The exhibit makes it perfectly clear that Warhol wasn’t the only one fascinated with the sometimes brief candle of flame. Richard Avedon, who worshiped at the throne of celebrity, is represented by his scathing Gelatin silver print of Truman Capote. The face is of a weathered, cynical, and bemused man in middle-age. Another portrait of Fidel Castro by Hiroshi Sugimoto, which shows a standing Castro, is actually based on a life-like image from Madame Tussauds’ Wax Museum in London. The accompanying label reveals Sugimoto’s sentiments: “If this photograph now appears lifelike to you, you had better reconsider what it means to be alive here and now.”

Queerdom and Other Miscellany

If Warhol embraced the cult of celebrity, he was just as quick to embrace the gay universe with no apology. In the pre-liberation atmosphere of the Factory, examples of masquerade and drag portraiture became the norm, and the Met has made an attempt at cohesion in this regard. Warhol has represented artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in an unmemorable pose of adoration. More affecting are the photographic entries, such as Avedon’s portrait of John Martin from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo or Catherine Opie’s Dyke, a touching portrait of a young “butch” woman from the back, with “Dyke” emblazoned in an archaic typeface on the back of her neck. Christopher Makos’ Lady Warhol gives us the artist himself in a white wig, dressed in a Marlene Dietrich pants and shirt pose. Ironically, the strongest portrait of all is Warhol’s own self-portrait, produced a year before his death in 1987. Dressed in camouflage, shot with a flash-illuminated Polaroid camera, the man who stares back at us is a harrowing, disembodied pale-faced mask in a silver spiked wig.

Warhol was a master at appropriating (borrowing of an image from another source for one’s own purposes) and seriality. This exhibit has tacked on a number of examples under the subhead of “consuming images.” One attention-getter in these categories is The Liberation of Aunt Jemima by Betye Saar. This mixed-media entry portrays the African-American standard-bearer of pancake mix transformed into an empowered woman, a broom in one hand and a gun in the other. Warhol’s obsession with repetition is well represented by Marilyn Monroe’s Lips, a work that needs little or no explanation for most of us.

His obsession with video is represented in Empire, an eight-hour 16mm film, consisting of a single stationary shot of the Empire State Building from 8:06 p.m. to 2:42 a.m. Further frustrating the hardiest of viewers, he projected it at an even slower speed. It does manage to display the passage of light to dark. It’s anyone’s guess whether this was his prime intention.

Acquiring a silent 16mm Bolex camera, Warhol produced his Screen Tests, one labeled Nico, which is shown at the exhibit. Between 1964 and 1966, Warhol captured some 475 subjects in four-minute films. He placed friends and visitors in a corner of the studio and made them sit as still as possible. In such a fashion, he managed to immortalize some of the key players in the mid-60s art scene, like Edie Sedgwick, Viva, Ultra Violet, Jackie Curtis, Brigid Berlin, Billy Name, Ondine, Candy Darling, and so many others. Was it his own humble beginnings that made him crave celebrity for himself and others?

Born Andrew Varchola, Jr. on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, the fourth child of a Slovakian coalminer, he became the victim of a rare disease of the nervous system at eight that left him bedridden for months, drawing and taking photos becoming his favorite pastimes with much added encouragement from his mother. His father died when he was only 14, but had recognized his son’s talents and dictated that his life savings would go toward the boy’s education. The rest of the mercurial path to fame is, as they say, history.

It’s doubtful that Andrew Varchola Sr. could have connected the dots to see where his son’s talents took him. Perhaps we’ll never know what made the “real” Andy tick, but there’s no question that the artist’s work represents a seismic shift in the way we look at art today. The Met can be commended for recognizing in a sometimes haphazard but formidable way, Warhol’s legacy.

(“Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” is on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 18 through December 31, 2012 inside the Tisch Galleries, 1000 Fifth Avenue, 10026-10028, New York, NY. For more information call 212-535-7710 or visit

Read on for an exclusive interview with Steve Balkin, artist and past owner of the Burlington Toy Factory as well as a friend of Andy Warhol.

Hanging with Andy – A Footnote to Warhol History

For over 30 years, Steve Balkin was the owner of the Burlington Toy Factory at 1082 Madison Avenue. But today, it isn’t just toy soldiers that bring out the nostalgic side of the man. He’s also a photographer, graphic designer, abstract painter, former actor and merchant marine. He also remembers Andy Warhol very well and was kind enough to share some reminiscences with GALO. We met at his favorite coffee shop at 82nd and Madison.

GALO: You were modeling and acting in New York in the late ’50s when you met Andy. Tell me something about that.

Steve Balkin: Guys like Brando and Dean, they were really into it. I have to confess, I have a personality that was more like a Monty Clift. My role was to project a certain thing. Without jumping on top of a car and pounding on it, you could still be a man; you could still feel things without being a complainer, a cry baby…when I met Andy, I was taking acting classes on 54th Street. I’d go to the Art Students League on 57th after and I signed up with one class with a guy named Steve Green. He thought I had some talent, and so he took a certain interest. We had a close knit group, eight or ten of us, and we’d go around the corner to O’Malley’s Bar and have a hamburger. One night, he looks at his watch and says, “C’mon, let’s go downtown.” So, we go down to Eighth Street, where the Art Club was, and around the corner was the Cedar Tavern.

GALO: That was the hangout for the abstract school then, wasn’t it?

SB: As best as I can recall, the old school guys. Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb would sit at the bar. They all had studios here and that was their home. So, Steve and I go in. He’s a generation younger, maybe 50s and they’re in their 60s, and I’m like 23. I really liked it there, the energy…so I started to know some of the artists.

GALO: That’s where you met Andy?

SB: Friday or Saturday night, I’d hang around the Village. So, I’m just standing there feeling all those ozones of energy being at art center USA and a guy comes over and says “hi,” and I say “hi,” and he says, “my friend just voted you the best looking guy in the bar. We were wondering if you’d care to come over and join us.” So, I went back to their table and there’s Henry Geldzahler and he says, “I’ve just written a book on surrealism, have you heard of it?” And I said “no” and he said, “I’ll get you a copy and autograph it.” That was about 1960.

GALO: So that was before the Factory, the videos?

SB: Yeah. I think, at the time, Andy thought I was a special person; Steve [Green] had gone to Pratt and recommended me, so I went back, doing Joseph Cornell type boxes and drafting and odd photography jobs. And the next semester, I met my pal Al Hansen. I think I was more involved with Andy’s life than some of those other people. They don’t know the back story. Andy had one part of his life that moved in gay circles but was also very fond of me and Al. We were macho types, one was loud and I was the quiet one.

GALO: Maybe it was a refreshing change for Andy?

SB: We were pals. I was always in love with photo images; no TV when I was a boy. Andy used to come along with Al and me, and when I lost my teaching job, I’d be working for Time as a graphic designer once a week. There was just enough income to pay rent and stuff. One of my hobbies was taking four shots for a quarter in the Photomat booths and Andy saw my little strips. He thought it was a great idea. “How did you think of that,” he said, and I said, “They’re just images, like motion picture stills.”

GALO: That could have been the beginning of his serialization — his repetitions.

SB: Oh, it was. Then they came out with Polaroids, and if you bought ten packs of film, you could get a Polaroid camera with a long photo lens for about ten bucks. Gerard Malanga, who did a lot of Andy’s silk screens, would take Andy’s portraits to a silkscreen house and they’d blow up the picture giant-size. That’s really how the silk screening started. Malanga studied silk screening at my high school, and that’s how he got his job with Andy.

GALO: What was the Factory like as you recall?

SB: In the beginning, it was a real workplace but as Andy’s fame grew, I started to back off. It became more of a hangout. It was about publicity seeking. One day, I was reading the Post and there was Andy in the Leonard Lyons column. He had made the transition from art into society columns and that’s where they started quoting him in the society pages…Leonard Lyons, Earl Wilson, Suzy and all the society gals.

GALO: All of a sudden, he was the new kid on the block.

SB: Yeah (pause). Baby Jane Holzer (one of the Factory stars) lived right above this café. When he died, they had the wake at the corner, and I remember Bob Colacello from Interview Magazine counting heads. They were all there, Candy Darling…or Jimmy. Nice guy, Candy.

GALO: Thank you, Steve.

Cincopa WordPress plugin