Who tried to kill Andy Warhol

"Andy was very shy"

Sunday, May 23rd, 2021

Conclusion / archive | Article from 08/06/2008

Art historian Tilman Osterwold on Andy Warhol

Tilman Osterwold in conversation with Matthias Hanselmann

Self-portrait by Andy Warhol in the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn (AP)

According to art historian and curator Tilman Osterwold, Andy Warhol's extrovert was often just a mask. Camouflage colors were among Warhol's favorite colors. "Of course he was hiding somewhere in order to reveal himself more realistically, openly and clearly artistically," says Osterwold, who considers Warhol to be a highly conceptual artist.

Matthias Hanselmann: Andy Warhol, graphic artist, filmmaker and publisher, as well as one of the most important artists of American Pop Art would have turned 80 today. He made the Campbells soup cans famous around the world, he produced a Marilyn Monroe portrait as a series screen print, and his New York studio "Factory" was the water heater for America's young art scene in the mid-1960s. He was an eccentric, a self-promoter and, as "Der Spiegel" writes, he knew what electrifies the masses.

Professor Doctor Tilman Osterwold is the author of the book "Pop Art", an art historian, curator of numerous exhibitions, including pictures by Andy Warhol, and was until recently director of the Paul Klee Center in Bern. We are connected to him now. Good day.

Tilman Osterwold: Yes, greet you, Mr. Hanselmann.

Hanselmann: Mr. Osterwold, you knew Andy Warhol personally. If he knew we were talking about him today on his 80th birthday, what would he say or think?

Osterwold: Andy was very shy. And basically he would say: "Birthday again". He kind of hated his birthday. At 52 he felt like a classic car and his friends, they had to whisper to him, so to speak, when they congratulated him. Well, that was a rather depressing day for him, as he writes in his diary himself, but in short, I would say he flirted with it a little too.

Hanselmann: They say he was very shy. In your opinion, what kind of man was he in general? You already hinted at him, he wasn't just the extroverted star. Many have always asked themselves how does this fit together? This shyness, this horror with the extrovert?

Osterwold: He was a very intelligent person. And he was also someone who, I would say, hid his personality behind a kind of mask. One of his favorite colors were camouflage colors, especially in the last ten years of his work, pictures with camouflage colors. Well, of course he has hidden himself somewhere in order to reveal himself artistically all the more realistically, openly and clearly.

Hanselmann: As I said, it was the Campbells and Monroe pictures that made him world famous, among other things. What was he doing artistically before?

Osterwold: We know that he was a commercial artist. But he had an artistic training, in the 1940s he made pictures and drawings that are more reminiscent of Georg Grosz and Paul Klee, whom, by the way, he admired very much, and then in the 1950s an abundance, a cornucopia of brightly colored and black and white Drawings that react sensitively to childhood, to butterflies, flowers, that is, of the finest quality. When we exhibited that over 30 years ago, I have to say, it was a very long time ago, in an exhibition in Stuttgart that was going on a European tour, the first time he closed these early drawings by Andy, which nobody knew told us "Now you will be able to look into my heart a little" because you can really feel what a tender soul he is.

Hanselmann: Has he otherwise tried to prevent people from looking into his heart?

Osterwold: Yes. That was his attitude. Well, this concept of anonymity, to which it is assumed, is of course also a kind of attitude. As Klee says: "The mask as a work of art, behind it the person". And in the end it was about people. He didn't only deal with Marilyn Monroe in order to spread her in a pop-like way, so to speak. At that time she had just died. Elvis Presley and Liz Taylor portraits were made by the two of them during a period of great depression. He portrayed Jackie Kennedy after the death of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, he has committed suicide and suicide sequences, he has made car crashes, in other words an abundance of cruel black and white in addition to all this color with which we actually rather superficially associate him.

Hanselmann: He is often referred to as a broken personality. World fame came in the mid-1960s. In your opinion, how did Andy Warhol deal with this Warhol cult? Now the film is just coming out about his liaison with Edie Sedgwick, whom he made a superstar and who then died at the age of 28, or better said she got into drugs miserably. So how did he deal with this cult status?

Osterwold: Yeah, he was joking a bit about it I would say. A piece of self-irony. So on the one hand he was of course happy because he couldn't expect that for the development of his life, he comes from a very simple background, a miner's family in Pittsburgh who immigrated. On the other hand, of course, he always received the homage from outside. And then you have to say that there is also the observation of what prices do pictures by Jasper Jones and Rauschenberg, his pop art colleagues, achieve and what prices he himself earns. But on the other hand, he also does in Writing down things as simple as the cost of a taxi to the restaurant in his diaries was just as important to him.

Hanselmann: He is even said to have accidentally given a taxi driver a $ 100 bill instead of a ten or something, and was annoyed about it all his life.

Osterwold: Yes, but that's delicious. If you compare this anecdote with the fact that he made these dollars the subject of his art, that is, partly stuffed into Cambpells soup cans, like crumpled garbage heap, then I would say that on the other hand, they are represented as perfectly as they look like, but they are often branded with the fake presidential logo. You have to look closely at that.

Hanselmann: We want to talk briefly about his films because that doesn't happen too often. Films that he made himself that have not become particularly famous or have become known worldwide. He didn't even make the Andy Warhol films that you know, did he?

The singer Nico with Andy Warhol at a party in the "Factory" 1968 (AP Archive)Osterwold: Yes, partly yes, and partly together with Paul Morrissey and his "Factory" friends. Some of those are soap glosses, I would like to say, that enter the milieu of drug addicts and prostitutes and actually somehow satirize the cliché of such an opera on television. On the other hand, Mr. Hanselmann, what you also address, the conceptual films, I would like to say. Andy Warhol was a highly conceptual artist. These films, like filming the Empire State Building 24 hours a day, or the "13 Most Beautiful Girls to 13 Most Beautiful Boys", or the "Chelsea Girl" film collage. These are unique products from the 1960s that not only made film history, but also influenced and shaped a generation of young artists around the world to this day.

Hanselmann: Speaking of which, Warhol's influence on the young generation of artists in the 1960s, initially in the USA, how strong was it?

Osterwold: It was very strong. So he had had a very friendly relationship with his own colleagues, his generation. It is amazing now, almost inconceivable, that Andy Warhol is no longer alive for 21 years, because that is still so young and so fresh, what he does, it could have been done yesterday. And then the young artists came into his studio, Steinbach, Koons, they all told me how strongly they were shaped by Andy Warhol and how you could discuss these things with him. And when you see the art scene around the world today, it's unbelievable how certain aspects of the serial, the cinematic, the experimental are en vogue and all strongly influenced by his art, anything is possible. That is such a crucial criterion.

Hanselmann: And the band Velvet Underground, which he produced, is still played on radio stations around the world ...

Osterwold: Exactly.

Hanselmann: ... with the famous vinyl cover he designed at the time, this big banana that adorns it. Mr. Osterwold, you have dealt with artists of the 20th century for many years, you have directed exhibitions and you have published a lot. If you look at today's art landscape, that of the first decade of this century, would you say that we need more Warhols again, more courage, more provocative cross-border issues?

Osterwold: You ask that very well. So, risk, thirst for adventure, thirst for experimentation, also just doing something and not asking what does that mean in the sense of a scale of meanings of criteria that one is used to, so to speak, is used to in the scene worldwide. Breaking through the art scene is the key. He did that. That is why he is rightly an artist of the century.

Hanselmann: On what occasion did you actually get to know him back then?

Osterwold: Yes, in the course of these preparations in the 1970s for the exhibition of early drawings. We exchanged ideas intensively and often met with my colleagues, with whom I prepared this together.

Hanselmann: Have you ever thought today, if Andy Warhol really celebrated his birthday today, the 80th somewhere in an apartment in New York or perhaps in the country, what would have become of him?

Osterwold: Yes, it is very difficult to say. Andy Warhol also somehow has a philosophical side. He wrote a philosophical book and death also plays a decisive role in it. Death is a constant theme in his work. If you look closely, you can do it directly. And he portrayed himself as a skull in a Polaroid photo. Well, I think it would be a rural commune that wouldn't suit him. I think maybe they would all go back to a higher level in New York neighborhoods, Keith Haring was his guest, he also promoted young artists and I think it's wonderful that the Andy Warhol Estate Administration also grants scholarships for young people Artist issues.

Hanselmann: Many Thanks. On the 80th birthday of Pop Art legend Andy Warhol, who died in New York City in 1987, Tilman Osterwold, art historian, curator and author of the book "Pop Art". Thank you, have a nice day, Mr. Osterwold.

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