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Friday, October 31, 2014

Andy Warhol’s Brooklyn: A Tour

Andy Warhol is synonymous with the downtown scene of 1960s and '70s New York, but his escapades in Brooklyn are somewhat less chronicled. In anticipation of the upcoming Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films (Nov 6—8), we reached out to The Andy Warhol Sites Tour guide and author of Andy Warhol’s New York City, Thomas Kiedrowski, for some insight into the Pop Art icon’s Brooklyn haunts, from grand theaters to department store lunch counters, many within walking distance from BAM.

Below is a detailed collection of anecdotes and addresses (plus a map!)—everything you need to set out on a Brooklyn Warhol tour of your own!

by Thomas Kiedrowski

Crowds of teenagers line up for Murray The K's Big Holiday Show at the Brooklyn Fox Theater on December 29, 1964. Photo: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
The Brooklyn Fox Theater
20 Flatbush Ave

Beginning in the ‘60s, Warhol attended live performances at the Brooklyn Fox, a palatial auditorium built in 1928 (his birth year). 

The rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop, and rhythm ‘n’ blues acts emceed by DJ Murray the K must have left an indelible mark on Warhol. Friends recall his excitement upon seeing Dion live on stage in 1963 alongside Dee Dee Sharp, The Coasters, Lou Christie, and Little Peggy, among others. He went back to see the September show with his close companion Isabel Eberstadt, writer and daughter of poet Ogden Nash, and also met Dionne Warwick that night.

The shows at the Brooklyn Fox, always accompanied by a B movie screening, may have informed Warhol’s 1966 multimedia act The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which incorporated film, strobes, gels, The Velvet Underground, dancers, and more. As with Murray the K’s logo, Warhol also plastered his name in large letters on signs and posters ahead of the main act. Incidentally, the $2.50 cost of the evening show at the Fox was the same price Warhol charged for his EPI shows.

Above: Auditorium of the Brooklyn Fox Theatre.

Below: Abraham & Strauss Department Store at 420 Fulton Street (L), Andy Warhol's "Brillo Box" dress and "Fragile" dress, ca. 1964. (R)

Abraham & Straus
420 Fulton Street

In 1967, Warhol was hired to promote a Mars Co. paper dress sold with a paint kit and demonstrate his skills at coloring the inexpensive outfit, which became the rage in Pop fashion at the time. Warhol and company entered the department store and started a mini-happening causing a frantic scene in the store and directly outside. Nico of the Velvet Underground lay down on a table wearing a clean, white undecorated paper dress and waited for Warhol to get to work. He silkscreened the word “FRAGILE” on the material and signed it “Dali.” He decorated another dress with several of the Velvet Underground’s banana icons. Both dresses were given to the costume collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

62 Montague Street.

Marie Menken and Willard Maas’ Penthouse
62 Montague Street (Brooklyn Heights)

Initially, Warhol was not an apt filmmaker. He attended weekly screenings at the Film-Maker’s Cooperative led by Jonas Mekas, an avid supporter of Andy Warhol and avant-garde cinema in general. Encouraged by Mekas, Warhol purchased a 16mm Bolex camera at Peerless Camera next to Grand Central, and began his own journey into the cinematic arts. 

Timid about shooting and skittish at editing, he was taken under the wing of Marie Menken, a teacher and filmmaker who lived with her poet husband, Willard Maas, in Brooklyn Heights. Their top floor salon was a beacon of intellectual exchange and often argument. Visitors included Edward Albee, Stan Brakhage, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Arthur Miller with his wife Marilyn Monroe, who lived in the same building. Warhol’s beginnings in filmmaking changed greatly with the help and teachings of Menken and Maas. The couple’s surrogate child, Gerard Malanga, became Warhol’s painting assistant, and they became regulars at the Silver Factory. In 1965, Menken filmed Warhol in her garden while he filmed her in a playful interchange, which was spliced into her film portrait of the artist entitled Andy Warhol

Menken and Maas’ relationship was a tumultuous one. It was rumored that Albee based his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on the copious clashes between the two. Warhol created his own look into their relationship with a film entitled Bitch that was never released, but featured cameos by socialite and model Edie Sedgwick and underground film favorite Taylor Mead.

Marie Menken and Willard Maas at home, ca. 1948. Photo: Frank Polach

Related locations:

Truman Capote’s Garden Apartment
70 Willow Street

Norman Mailer's Apartment
142 Columbia Heights

St. Ann's Church, ca 1925.

St. Ann & the Holy Trinity
157 Montague Street

Following Warhol’s death in 1987, Lou Reed and John Cale were commissioned by BAM to create a memorial piece to pay tribute to the artist. The duo hadn’t spoken for years but reunited when they came in contact with each other at Warhol’s Memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 1, 1987. The album took nearly two years to complete due to scheduling conflicts between the pair, but the first nearly complete version, titled Songs for Drella, premiered at St. Ann’s in January of 1989, and was then performed at BAM the following December. The title was based on a ‘60s nickname Warhol received at the Factory, a combination of Dracula and Cinderella.

Home of Gerard Basquiat, ca. 1978. Photo: Dinanda Nooney

Basquiat’s family home
553 Pacific Street

Jean Michel Basquiat met Andy Warhol for the first time at a café in SoHo. Basquiat had been selling handmade postcards and was well aware of the Pop artist and his fame. Within a few years, Basquiat established himself as an exceptional artist and was selected to participate in the Whitney Biennial in 1983. Warhol had been somewhat skeptical of the young artist, but was encouraged by his Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger to collaborate with Basquiat on a few paintings. These paintings cemented their working relationship to form a strong bond.

Warhol and Basquiat worked well off of each other, and eventually Basquiat moved into Warhol’s Great Jones street studio rental. In 1985, Basquiat appeared on the cover of the The New York Times Magazine. Andy and Jean Michel took multiple copies of the magazine to his teenage home on Pacific Street to surprise his father, Gerard.

Warhol at a BAM gala in 1986.
30 Lafayette Ave

Warhol spent many evenings at BAM beginning in the early ‘60s. He attended a Mr. New York bodybuilding contest in the opera house in May of 1963 with his friends Billy Name (photographer and lighting designer who created the look of Warhol’s Silver Factory) and Ray Johnson (collage and correspondence artist who first promoted Pop Art in his work in the 1950s).

In 1968, Warhol lent his “silver clouds,” for the backdrop in Merce Cunningham’s RainForest.

Warhol also attended the opening of Bill T. Jones’ and Arnie Zane’s Secret Pastures in 1984.  He arrived with a group of friends, including a young Madonna, to support their friend Keith Haring who had provided the set décor for the dance piece.

Following Andy Warhol’s death, BAM commissioned Songs for Drella, performed and filmed in the opera house in December 1989. BAMcinématek also hosted a Warhol film retrospective in 2003.

The Brooklyn Museum in the 1970s.

The Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway

Warhol visited the Brooklyn institution throughout his career, including many galas and social events. In the mid ‘70s, Warhol had promised to accompany Jackie Kennedy and her sister Lee Radziwell to see an exhibition of Egyptian artifacts at the museum. Warhol had just finished shooting The Driver’s Seat, an Italian psychological drama starring Elizabeth Taylor. When he arrived to pick up Kennedy and Radziwell, their first words were, “So tell me, Andy, what was Liz Taylor like?” Even though he had painted both of their portraits, the gossipy question was still a shocker to him.

Warhol’s later works were displayed in a retrospective at the museum in 2010 entitled Andy Warhol: The Last Decade.

Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Ave

Warhol attended a dance recital here in October 1980 to watch and support a young Ron Reagan.

Lower Manhattan skyline ca. 1970.

Hare Krishnas on the Fulton Street Mall ca. 1970.

Food on Fulton

Warhol often found himself longing for good old-fashioned food like the kind he had when he was young. He frequently took his young stars and studio assistants to Schrafft’s on Fulton for lunch where they sat next to little old ladies. 

He could also be found chewing on the nutted cream cheese sandwiches from Chock Full o’Nuts located in the Abraham & Straus department store (now Macy’s) on Fulton Street, and also nearby at Bickford’s Cafeteria, which was prevalent in Warhol’s hometown of Pittsburgh.

A few other Warhol restaurant favorites include the River Café in Dumbo (where he dined “on the barge” overlooking the waterfront), Peter Luger (for birthday steak dinners), and what he referred to his diarist, Pat Hackett, as an “Armenian-Turkish-African-Arabian-type restaurant” on Atlantic Ave.

Thomas Kiedrowski is an independent scholar who received his B.F A. in Film from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He lives in New York and leads tours to Warhol sites in New York City.

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