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When Andy Warhol died in 1989, he left the bulk of his estate to the Andy Warhol Foundation, which was originally managed by his good friend Fred Hughes. Through the years, the foundation has protected Warhol’s work and legacy, and it also has been an important benefactor to both artists and organizations that support the arts. The Warhol Foundation is completely independent, because Warhol did not put any restrictions of any kind on how it was run. Still, when it was announced recently that it was going to sell all its holdings over the next 5 years, through the auction house Christie’s in NYC and through private sales, the art world was shocked. Though the idea is to protect the integrity and longevity of its endowment, it’s hard to imagine the Warhol Foundation without any Warhols. But c’est la vie, or c’est la mort in this case, that’s what is about to happen. The first of the auctions will take place at Christie’s this November 12, 2012 and Dish Magazine is re-running this delightful memoir about Andy in honor of the occasion.

When you think about famed film director Steven Soderbergh, you probably don’t think about Steven’s mother Midge, Andy Warhol, or me for that matter. But, surprise-surprise, we are all closely connected. Here’s how……

Andy WarholWhen I began my photography career, I was pretty much an amateur, but I was able to fool a lot of people into thinking I was a pro. Because of that, I got the chance to photograph Andy Warhol at the Factory with a group of his Superstars, and several other pretty, but clearly peculiar, men and women (When you could tell if they were men or women!). The occasion was another photo shoot being done by famed British fashion photographer Cecil Beaton, who crossed the pond with a bevy of cute assistants for the occasion. Beaton wore a distinctive Saville Row tailored suit, and a large white hat for the occasion. My job was to shoot his shoot for a now long-forgotten magazine.

Andy was already famous when this shoot happened, so you might think I would remember the moment I actually met him. But alas, not so. Nothing whatsoever comes to mind. But it’s for certain that I was there, as I have the photos to show for it.

Skip forward a decade or more, and I am now living in Nashville, TN where I’m introduced to Midge Soderbergh, a wonderfully witty, artistic woman. She also had, and still has, a deeply spiritual side, as well as a touch of clairvoyance. We hit it off, with Midge calling me as required by her visions, to give me very adamant advice about this matter or that. And now, years later, we’re still in touch.

Now one might think that years of friendship might mean you know somebody pretty well, but it turns out that as often as not this is not true. You see, I did not know that Midge was born in Pittsburgh, went to Carnegie Mellon when she was 17 years old, or that she sat next to a young Andy Warhol in both of their first art classes!

Now as for me, Andy liked me. I know he did, not because he said so but because if Andy didn’t like you, you didn’t show your face around the Factory no mo’. How or by whom the message to get lost was delivered I do not know, but however it was done, the deliveree was a goner. You just did not come back. My photos are filled with many such persons, and I have no idea who they are.

Andy Warhol and ArchieSo I was fortunate, oh so fortunate, to be able to return to the Factory to take pictures of Andy for many, many years. Whenever I asked, the answer was always yes. Things changed as time went on of course, with old superstars fading away as new faces began appearing in Andy’s paintings or films, the old Max’s Kansas City hangout being replaced by Studio 54, the Factory moving to a new location, Andy getting shot by Valerie Solanis and security tightening, and the founding of Interview Magazine, but the bottom line was that as long as Andy was there, the show always went on. Until the ultimate change, when Andy suddenly died in a freaky hospital accident, and the party came to a screeching halt.

You are reading this, I know that you are, (Yes, I mean YOU dear reader) and I think I know why.  It’s because these days everyone and their favorite uncle is crazy about Andy Warhol, his artwork sells for millions, and his legend grows stronger every day. You and everybody else wants to know what Andy Warhol was like!

Since I found out about the Midge-Andy connection a few days ago, while I was thinking about writing this article, I called the lovely Ms. Soderbergh and asked her if she would do a phone interview with me about Andy right then and there. Always game, she agreed.

I knew Andy well strictly through photography. I’d see him around town from time to time with his cadre of raucous superstars, or with his very wealthy or very famous friends at other times. He always smiled at me when he spotted me, but we were not close friends that way. But when it came to picture taking, he was completely focused on only me. Never rushed. Never busy. Never distracted. Andy Warhol was all mine.

So skip ahead in time, and I’m talking to Midge about Andy. I asked her if Andy was good looking at age 17? “In a very interesting way,” she replied. “In the way he presented himself,  I always thought he was posing. I felt like he was aware of himself and projecting an image – but not contrived or false.”

Andy wearing a big, black fake mustacheIt’s difficult to describe what Andy was like to photograph, since he was so co-operative and game for pretty much anything. I have photos of him wearing a big, black fake mustache, photos of him pretending to box like Muhammed Ali, and photos of him pretending to be Andy Warhol. I photographed him being fitted for a suit by Halston, sporting a foolish-looking tape measure around his head, dancing like a spaz at Studio 54, and pretending to go see a XXX porno movie on  pre-Disney 42nd Street. But  the odd thing is he never, ever suggested a shot or a pose himself. My pictures of Andy are all 100% me.

Is Andy really the subject of my pictures, or are my pictures my fantasy of Andy? I’m not really sure.

Midge said, “He was very silent most of the time. He wasn’t a very talkative person, never really vivacious. But he was very polite, He was truly a very sensitive person. I never felt he was saying anything he didn’t believe. He was very much an artist in that sense.”

She shared her recollections by phone, “I remember him very clearly because I was very impressed with the kind of modesty of this person,” she continued. “He didn’t over dress, and he didn’t over-energize his ego on anybody.”

Photo Frame of Andy WarholIn hindsight I think that my photos of Andy work so well because of how he looked, super-thin with pale blue eyes and that ubiquitous blonde wig. I thought of it as a peculiar affectation, but I heard recently that Andy was actually bald by the time I met him. But whatever the truth behind that, and so many other rumors about Andy, I do not know whether it is true or not.

Midge commented, “The thing that was kind of startling was his eyes and his blonde hair and his complexion and of course, in Pittsburgh he would be known as someone who obviously might be Polish. His hair was cut in the fashion of the time, and I liked his hair, I liked the way he combed it. He had a very broad lock of hair that would hang down over his forehead, and he had a very nice straight part in it. It was a very wide part to the left side of his head. It was very neat.”

I asked Midge about her first first impression of Andy. “It was interesting,” she said. He was wearing a turtleneck sweater, a very common thing that he wore later. And he had on, not jeans because they didn’t have jeans like we have today. I think he wore trousers and shoes. He was modestly dressed, and he didn’t have a jacket. Clothes black, everything was black.”

She recently took a trip to the Andy Warhol Museum. “The thing that was interesting, that kind of perked my memory bank, was they have a cabinet, and in this cabinet they have a pair of tennis shoes, and a tie and some jeans that he wore and I said ‘yes.’ I looked at the tennis shoes and remembered that he did wear tennis shoes and I thought ‘that looks like him.’”
Andy Warhol hard at work on his projects
She added, “He seemed to think he was going to be very successful with where he was going with his interests. He felt that he wanted to be a commercial artist. He never talked about being a fine artist or a painter. He was really sold on commercial art. He had a lot of skill, and he really encouraged me."

By the time I met Andy, half of New York was his friend, and the other half wanted to be. I asked Midge if Andy had a lot of friends? “I don’t think I ever saw anyone come to meet him. I do remember him standing in the hallway at times, talking to other students but I never knew who they were,” she said.
Andy Warhol on the streets of NY

She added, “He was a very private person. A lot more private that I was, because with my Italian background I was very open to a lot of people. I just enjoyed being with people. That was very common. Even today in Pittsburgh.”

She concluded, “I think he was just born into that celebrity-ness, he just has this aura about him like that. I think it was his self assurance about his gift. Very focused. I think my son Steven came in this world like that.”

“Old souls!”

 

For any of you in the Nashville, TN area DO NOT MISS "Andy, The Factory & Me", a never-before-seen photography exhibition of Andy Warhol photos by Raeanne Rubenstein at the Tinney Contemporary Gallery, Opening August 6 from 6 - 9 until September 3, 2011.

To see additional photographs, and hear Rubenstein speak about her recollections and impressions of Warhol, be at the Frist Museum Auditorium on August 11, 2011 at 6:30

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 140 - September 7947
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