In Netflix docuseries Andy Warhol’s Diaries, writer-director Andrew Rossi peels back the layers of an artist who has had an indelible influence on American culture. Turning to Warhol’s writings published in 1989 by his collaborator and friend Pat Hackett (to whom Warhol dictated his diaries from the mid-1970s until his death in 1987), Rossi sought to find the human being behind the personality pop audience. artist, celebrity and provocateur. The series uses Warhol’s own words – and a version of his voice, with the help of AI technology and actor Bill Irwin’s readings, as narration – to deliver a little-seen side of Warhol (or heard) outside of his circle of collaborators, employees, superstars and addicts to the famous New York Factory.

Rossi also turned to the scholarship of Jessica Beck, curator of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the artist’s hometown, to guide him through the tale of Andy’s love affairs with two important men: Jed Johnson and Jon Gould, with whom the artist had a long-term relationship. Across the series, we see an intimate side of the alluring figure as Rossi examines her legacy as a queer artist.

Andrew, how did you become interested in Warhol as a subject?

ANDREW ROSSI I read newspapers in high school. I grew up in New York and Andy Warhol and his artwork loomed large in my imagination, and newspapers seemed like a critical avenue to understanding the man behind the myth. It was almost a work of literature that I thought could be decoded, and Andy as a character would emerge throughout the 1,000 pages. And it really is a love story, which is why Jessica’s scholarship was so critical, as it turned out that she had also worked on an incredible reading of Andy’s works.

Jessica, can you talk about your scholarship in the papers?

JESSICA BECK Part of my mission with Warhol is to uncover that complicated depth to the artist, and to give that same reading to the work and allow those complicated layers. I started thinking about him Last Supper paints; everyone has always read them [as] this homage to da Vinci and the confinement of Warhol in this traditional archive of art history. But he continues to use Christ and bodybuilders and advertising language in these really unique ways. [People said] Warhol was not the activist they wanted for the AIDS crisis. What people overlooked were these religious paintings – which, to me, were his response to the crisis. The Catholic Church was such a dominant monster at that time for the gay community. You can see how people would ignore this Last Supper series and all kinds of Catholic imagery, because it’s a complicated answer. Jon Gould was [someone who] everything unlocked for me. Who was Jon Gould? Why had I never read anything about him? He’s in so many newspaper pages, and he’s one of the most photographed people of Warhol’s late career. So many people have written this, but I wanted to take a closer look. How did this crisis impact Warhol personally, and how does he envision painting differently in a political and personal way?

ROSSI Everyone seemed to underestimate Jon and his importance to Andy. The logs cover 1976 to 1987, [and those years] are often a footnote in his biography, and even more so in art historical scholarship that focuses so much on the 1960s. There seems to be a closing of ranks within the Warhol group to support Jed as the last great love in Andy’s life and to consider Jon not to be a genuine romantic partner. But what can’t help but shine through in the papers — particularly in 1981, when Andy first broke up with Jed — is his pursuit of Jon Gould. It’s lustful, almost harlequin language around Andy’s desire for him, and also his self-loathing, his feeling that he’ll never be good enough to capture Jon. Was Jon really the partner who didn’t give Andy enough, or could Andy never find someone who would make him feel whole? These were the questions I wanted to ask, as they emerge in Andy’s work. You can make a lot more sense when you think of Andy as this strange figure who is looking for his place in the world.

Andy Warhol, the subject (and narrator) of the Netflix docuseries Andy Warhol’s Diaries.
Courtesy of Netflix

There is an omnipresence in Warhol, and I assumed that he was very absent during his lifetime. But watching the documentary, I realized that her sexual identity was more complicated.

BECK The biggest myth [that’s] perpetuated is that Warhol was asexual. To me, it’s basically a kind of inherent homophobia. There are still problems to this day with looking at work in relation to this queer identity and setting aside work that overtly addresses queer desire. This is the importance of what emerges from the diaries, because Warhol writes so clearly about love, emotion and desire. He says very clearly: “I fell asleep crying. Jon didn’t remind me of California. Or, “I’m trying to fall in love with Jon Gould. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never heard Warhol speak like that. When you look through the archives, you’ll find all those poems, love cards and photographs – small, torn photographs that looked like they were kept in a pocket.The journals are essentially a self-portrait.

ROSSI It’s the great paradox that Andy was in some ways, and yet was not personally seen as someone existing in a queer space. He occupies, thanks to his considerable efforts, a unique cultural space, where he transcends a sexual identity and is a guru figure, an extraterrestrial with a robot [voice] to protect himself from falling into the categories of gay man and queer artist.

There are still some who think that being labeled as “a queer artist” is limiting – that it’s actually somewhat pejorative to be reduced to that identity. It’s so sad that it persists, because again, when you disregard Andy’s love life and his humanity — which is largely driven by his romantic dimensions — you miss so much meaning. This is another reason I was drawn to Jessica. She emerges throughout the series not only as an expert, but as a dramatic figure in conflict at times with certain members of the Warhol group. As she says in one of her essays, understanding Andy’s romantic relationships also calls for space for queer love.

BECK We connected through this idea of ​​taking a marginal figure in Warhol’s life and putting him back at the center, making Jon one of those central links in his history and his artistic life. It’s so interesting to see how her sexuality is treated differently every decade. When he arrived in New York in the 1950s, he was labeled as “swish” – he was too gay, too revealing. In the 1980s, he was not an activist, he was not with us in this fight against AIDS. He was constantly judged, criticized and slandered.

What was the reaction in Warholian circles? Have any of their perspectives changed?

ROSSI I watch Twitter, sort of half-closed eyes, watching what people are saying. It’s incredibly comforting. There are people tweeting about their cathartic experiences watching the show. And then there are people who lived the moment who watched it. Same [photographer] Christopher Makos, who I think was a little resistant to reading about Andy’s homosexuality or his legacy as a queer artist, came to understand his place in Andy’s life in a way different. There are people on either side of that spectrum, and maybe that’s as it should be – the work is open to interpretation. I hope the series is just one more volley in an ongoing conversation. With any luck, we’ll never understand Andy.

BECK I was shocked at how many people I knew watching it in Pittsburgh; we are somewhat insensitive to Warhol. When you get out of the Pittsburgh bubble, people embrace it in a really big way. I think Christopher Makos had this whole new outlook on life and his contribution to Warhol. See these images of him and hear Warhol [say how much he] I loved traveling with Christopher, I think it resonated deeply with him. Andrew provided that [framework], which is quite remarkable. Warhol’s team of scholars is such a critical group. I don’t know where they land on it. I haven’t personally heard of many of them. As with any archive, there is always resistance to change. This provides an option for a new perspective. We all love ’60s Warhol, but there’s so much more to his life and career – and there’s so much more to the person.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.


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