Andy Warhol died 30 years ago today. I remember it distinctly but I forget these anniversaries until they are right on top of me. Here’s a story about Andy you might not know…
Warhol played a pivotal role in my life as an artist, a gay man who escaped his working class past, and the central figure in New York night life since I moved here in 1980. And I played an odd part in his after life. As I describe in Catherine Johnson‘s book Thank You Andy Warhol, I accidentally designed his gravestone and my best friends decided to rewrite history and cut me out. Here’s an excerpt from the book;
“When (Andy) died so suddenly it was like a punch in the gut; everybody was shaken up. In ‘86, Peter McGough and David McDermott, great friends of mine, had just returned from a year’s stay in Italy. They had brought this blank memorial poster back with them. When someone dies in Italy, they make this traditional poster at the printer, and plaster them all over the streets…
I took a blank memorial poster with PAX (peace) and palm fronds and filled it in with his name and the dates of his birth and death. I replaced the illustration of praying hands in an oval with Andy’s high school yearbook picture, and added a quote in from the bible. The type “ANDY WARHOL” was Xeroxed from the headline of the New York Post that read “ANDY WARHOL DEAD AT 58.” I printed the poster and we had them plastered it all over downtown, and several were given to the art critic Diego Cortez. He in turn gave one to Andy’s brother.
About a year later, I was at the gallery 33 Bleecker and I saw a grave rubbing of Andy’s headstone by my friend Scott Covert. My jaw dropped. It turns out Andy’s brother had given the poster to the gravestone maker, who used it as a template for the headstone. It’s black marble, the same size as the poster. The gravestone maker removed Andy’s picture and added back the praying hands...”
To clarify, at the time, I was a graphic artist working for art galleries designing catalogues, invitations,ads, etc, and had done catalogue design for McDermott & McGough, but I never worked for then. I physically layed out the poster, although we had the idea together and we split the printing costs. When Salvador Dali died I created one for him using the same format, and later for another spanish artist, my friend Juan Botas. You can see Juan’s poster in the last shot of Jonathan Demme‘s documentary about him (his story was the inspiration for the movie Philadelphia) called One Foot in the Grave Another on a Banana Peel.
In 2013, when Catherine's book came out, I had a solo show called Good Luck With That, at Benrimon Contemporary and mid-way through, we rehung the front of the gallery with some of the artists that were in Thank You Andy Warhol. I asked my then friend, Peter McGough, to put McDermott & McGough‘s painting, owned by Jaqueline Schnabel, in the show. He didn’t and then came to my opening and told author Catherine Johnson that he SHOULD be in the show, and not me, because THEY had designed Andy’s memorial poster. He continued to tell people this, and I could never figure out WHY he had to cut me out of history. Years ago Peter had called me to ask if I had any more posters (I had 50) because Art Forum was doing an article on their work. And I asked half-joking,
“Why? So, they can print that YOU designed Andy’s gravestone?“
And that’s apparently what had happened. McDermott & McGough for decades had told everyone THEY had designed the poster and they conveniently left me out of the story. Neater that way, I guess. From some insecure people’s point of view, the old Gore Vidal quote strongly applies,
“It is not enough to succeed; one’s friends must fail.“
So, if this all seems like sour grapes, fine. But that’s what happened, swear to God. David McDermott & Peter McGough were once my best friends and great artists. We don’t speak anymore because of this incident and last year on the anniversary of Warhol’s death, they reprinted the poster adding their own names. Contrary to their entire ethos, this behavior is VERY modern as their work is all about the past. Today we call their version of the story, an “alternative fact.”
Because of this odd occurrence, (there are no accidents) I’ll be forever linked with my idol, someone I knew a bit and greatly admired. Whether or not history gets it right (history is ALWAYS wrong) at least I, and now you, know what happened.
Meanwhile, you can see Andy’s gravestone through this 24/7 live feed here.