It’s hard to regard anything Andy Warhol created as being undervalued. His art sells for colossal sums at auction — in recent years Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) (1963), Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963) and Four Marlons (1966) have gone under the hammer at Christie’s for a combined total of more than $223 million million. Added to this, an unceasing cycle of exhibits and events reinforce the Pittsburgh’s pop artist’s prescience on consumerism, celebrity and glamour.
Yet if Warhol’s visuals held up a mirror to the allure and superficiality of modern life, the same can be said of his diaries. When they were first published in 1989, two years after his death, his journal scandalised New York society with the recounting of the vices of Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Elizabeth Taylor and Truman Capote, among others, being at odds with an artist perceived as a study in passivity; one who once said, ‘You actually have more power when you shut up.’
To celebrate their 25th anniversary, The Andy Warhol Diaries has recently been published in a new edition and once more it is New York’s hottest art book — but for different reasons.
Pat Hackett, a writer and Warhol collaborator, edited the diaries which Warhol dictated to her between 1976 and five days before his death in February 1987. In a rare interview Hackett said the diaries reveal the real nature of Warhol: ‘Andy’s very close friends always experienced how talkative and opinionated he was. But the diaries deliver more than that because in the lengthy, dedicated sessions we had together he could just relax and be reflective, and so he often went deep.’
Warhol, she remembered, had long wanted to keep a diary at the Factory, his New York studio: ‘Then at a certain point, when he really needed to start keeping track of his cash business expenses, and I wanted to stop going to the Factory every day, we came to the agreement that he and I would do his own diary on the phone together every morning. At that point his life was becoming much more social… there were many more things being scheduled for him than when I had first met him in 1968.’
The diaries supply evidence the artist knew the value of his paintings would skyrocket following his death. On November 10 1983, in the aftermath of an auction sale he noted, ‘Thomas [his art dealer friend Thomas Ammann] bought a Flower painting for $40,000. It’s worth a lot more, though. Someday...’ In 2011 a Flower painting sold in an Artnet online auction for $1.32 million.
‘Have you ever thought about talking to a psychiatrist?’ Hackett asked. Warhol said, ‘I don’t need one. I have you.’
The diaries, Hackett says, were cathartic for Warhol. Towards the end of his life, she asked him, ‘Have you ever thought about talking to a psychiatrist?’ He said, ‘I don’t need one. I have you.’
In the diaries, Warhol records both bumping into Sean Penn in the street and witnessing him marrying Madonna; registering his distaste that Ronald Reagan isn’t mingling; predicting Kevin Costner’s stardom; being uncomplimentary about Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton but raving about Brooke Shields; and observing Danny De Vito is ‘so cute, we should all marry him’. They also include wider insights such as this from 1983 on the information age: ‘After years of more and more and more “people” in the news, you still don’t know anything more about people. Maybe you know more but you don’t know better.’
But what were the criteria for publication from the 20,000 pages of the diary? ‘Whatever was most interesting,’ Hackett replies. Covering the opening of notorious Broadway flop Marilyn in 1983, Warhol ‘lied and said how great it was’, but the posthumous diaries are what he felt people should hear as opposed to what they wanted to hear.
‘Everybody was reading them like mad largely because we made a calculated decision not publish an index,’ Hackett recalls of the original 1989 release. ‘A lot of people at the time were extremely upset. But [Studio 54 co-owner] Steve Rubell did something great. He went on TV and said, “We’re all going crazy because of what Andy said about us in the Diaries but nobody can do anything because it’s all true!”’
Bianca Jagger took issue with Warhol’s frequent unflattering accounts of her behaviour, refusing to believe Warhol had even written the diaries. ‘No friend is ever just one thing,’ Hackett responds. ‘He liked Bianca but he often did think she was dumb and said so — on other occasions he’d really enjoy being with her.’
Time has rendered the gossip aspect irrelevant, Hackett maintains. ‘Today people can read The Warhol Diaries purely for the unique historical and cultural document that it is. It’s Andy looking at people and the times they were in and constantly asking, What does it mean?” The diaries offer a riveting, exhaustive insight into how Warhol understood the causes and consequences of fame and art but was not blinded by them; a lover of ideas but ultimately a people person.
‘I love that it’s being reissued now,’ Hackett reflects, ‘because although it was a huge bestseller first time around, it did not get the serious reception it should have gotten. If ever a book deserved consideration and re-consideration it’s the Warhol Diaries.’
For more Andy Warhol, see our online sale Around the World in Andy Days (until 18 February).
The Andy Warhol Diaries is published by Twelve. Main image: Celebrities during New Year's Eve party at Studio 54: (left to right) Halston [kissing unidentified], Bianca Jagger, Jack Haley Jr. and wife Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol. Photo by Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images