Volume 4 opens as Warhol changes studio, moving across Union Square to his new studio at 860 Broadway, where he would work for the next ten years. Even as the move was taking place around him, Warhol continued to work, photographing the transvestite models for his new series of paintings, drawings and prints—Ladies and Gentlemen, and producing the earliest paintings in the series. I’m always struck by the fact that Warhol worked constantly and how he improvised his workspaces. In Volume 4, we see him setting up different kinds of places to work within the 12,500 square-foot domain of 860 Broadway: for example, in interstitial places like a small, unremarkable wall in the reception area where he posed his portrait sitters, or in spaces set out for other uses like the screening room and storage areas at the back of the studio, both without natural light, that he appropriated as painting studios. At 860 Broadway, Warhol’s varied and interlocking enterprises—painting, drawing, photography, video, archiving, writing and publishing—finally become consolidated into a single space, but he had to carve out places of his own to make his paintings.
Assembling a catalogue raisonné is like detective work. It is based on the evidentiary procedures of art history: the testimony of eyewitnesses (the artist’s assistants, colleagues, and friends), tracking the paper tail (the documentary and archival record), above all, carefully examining the body (the material record of the work of art itself), and its companions (the corpus). I always begin with an outline that gradually takes shape as our research proceeds. I try to find the narrative of Warhol’s studio—in New York and on the road. I like to think that one volume leads to the next, but that each volume has distinct contours—a story of its own. Each volume takes several years to complete. The Catalogue Raisonné team consists of six people including me, but it involves the participation and collaboration of literally dozens of people.
Warhol photographed fourteen transvestite models for the Ladies and Gentlemen series, which consisted of paintings, drawings and prints. Warhol’s models were not Factory superstars like Candy Darling (who had died on March 21, 1974, several months before he began the series), Jackie Curtis or Holly Woodlawn, or show queens, but drag queens who lived urgent and precarious lives on the street. Slightly more than 100 paintings were commissioned and exhibited in the 15th century Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy in late 1975. Most of the exhibition was acquired by one collector, who warehoused the paintings in Switzerland. They were rarely seen except for a one-day exhibition that he organized during the 1988 Venice Biennale, one year after Warhol died. It was staged rather theatrically in a former Benedictine abbey across the Grand Canal from the Piazza San Marco. Warhol painting more than two and half times as many paintings than were required by the commission. Most of these paintings never left his studio, where they remained, mostly stretched but unseen, until after his death. Years after the series was completed, Warhol remarked to an interviewer that he “may have been thinking of Picasso at the time.” Indeed! I think the Ladies and Gentlemen series resonate with the virtuosity and invention of Picasso’s late work. Volume 4 reassembles this virtually unknown but brilliant series for the first time, as well as the complete portrait sittings of all fourteen models—slightly over 500 Polaroids in all.
I’m thinking of the way that Warhol in the Ladies and Gentlemen paintings, like Picasso in his late work, pushes his visual language to its limits. For Picasso, the language was Cubism, for Warhol the dissonance between painted and printed surfaces. Their expressive motivations may have been different—Warhol was in the middle of his career, Picasso at the end. Picasso died in 1973, about a year before Warhol embarked on the Ladies and Gentlemen series. Not to put too fine a point upon the parallel, but Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen paintings, like Picasso’s late works, are visually explosive, about extremes.
Both series highlight Warhol’s painterly accomplishments and his feeling and daring use of color, although his subjects are entirely different: intimate but utterly unsentimental portraits of people’s pets, including his own dachshunds, on the one hand, and imposing, monumental portraits of the American Indian activist Russell Means, on the other.
I like to think that the Catalogue Raisonné gives each new series due consideration, and that we examine the multiple determinations that moved Warhol, as well as the way each body of work developed. Warhol loved animals and the Cats and Dogs portraits are tender and elegiac; nonetheless the series evolved from a still life project that began with paintings of mounted animals purchased from taxidermy and antique shops and developed into a portrait series. In a sense, their exhibition in London touches on a cultural cliché—the fondness of the English for their pets. This is somewhat similar to the exhibitions of the American Indian paintings, which took place in Los Angeles and Vancouver—out West. Warhol was fascinated by Hollywood, but he was also a passionate collector of Indian art from the Pacific Northwest coast and the American Southwest. Typically we think of Warhol as an open book, but lesser known series like these reveal how layered his choices could be, how contradictory, and complex.
To study a single artist in detail over many years is a dispensation. I feel especially lucky to have been granted this kind of intense and privileged access to the work and world of an artist who changed the face of art in our time—Andy Warhol.
Warhol was famously productive; his work remarkably inventive. There is always more to see and learn. When Warhol died he left behind an unprecedented if unsystematic record of his art in hundreds of boxes of ephemera, including approximately 600 Time Capsules. Likewise, the Warhol market is exceptionally active and Warhol studies represent a veritable industry of new exhibitions and publications. All of this keeps us on our toes!
As long as I can remember, I have been passionate about Warhol’s work. Working on the Catalogue Raisonné for the last twenty years, I have found that my perspective on Warhol has changed, rather than my views or opinions.
My focus is always on Warhol’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings, but more and more I find myself factoring in the role of Warhol’s other activities and the wider field of his enterprises, for example, filmmaking and photography, writing and publishing. I am fascinated as well by the dynamic between his commissioned portraits and works in series. I am also more attentive to the reception of each new body of work during Warhol’s lifetime. By definition a catalogue raisonné is work-centred and material-based. As we proceed, however, volume by volume, I have found myself more open to and interested in a narrative that takes in Warhol’s life and as well as his works.—[O]