On June 3, 1968, Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol in his studio, firing a .32 caliber automatic at him three times. Two bullets missed their mark, but the third tore into Warhol’s left side, passing through one lung and exiting the other. In between, the bullet ripped through his spleen, stomach, liver and esophagus. He was rushed to Columbus Hospital, where doctors gave him a 50-50 chance to live. Warhol survived to sit for this astonishing portrait by Neel. It’s one of several, actually, chronicling his trauma, if you include photographs taken by Richard Avedon, in which the artist bares his wounded torso. But while there’s something almost brazenly sexual about Warhol’s poses for Avedon’s camera—Andy can be seen coyly pulling up a leather jacket and black turtleneck to reveal stitches worthy of Frankenstein—Neel uses her inimitable style to capture the shirtless Pope of Pop as a vulnerable wraith. His shoulders and chest sag, his arms are alarmingly thin, and an elastic orthopedic brace pops out of his trousers just under the scars crisscrossing his body. These stark reminders of mortality are juxtaposed with Warhol’s expression: eyes and mouth closed, face lifted as if he were awaiting benediction or the carrying out of a final sentence. His body forms a cross with the schematically rendered couch that serves as the portrait’s setting. It’s a kind of crucifixion scene, in which one genius of American art plays out his passion for another.
Photograph: Courtesy The Estate of Alice Neel