koi and swan, sepia

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sig's tale

I introduced you a while back to my friend Sig Shonholtz, the famous Los Angeles watch dealer and all around great guy, not to mention grand deacon of his own religion of ironic destiny. Caught Sig in Del Mar one day and he recounted the following story which he is graciously allowing me to publish. I could add a few things, like Page's saw blade gravel of a voice, but it is after all, his story. Hope that you enjoy it. 

My Afternoon with Andy

Andy Warhol once suggested that we all get 15 minutes of fame. What happens if you have your 15 minutes of fame with Andy Warhol himself? Well, that is exactly what happened to me in 1984. I was an advertiser in his "Interview" magazine. One day I received a call from Page Powell, Andy's personal assistant. She said, "Hi Sig, its Page......Andy wants to meet you." "Me," I said,"Why does Andy want to meet me?" "You are the only advertiser without an office in New York and he is surprised you are in the magazine," she said. I thought, OK, why not? As it happened I was going to be in New York in a couple of weeks. I said, "Page, I will be there in two weeks and will stop by."

When I arrived in New York I called Page and agreed to meet her and Andy at his "factory" warehouse on Broadway around 4:00. I had plenty to do that day so I preferred to meet later in the day. I was a vintage watch dealer and had several appointments. The day started auspiciously. I left my hotel in midtown with a very heavy bag over my shoulder, it probably weighed 60 pounds. I immediately saw a magnificent woman who walked past me so fast I did a double take. Now, I am a fast walker, perhaps I am (or at least was) the fastest walker you have ever seen. In those days friends had to jog next to me to keep up, while I simply walked. I decided that I had to meet her, she was stunning. I lit out after her and realized that she was the fastest walker I had ever encountered, now I really had to meet her. It took a few moments to build up my momentum and with my heavy bag I was catapulted forward. I finally caught up with her, she looked like she was going to a modeling job. I started a conversation about.....what else but.....walking fast....talk about pulling teeth. She clearly was not interested but I did not care. I do not mind rejection or failure, I mind my own inaction. I chatted away like an old grandmother on a bench. But keeping up with her with the 60  pound bag was not easy, if for no other reason than the heavy bag was throwing me off balance and I almost knocked her over at one point, that certainly did not help the dynamic. After a few blocks we finally parted ways....and she did not even say good bye to me.

Fast forward to later in the day. It was 4:00 PM and I had been Up Town to Down Town and gone from the East Side to the West Side. I had been on the move since 9:00 am. I got out of my cab and slammed the door and turned around......there she was....the FAST WALKER. She was right in front of me, she turned around as soon as I slammed the door. "Hi, it's me," I said, almost breathless because of the coincidence. "It's our destiny to meet.......we belong together," I declared. I told her that I was just going across the street to visit with Andy Warhol and did she want to join me? Here she was, one of the fastest walking women on the planet (I am certain of that). She looked at me with a blank stare and just said "no thanks", that was it, not even a smile or a curious look. Oh well, I thought she must think I am stalking her but she has no sense of humor and certainly no sense of adventure. Now, you do not know this, but I am a  "Non Spiritual Coincidentalist" and I keep track of my coincidences, and this was certainly unusual. I used to be simply a Coincidentalist but I found it created too much controversy. Some people argued with me that "There are no coincidences." meaning that everything is predestined. While others insisted that "It is a just a statistical possibility." I looked for the center between the Spiritual Coincidentalist or the believers as I called them and the Anti Spiritual Coincidentalist, or the statisticians. I became simply "Non Spiritual", I am a gigantic wonderer. I wrote this coincidence down in my coincidental story files under the category of "statistically possible events", but it seemed like an odd one. By the way Fast Walker,if you are reading this, how have you been? I miss you. Now that would really be an amazing coincidence.

I arrived at Andy's "office" and "met" him in the alcove of a stairwell, I found it a bit odd, but went along.  Our conversation was convoluted, sentences were not linked together, they had nothing to do with each other. I kept telling myself, "Siggy, don't confuse the artist with the man". I wondered if he was nervous meeting me but I thought I am the one that should be nervous. We finally went into his office and sat down for a few minutes. The conversation started to make a little more sense. After a short while Andy said he had to leave and would be back later. Page came and took me into the "factory" part of the warehouse and I soon learned what the word factory actually meant. Page said, "Sig, I have to leave, but I will be back later, you can stay here if you want to." Then she asked me if I wanted to "buy some original Andy art" and left.

I realized I was completely alone in the "art studio". There was a row of canvases lined up on the floor of a very large and long room. They were about 10 inches square and there were perhaps 25 or 30 of them. I was there alone for about 15 minutes when two men marched into the room dressed as "Flaming Queens". They were exquisite, flamboyant, theatrical and colorful. They brought out several trays of acrylic enamel paint, blue, red, orange, green, yellow, purple and laid them out on the floor at intervals near the canvases. They had some wood cuts with them, about 4 or 5 inches long. I realized they were $ signs. That's right dollar signs. Andy Warhol was the Houdini of the art world and he was determined to mock that world. What better way to mock it then with "factory made art" of dollar signs.

They dipped the wood cuts into the paint trays and proceeded to "stamp" them onto the canvases. But I quickly realized these were not your average queen assistants. These were The Kings of Queens,  they were Thoroughbred......Parade Horse....Prancing Queens. They had style and proceeded to dance around the canvases as if they were choreographed by Balanchine. They did pirouettes as they stamped, every now and then they threw in a backhanded Toreador movement and sometimes they let loose like Flamenco dancers and stomped their feet. Each, one at a time, they took turns stamping and dancing. I imagined Baryshnikov on a stage making art for Andy Warhol. It was an entire ballet, I was spellbound, I had never seen anything like it. I was watching Swan Lake in Andy's factory. I could not believe my eyes and realized I was in a rare moment. They paid no attention to me but I decided to move to a more discreet corner because I did not want to distract them. I can tell you for a fact; time stood still. I do not remember how long I was there because so much seemed to happen. After awhile, perhaps 20 or 30 minutes another queen came in, he was just as enthusiastic but he went into what we used call an "absolute....hissy...fit". He literally screamed out "What.....have.....you.....done, Andy wants more Red?".....They shouted back, "no,,...he....doesn't,.....he....just...told...us..... he......wants.....more.....blue". Now, me, I was there the entire time and I did not see Andy say anything to them, so they must have made that part up. But I kept silent because it was not really my problem and I did not want to disturb the beauty of the moment.

After some time they realized it did not matter at all and one of them threw up his hands and said "oh, who really cares anyway" and all three of them removed the paint trays and left. I stood there alone for a while in silence, still in my corner just thinking about the scene. Finally, Andy came back in and did not even give the "paintings" a glance for even a second(obviously he did not care either),he seemed not to notice me. He unceremoniously started to sign them with a pen. He started at the beginning and worked his way down the entire row of Dollar Signs. Andy Warhol.....Andy Warhol....Andy Warhol....Andy Warhol he wrote, and then left the room. Once again I was alone. I sat down in a chair not knowing what would happen next and started to think about the entire day.

Page finally came back. "Hi Sig", she said and asked me, "So, did you decide if you want to buy some original Andy art"? Well, the first thing that came to mind were the dollar signs. "Page, how much are those", I said, pointing to the row on the floor? She said, "They retail for $10,000, but you can buy one wholesale for $5,000"? I thought about it for a moment and asked myself if I could really justify spending $5000 for "one of those" after watching it being produced, it seemed ridiculous to me. I thanked Page and said good bye to her and Andy and left....deeply wondering about the "Art World."

A couple of months ago I was visiting with a friend who is an art appraiser. I shared the story with her and suggested that I thought they might be worth $75,000 or perhaps $100,000 now. She looked at me strangely and said, "I don't think so". A quick search of her extensive database revealed that they are selling for upwards of $600,000. I was speechless and realized that for as long as I have worked in my field as I professional, I could have bought 4 or 5 of those and just put them in a box and would have something great to add to my retirement fund.

The moral of the story is "don't always stick to what you know" or "do not confuse quality with value." 


Anonymous said...

I had a client, Eddie, who bought a tract of land directly contiguous to the southwest corner of the intersection of the I-15 and the I-10 for $50,000 in 1960. He happily sold it for $1,000,000 in 1965. The gentleman who purchased the land from him sold it in 1982 for $100,000,000. For the rest of his days Eddie walked around on the one-legged ass kicking machine over that deal.

BTW Rob your "Stairs" photo reminds me of a double helix dna strand. JH

Blue Heron said...

Sig, if there is anything that the rich overclass loves, it is cynical irony. They think that it is quite delicious. Dollar signs are perfect.

I think that the moral is to never overestimate the stupidity of the american public. As long as they feel they are in on the right side of the joke they will buy in, a new Barnum to fleece the rube every decade, Hirst, Warhol, what have you.

By the way, I never met Andy but I stood next to him at the Peppermint Lounge a few years before you met him. Cold as a fish, he emitted no vibrations whatsoever.

He was a very talented draftsman with an uncanny knack for sussing out the game. Thanks for sending me your story.

Anonymous said...

Matti Klarwein:

Good morning to all you art critics out there! The days when I used to tremble with apprehension at the sound of your approaching footsteps are over. I've come to terms with myself, as they say, and I've accepted the role of the worst painter of the world who inspires nothing but ubiquitous silence from you guys for the last 40 years.
But don't get me wrong! I sympathize with the fragility of your position and reputation, and your quasi-hysterical anxiety as you buttress the sand castle of art with the cement of your aesthetic theories in order to keep it from crumbling. After all we are talking demand and supply, and megabucks turnover. All art is commercial and a good artist can do a sublime painting even when it's commissioned by a Mongolian idiot with a gold credit card. It's just harder and more of challenge, that's all.
Modernism and it's dogmas and anti-dogmas have tried extremely hard but have failed to define the borders of art as commodity, besides having failed to establish art as the art of living, just look at the world around us! All it has succeeded in doing is to glamorize junk, commercial hype and life-negative virtual realities that poison our organic environment. Modernism and it's after-shock ism is killing nature and nature strikes back by killing us. Soon the art market will be dead as gallery's doornail, with the exception of course, of the 50 most power megabuck full giants with their 50 van Goghs stored away in their private tax-exempt foundation-fortresses. By then I'll be squatting in a cave and finger painting monochromes on the walls with my own blue-shit. That's when you critics are gonna come running acclaiming me as the great master of our times. But it'll be too late, I'll be evicted from the cave and chained to the basement in China writing one-liners for a fortune-cookie factory, such as:
perseverance furthers...!

NYSTAN said...

Hey-love that story, but to tell you the truth, if I were you, I would be more upset about losing the fast walking beauty......fuck the bullshit art.....wouldn't you rather be lying on a beach in some remote third world place with the leggy one and ten bucks in your pocket? I know I would! Thanks for posting. Very enjoyable read.