Sunday, December 11, 2011

Andy and Me

In the early-eighties I worked at the Dia Art Foundation in NYC, beginning with menial chores - part of the Brasso crew for Walter De Maria's Broken Kilometer, weeding the Earth Room - graduating to night security guard and, eventually, gallery supervisor (read: day guard).

As a night guard, I had the entire Broken Kilometer at 393 West Broadway and the (connected) offices on Thompson St to myself. Of course I snooped through the office drawers, vast flat files of art and papers, a huge Barnett Newman silently observing. While searching, I found a small Warhol, one of the airmail stamp paintings, complete with papers. How easy, I thought, to simply put it in a bag and leave with it some morning. Would they ever miss it? Maybe not. And if they did, it might not be for a long time, years even. I could take it home, bang a nail in the wall and hang up my very own (tiny) Warhol, bask in its glow.

But what if the absence was noticed? Right away? They'd call in the FBI! Everyone would be given the third degree. I'd crack, no doubt.

Okay, but what if I created a forgery, bought an old airmail stamp, had a silkscreen made to the painting's dimensions? Easy enough to do. Then just replace the real with the fake. (They can even keep the pedigree - at which point the phony becomes the valuable and the original becomes worthless?) Not a heist, exactly, but a conceptual art project? Hm.

Anyhow, it was much too ambitious for me, so I never did it. (Or did I? So, long ago, hard to recall...)

Working for Dia had several perks including the annual Xmas party.

One year it was held at Philippa and Heiner's Manhattan townhouse. Being Sufis, they required us to remove our shoes at the door. Then, in stocking feet, we padded upstairs to the festivities. In a brightly lit corner, the rich friends and famous artists sat, the rest of us mingling about. I was standing by myself when Andy Warhol came upstairs. He walked over and introduced himself. We talked only very briefly before Heiner appeared out of nowhere, hands gently placed on Andy's shoulders, gliding him to the official corner, René Ricard waving, "YOO HOO! ANDY!"

What did we talk about? At the time, I was an underground cartoonist, so I mentioned that I knew John Holmstrom, Warhol having had a cameo in Punk magazine's "Mutant Monster Beach Party" fumetti.

(BTW, contrary to the strict house rule, Mr Warhol never removed his Frye boots - and no one asked him to. Royalty has privileges.)

These days I can go to the Munson-Williams Museum in Utica where a Warhol electric chair painting hangs, and, when the guard's out of the room, graze my fingertips across its surface, pick up a current from the heavens, my feet grounded to the floor.