Over the course of his meteoric career, Andy Warhol (1928–1987) used the medium of music to transform himself from fan, to record album designer, to producer, to celebrity night-clubber, to rock star. Warhol Live presents the first comprehensive exploration of Warhol’s work as seen through the lens of music. Andy Warhol Live!at The de Young museum in San Francisco brings together a wide variety of works depicting pop music royalty, including Elvis Presley, the Velvet Underground, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, Liza Minnelli, Grace Jones, Deborah Harry of Blondie, and Aretha Franklin.
My friend Shawn and I spent a leisurely Wednesday afternoon perusing the Warhol music exhibit at the De Young Museum. I’d seen a great Warhol retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago back in 1989. It was very different than the de Yong exhibit, which focuses very sharply on music. Almost all of the items in the exhibit are drawn from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. While many visitors may be drawn to the large iconic works that are so emblematic of Warhol, I was completely captivated by the odd bits of memorabilia relating to his album cover designs.
Did you know that Andy Warhol is responsible for the cover for the first Smiths album? It was news to me. While Warhol didn’t actually “design” the cover for this eponymous debut, the image of actor Joe Dallesandro (rumored to be the same model on the cover of the Stones’ “Sticky Fingers”) was taken from Warhol’s 1968 film, “Flesh.”
My favorite bit at the exhibit was a type-written letter on “Rolling Stones Label” letterhead from Mick Jagger to Warhol. In the letter, Jagger ask the artist to design a cover for their new album, Sticky Fingers. Jagger notes that production standards can be poor, and the more detailed the design, the more likely the implementation will be “fucked-up” in production, but Warhol is free to do design anything he wants. Jagger also indicates that Warhol should contact the band to “let us know how much you’d like to be paid.” That sounds like my kind of job!
It was great to see how many bits had been pulled out of the archives to form this exhibition. There were multiple original black and white photos of crotch shots from unknown men. It was fascinating to recognize the belt from one shot, the bulge from another, and yet another shot with the cat whiskers. The album was released in 1971, long before Photoshop made it easy to cut and paste these various bits together.
Of course we all know the end result. Warhol worked with Album packager Craig Braun to produce the infamous denim-clad male crotch complete with working zipper. What you may not know is that during shipment to stores the zipper would press into the album stacked on top of it (invariably damaging “Sister Morphine”); Atlantic Records threatened to sue Braun for all the damage. After getting “very depressed and very high,” Braun came up with the solution; pull down the zipper before the album was shipped — then it would dent only the label. Braun never did figure out how to keep Sticky Fingers from scratching other album covers.
What else was there to see, you may ask? Of course there were Brillo boxes, colorful diptychs, triptychs, and whatever you call the 4-up versions. But there were also 1956 season ticket receipts from the New York Met ($560 – a lot back in 1956) free drink coupons and a poster from the opening of Club 54, pages from his college sketchbooks, and a personalized autograph on a hand-tinted photo of Shirley Temple.
If you’re in San Francisco between now and May 17, be sure to check out this eclectic exhibit!
Want to see more? I don’ think there’s a catalog, put NBC11 did produce this short video: