Thursday, March 7, 2019

Andy Warhol at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Yours truly in front of Andy Warhol's colorful silk screen of art collector Ethel Scull. 
TD and I headed over to the Whitney in the Meatpacking District to see the Andy Warhol retrospective up until March 31. I think the new Whitney is great; I like it much better than the old Whitney uptown designed in the brutalist style by Marcel Breuer. The new version created by Renzo Piano is lofty and airy with super-high ceilings, and the gallery walls can be reconfigured for each show. The Warhol exhibition takes one whole floor and it's spaciously mounted.

I found the show to be very interesting and surprisingly serious. I thought it would be more colorful and jazzy and celebrity-driven since Andy was best know for his portraits of famous people - Liza! Liz! Farah Fawcett! But this show was toned down and quite rigorous as it explored Warhol as an artist. One also got the sense of what a hard worker Andy Warhol was as he produced art works, films, tv shows and Interview magazine.
I liked these delicate gold leaf shoe paintings --

I think I was expecting more razzmatazz because of The Andy Warhol Diaries, the very entertaining book that was published in 1989 following Warhol's unexpected death in 1987. Andy was out on the town socially in New York City practically every night and at the end of each night he dictated notes to a friend. He was a sharp observer and the book is an amusing account of New York in the '80s with appearances by Halston and Liza and Mikhail Baryshnikov, etc, etc. Andy talks about how hard he worked to get commissions for those expensive portraits which kept his whole operation running. I, incidentally, am a big fan of diaries - Leo Lerman's diaries called The Grand Surprise is wonderful, and Tina Brown's The Vanity Fair Diaries is wickedly humorous.

I personally did not know Andy Warhol as others in New York did though I did see him out at the night clubs Area and Palladium. The exhibition includes a big painting with "Paramount" splashed across it and notes that it may refer to Andy's boyfriend Jon Gould who worked at Paramount when Barry Diller was running the studio and hiring handsome men. When I worked for a small magazine company my boss was Katy Dobbs, whose best friend was Jon Gould. They had met at the summer Radcliffe Publishing Course. I remember seeing him a couple of times - a super-chic man. Jon Gould died of AIDS. Katy spoke at his funeral and said it was the hardest thing she ever did.

Then Andy passed away in 1987. That was a shock. He went into the hospital for a routine gall bladder operation and died the following morning.  It was one of those moments when you hear the news about someone and remember exactly where you are standing - I saw it plastered across The New York Post at the neighborhood corner magazine store. Besides being a prolific artist, he was a great connector of people in New York and it was a big loss for the city. Now with this exhibition at the Whitney, Andy was gotten his due.

One of the favorite things I saw at the museum was on another floor - this portrait of Andy Warhol on the right with his friend Ted Carey painted by Fairfield Porter from 1960. Ted Carey also died of AIDS.

I love the easy elegance of Fairfield Porter paintings and how this portrait captures a young Andy Warhol before all of his big success.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Celebration of the Life of Mario Buatta

Writer Emily Evans Eerdmans (center) speaking at the event. 
Now that's what I call a memorial service. On Monday night I was invited to attend a celebration of  the remarkable life of American decorator Mario Buatta who passed away in October. The event was hosted by Emily Evans Eerdmans, Patricia Altschul, Anne Eisenhower and Hilary Geary Ross, and held at the Park Avenue Armory where The Winter Show (previously called The Winter Antiques Show) is now in session. Mario is an old pal who Ted and I had known for years. Besides his talent for creating beautiful rooms inspired by the English country style, he was indeed a larger than life character with an ebullient personality and a mischievous sense of humor. When Mario received an honor from the New York School of Interior Design, we did a video interview with him on the blog - you can watch it here.

On Monday night it was 11 degrees out, RealFeel negative 9, or something like that. I bundled up and headed uptown. When I arrived the place was already packed! There must have been 300 people already sitting on gold gilt chairs so it was standing room only. I stopped at the bar for a glass of red wine to fortify myself. A man said to me, "Mario would have loved this."

I inched through the crowd and secured a place to stand along the back wall where I noticed how beautiful the renovated, ornate Veterans Room is with its carved wood paneling and green-painted walls. Glass globes holding lights dangled off of exotic metal chandeliers overhead. The program began with a tv interview with a younger Mario. Then there were nine speakers in the program, commencing with Mario's friend Hilary Geary Ross. The pretty and blond Ms. Ross noted that Mario and she "were like brother and sister though he always introduced me as his mother."

I think every single speaker mentioned Mario's insect gag which I witnessed myself one day when we went to a lunch at the Sherry Netherlands Hotel. Suddenly on the white linen cloth was a big, ugly, brown cockroach jumping across the table. There were shrieks all around, but the cockroach was a plastic fake on a fishing wire tugged by Mario himself.

His cousin Anne Newgarden reminisced about growing up on Staten Island with Mario. Designer Christopher Spitzmiller recalled how Mario told him his pants were "like a cheap mansion - no ballroom." Editor David Patrick Columbia observed that though Mario was fun and jolly, there was a darker more complicated side to him and I think that is correct - Mario talked to me about being single and his frustrations with dating.

Towards the end of the event a diminutive lady in the back row stood up and left her seat - I thought she might be looking for a restroom. But she walked to the front and picked up a microphone and started singing; it was the great cabaret performer Marilyn Maye who then offered moving renditions of "Secret of Life" and "Here's to Life" followed by loud applause. It was one of those moments when you think, "New York is so amazing." After the event was over, it was back out into the cold night but the warm affection that was in the room stayed with me. It was a lasting tribute to Mario; indeed he would have loved it.