Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Queer Andy

Out There

Self-Portrait in Drag (1981), unique Polaroid print by Andy Warhol, is Lot 23 at auction (estimate: $10,000-$15,000). Photo: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
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Is it surprising that the most influential American artist of the second half of the 20th century, legendary pop artist Andy Warhol, was gay? Non, not at all, when you stop to think about how gays find the links between high art and popular culture, and move back and forth between them. Just like Warhol did.

But as well-known as are Andy's contributions to Pop Art (Campbell's Soup, anyone?), cinema (Joe Dallesandro in Flesh) and celebrity culture (Studio 54, the 1980s portraits), his essentially gay sensibility often gets glossed over in the annals of art-history. For all the cottage industry of Warhol scholarship, there's not much consideration of his work and legacy in the context of queer studies. One big exception is the book Pop Out: Queer Warhol, edited by Jennifer Doyle, Jonathan Flatley and Jose Esteban Munoz, and published by Duke University Press in 1996. Essays by such noted queer scholars as Thomas Waugh and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick consider topics like Warhol's "queer childhood" and his "shyness," and show how these traits are reflected in his work.

We're ruminating about the immortal Andy because global art-auction powerhouse Christie's is currently offering an online-only auction of original works by Warhol, For Members Only: Eyes on the Guise, through Thurs., June 27. The sale features over 200 photographs, prints and drawings that promise insights into Warhol's intimate world. To us, the world looks like Big Gay Andy's. The images illustrating this column are among those going on the cyber-auction block. Follow for access to the auction.

Querelle (1982), two unique Polaroid prints by Andy Warhol, is Lot 125 at auction (estimate: $5,000-$7,000).
Photo: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

"Andy Warhol was queer in more ways than one," write the Pop Out editors in their introduction. "To begin with, he was a fabulous queen, a fan of prurience and pornography, and a great admirer of the male body. This queerness was 'known,' in one way or another, by the gay audiences who enjoyed his films, the police who censored them, the gallery owners who excluded his sketches of male nudes from exhibits, the artists who were made uncomfortable by his swishiness, not to mention the drag queens, hustlers, speed freaks, fag hags, and others who populated the Factory."

In his own book POPism, Warhol wrote, "During this period [1969], I took thousands of Polaroids of genitals. Whenever somebody came up to the Factory, no matter how straight-looking he was, I'd ask him to take his pants off so I could photograph his cock and balls. It was surprising who'd let me and who wouldn't."

Warhol left only one work dealing with AIDS (he died in 1987), and it appears unfinished. At any rate, it was never exhibited during his lifetime. AIDS/Jeep/Bicycle (c. 1985) is reproduced in Pop Out, along with essayist Jonathan Flatley's analysis that in it "there is only absence. The bicycle and the Jeep are riderless. It is Warhol's most melancholic painting in the depressing sense, registering a failure to mourn, an inability to appropriate some form of publicity that might comfort him." This work isn't part of the auction, but plenty of male pulchritude is.


U.S./China relations

Last Sunday night we watched a live stream of artists Laurie Anderson and Ai Weiwei performing Greetings to the Motherland, a collaboration described as a "hip-hop dialogue," via Skype, performed live for the Luminato Festival in Toronto.

"My idea was that he would do a rant about China, and I would do one about the United States, and we'll trade lines," Anderson told The New York Times.

During the performance, Ai referred to his detention by the Chinese government for 81 days, and rapped, "Say something about China. Let's talk about China."

Anderson replied, "Ah, America! Someplace they found on their way to China." She also gave a shout-out: "Before we go on, I'd like to mention a couple of names. Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning, and Ed Snowden. Let's hear it for the whistle-blowers! Yeah!"

She welcomed her audience on the Internet. "Who knows how it became the new Dragnet? Your silence will be considered your consent."


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