It's homecoming week for Andy Warhol's Superstars.
Thu Feb 15 2007
Photograph: Billy Name / Ovoworks Inc.
“It doesn’t mean anything for me to just rent a bed,” says Suzanne Tremblay, who opened the Gershwin Hotel on East 27th Street with husband Urs Jakob in 1993. “I can only find meaning if I do something that has value.” And for Tremblay, “value” in this case means preserving the legacy of Pop Art impresario Andy Warhol. Since its inception, the Gershwin has served as a living shrine of sorts to the media-savvy artist, from the signed Campbell’s soup can in the lobby and the Pop Art prints adorning every room to the posthumous birthday party held for Warhol in 1996.
The Gershwin’s latest paean to its unofficial patron saint is “Factory Craze: A Week of Warhol,” a five-day festival tied to the 20th anniversary of his death on February 22, 1987. Scheduled events include a book fair, art exhibits and a 24-hour film festival with screenings of Chelsea Girls, Flesh and Vinyl, Warhol’s low-budget adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. For the Silver Factory ball on Friday 23, the hotel’s main floor will be wrapped in aluminum foil—an homage to the glittery decor in Warhol’s legendary studio, the Factory. “Andy defined art in the United States,” says Tremblay. “I can’t think of anyone else I’d want to admire or showcase.”
Many surviving members of Warhol’s cabal—Taylor Meade, Holly Woodlawn, Ultra Violet and Mary Woronov, among others—will be on hand to honor their beloved ringleader, who encouraged a laissez-faire realm of sexual escapades, drug-taking and uninhibited expression in the Factory’s 1960s heyday. Kevin Kushel, creative director for “Factory Craze,” says that while logistics have been problematic, convincing the Superstars to come wasn’t. “Most of them have a soft spot in their heart for that time. They all love each other—it’s kind of like an old camp reunion.”
One such happy camper is Billy Name, the longtime “Factory Fotographer” whose iconic snapshots are being displayed in “Factory Days,” an inhouse exhibit at the Gershwin chronicling Warhol’s life and work. “Billy and Andy were real collaborators,” says Kushel, who also serves as Name’s agent. “I don’t think that scene would’ve happened in such a big way if one didn’t have the other.”
A native of Poughkeepsie, Name originally met Warhol in 1959 at the UES eatery Serendipity 3. “I was one of the gay waiters there, and Andy would frequently stop in,” he recalls. “We just had a real synchronicity. We were lovers for a little while but really just became good friends.”
It was Name who gave the Factory its silvery sheen and, as he tells it, who christened the space, after tossing around ideas with Warhol and the late Superstar Ondine. “We were trying to figure out what to call it— 'the Studio’ sounded too corny,” says Name, 66. “We tried 'The Lodge,’ but then I suggested 'the Factory,’ because it had been a hat factory. As soon as I said it, Andy and Ondine were like, 'ooh, yeah, that’s it!’”
Name moved into the Factory on East 47th Street in 1963 and trailed along when it relocated to Union Square five years later. He decamped in 1970, but says the free-spirited magic really died after Valerie Solanas’s attempt on Warhol’s life in June 1968. “It all ended when Andy got shot—the trauma was too intense. The dangerous, wild life we all lived went away.”
Two decades after Warhol’s passing, the public is still hungry for a piece of Pop Art’s pied piper. Besides “Factory Craze,” other New York galleries are staging exhibits commemorating his death. His iconography adorns Levi’s Factory X jeans, Barneys Christmas cards and Paul Frank tees. And the film Factory Girl is introducing the Warholian demimonde to a new generation. (“What can you say—it’s a Hollywood movie,” says Name of the contentious Edie Sedgwick biopic. “I’m just glad Edie’s getting some recognition.”)
With the advent of reality TV, MySpace and YouTube, Warhol’s prediction of fleeting fame for all has proven uncannily prescient. But, according to Name, the Factory has closed for good. “You couldn’t have the Factory today. It was a very specific phenomenon in the 1960s, right when America became the center of the art world,” he says. “But the legacy of the Factory is still living art. We were like the roots of this great big cultural tree—I hope people realize it’s still there for them to climb.”
“Factory Craze: A Week of Warhol” runs Mon 19 to Feb 23 at the Gershwin Hotel, 7 E 27th St.