The intimate detail of the artists’s life in film is the focus of the Hayward’s eccentric new show
You may remember that Holly came from Miami, FLA. And hitchhiked her way across the USA. On the journey, there was some eyebrow-plucking and leg-shaving, after which he became a she, and suggested to the rest of us that we, too, take a walk on the wild side. To which some coloured girls responded by going: doot, de-doot, de-doot, doot-de-doot, doot, de-doot, de-doot . . .
I have heard Lou Reed’s excellently concise description of Holly’s progress so many times that it is engraved word-perfectly in my memory. Until now, though, I didn’t know who Holly was. It turns out she was Holly Woodlawn, a peripheral Factory character from the early 1970s who appeared in Trash, one of Warhol’s most successful movies. So successful was Trash that, in 1971, it was the highest-grossing film in West Germany after Easy Rider. Holly played Joe Dallesandro’s girlfriend, who trawled the trash cans of New York looking for treasure, and her performance was so commanding, no less a figure than George Cukor campaigned that she be nominated for an Academy Award.
If you have a pub-quiz mind and the above is the kind of information that appeals to you, then push everybody out of the way and hurry to the Hayward Gallery, where an exhibition called Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms will immerse you so deeply in the minutiae of the Factory experience that you will end up knowing Andy and his hangers-on better than you know your own mother. After all, your mother was almost certainly not filmed most minutes of her working day; her every utterance was not written down and preserved as a profundity; her postcards and shopping lists were not saved and shown around the world as artworks; and every single one of her friends did not become a public figure of some sort who basked, however briefly, in her reflected glory. But all this happened to Warhol.
You would have thought every Warhol topic had been covered by now in the seemingly endless procession of shows since his death in 1987, but the Hayward appears to have found a newish angle by focusing blurrily on the busy relationship between Warhol and film. The moment you step inside, you realise why this topic has been successfully evaded for so long. Talk about visual chaos. The last time I saw this many faces, saying this many things, from this many sides, in this many formats, was in Akihabara in Tokyo, where the entire Japanese electronics industry has crowded itself into a single street. What we have here is an exhibition with the dynamics of a late-night amusement arcade.
Warhol’s notorious movies have a dark hall to themselves: 30 of them play at once, forcing you to zap between them like a human remote control. In Blow Job, a young man leaning against a wall is being fellated by an unseen lover. In Nude Restaurant, Viva and a handful of Factory regulars eat out, naked. In Kitchen, Edie Sedgwick hangs around in the kitchen while Rene Ricard washes the dishes. As you skip through this dreary stuff, darting hungrily from longueur to longueur, waiting for something – anything – to happen, you are forced to note not only that Warhol invented reality TV several decades before TV did, but that he played a prescient part in the creation of the zapper habit. The show’s real enemy, Warhol’s real enemy, is time. He may have been right about everybody being famous one day for 15 minutes, but what he did not factor into his equation was the amount of time needed by the rest of us to watch everybody being famous for 15 minutes. Everybody being famous for 15 minutes adds up to a colossal amount of screen time. Seeing everything in this show would take many months.
I found it easier to concentrate on Andy’s video diaries, for which you put on headphones and plunge yourself into long slabs of unedited exposure to everyday happenings at the Factory. As there are hundreds of these video diaries – a chap with a camera and a microphone was instructed to film whatever he fancied for as long as he fancied – it’s good to set yourself some parameters before plunging in. I chose the ones featuring Andy himself. For instance, Liza Minnelli comes into the Factory and Andy has a ghastly conversation with her, in which they toggle uncomfortably between their celebrity selves and their real selves. Liza tries to be natural, but she knows the camera is on her, so being natural does not come naturally. In the next booth, Andy is forced to talk about Man Ray, which he is unable to do without stuttering hopelessly, until he hits on the solution of listing all the photographs that he took of Man Ray and that Man Ray took of him. The blank listing of photos offers him some mental sanctuary and his confidence surges back.