectacle. It's no wonder that he would name one of his famous projects the "Exploding Plastic Inevitable", as the name would imply that something was at the tipping point between obscurity and legion.
Actually, you learn in the book that it wasn't him who named it, but Paul Morrissey. More evidence that Andy surrounded himself by subordinates who worked to enhance his image.

It didn't hurt that he got shot either. No better way to cement one's legacy than to go out in a hail of gunfire. Granted, he didn't die, but that didn't seem to matter much. The fact that Valerie Solanas shot him because she saw him as an symbol of the power of men and the oppression of women, is almost comical. That story is still fuzzy to me. Anyone who could see Andy as that is obviously deranged.

Another interesting point is that many of the Factory people didn't go on to anything special. They remained struggling poets, artists, actors, musicians. The Factory didn't propel careers, other than Andy's. You realize that the only difference between a legacy and obscurity is seeing your name in print. And print doesn't pay. They may have all been important for a decade, but that didn't pay the bills the rest of their lives. That is an incongruity many of us don't think about. We assume that these people had careers and must have been successful, otherwise we wouldn't be reading about them. There were no residual checks.
I would highly recommend this book, but only if you either care about Warhol or find freaks fascinating. It's big, but it isn't daunting. The margins are large and leave room for plenty of quotes, photos, definitions, and data. If nothing else, scour the link to it above. If it turns you on, than dig.
One bit of advice. I read this mostly on my lunch hours at work. When I'd return to my desk, I'd often Google the people I'd just read about to see some photos and get more background. Let's just say, do not Google Joe D'Allesandro images while at work. If someone sees you, you'll be forced to explain that you really are heterosexual, that you like women a lot, maybe even show them the picture of your wife and kid, and that this was just research. Or make some lighthearted joke about it because people will get some funny ideas.


Marilyn said...

I love your blog, Jon. You are such a great writer and thinker, and always at top form when you're writing about pop culture. This reminds me of when you wrote movie reviews for that online publication - was it "Madman?" You and Farrah should start your own agency or something - you're both so creative and edgy! Love you, Mom

AnnieB said...

This is what you are meant to do! Amazing! I love how you said that the only difference between obscurity and legacy is a printed name. Perhaps, this is your legacy! Too bad that, like you also said, it doesn't always pay (monetary, at least). Your brilliance is sure to reap other rewards!

AnnieB said...

Tell me about the name of your blog, by the way...