In his time, Andy Warhol was revered, even if there was some trepidation on the part of the art world. But it wasn’t until his death, and the time that has passed since, that Warhol became truly vindicated. His flippancy was often met with contempt, as most people in positions of power when it comes to “tastemaking” have a tendency to believe that even the most absurd things should be taken seriously.
Warhol simpered in the face of seriousness, turning the upper crust of New York City on its ear with his screen prints designed for mass consumption in accordance with the assembly line-like creative process behind creating them. Even his films thumbed their nose at the movie industry, with movies like Sleep, a 521 minute long take of his friend and occasional lover, John Giorno, sleeping. And who could forget that love letter to the blow job Blow Job? And these were just his “experimental” films. Elsewhere, he fathered the true meaning of camp cinema with Chelsea Girls, Flesh, Trash and Women in Revolt at the forefront of perfecting the palatability of the avant-garde.
Warhol wasn’t content to stop at paintings, screen prints or movies, either. Who could forget him as the Wizard of Oz-esque puppeteer behind The Velvet Underground? For it was through his traveling (throughout various parts of NYC) performance piece called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable that The Velvet Underground and Nico took the stage, ultimately collaborating with Warhol for the cover art (the now illustrious banana) of their debut album.
In spite of constant struggles with his health that only worsened in the 80s, Warhol continued to be just as prolific, amping up the covers and content of the now iconic Interview magazine, and even finding time to collaborate with “it” artist of the downtown scene, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Then there was that trailblazing show Fifteen Minutes With Andy Warhol, which found Warhol once again at the epicenter of current trends by getting the series to air on then cutting-edge MTV. With an intro that spoofed The Brady Bunch, Warhol’s pop culture panache found an outlet with guests like Debbie Harry, who in episode one states, “So Andy, I bet you love drag queens. The New York center for drag is the Pyramid Club.” And so it went that the show capitalized on Warhol’s knack for appealing to the timid voyeur too afraid to experience things for himself by offering him a glimpse into nightlife he would never otherwise have access to. Indeed, in many senses, Warhol was always creating art with the voyeur in mind.
As a notorious hypochondriac (a condition that particularly intensified after the attempt on his life by simultaneous saint and she-devil Valerie Solanas), Warhol avoided treating his longstanding issues with his gallbladder for fifteen years, in addition to having to wear girdles simply to hold in his bowels (an extra getting-ready element that inevitably made him even more overly self-conscious of his appearance than he already was).
When he entered New York Hospital on February 21, 1987, it was with much trepidation. And rightly so. Perhaps somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew no good could come of the procedure. Later, the surgeon would report that the gangrenous gallbladder fell apart upon removal. Incidentally, it was ventricular fibrillation in his post-op state that took his life. In layman’s terms, on the morning of February 22, his heart shuddered and ceased to beat. Warhol died delicately, just as he had lived. Which is to say that though he was constantly “on the scene,” he was always removed from it, watching instead of participating. His role as voyeur is what made him so adept at capturing modern humanity, and possessing the ability to make prescient comments about it—most obviously: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.”
If this doesn’t indicate Nostradamus-level foresight, then what does?