• gerard van weyenbergh

ART & CRIME part2: Who shot Andy Warhol?

In 1968, a young dramatist with radical ideas attempted to assassinate Andy Warhol (1928–1987).

In the spring of 1968, Andy Warhol was already one of the most famous artists in the United States. Its legendary Factory with silver walls, inaugurated in 1964 in a Manhattan loft, has just moved to the 6 th floor of 33 Union Square West. In this workshop that has become a bastion of counter-culture, the eccentric Warhol surrounds himself with strange characters. Day and night, doors remain open to all winds, welcoming quirky artists, members of the New York jet set, and lost drug addicts who meet to party or produce paintings on the chain. The artist shoots films on the go there, portraits of a crazy youth.

June 3, 1968, an illuminated person arrived in the hall of the Factory armed with a Beretta, and fired several bullets in the direction of the master of the place, then his companion and his impresario. Her pistol jammed, the gunner left the building before going to the police a few hours later. Warhol is in critical condition: a bullet pierced his lung, spleen, stomach, liver, and esophagus. Taken to hospital, declared clinically dead, the artist miraculously survives. Photographer Richard Avedon immortalizes his injuries that will leave him traumatized for life and forced to wear a corset until the end of his days.

The guilty ? A certain Valerie Solanas, who frequented the Factory. This 32-year-old feminist, abused by her father and then beaten by an alcoholic grandfather, had left her home at 15 for the streets, where she begged and prostituted herself to survive. Despite everything, she had brilliantly graduated in psychology from the University of Maryland before arriving in New York in 1965, where she had relapsed into prostitution and drugs while devoting herself to writing. In 1967, she self-published a pamphlet: the SCUM Manifesto (SCUM for "Society for Cutting up Men" or "Society for the castration of men"), claiming the superiority of women ... called to "overthrow the government" and "eliminate the male sex"!

Her mobile? A play delightfully titled Up your ass ( In your ass ), she had confided the only copy to Warhol in the hope that he will be the producer. Warhol, who had found this story of a beggar prostitute who hates men so much that she ends up killing one too extreme, pretended to have lost the unique copy and then ignored the insistent appeals of the writer. As compensation for the "lost" manuscript, he eventually had her starred in two of his films, I, a Man (1967) and Bikeboy (1967), for a handful of dollars. But Solanas remained convinced that he had kept her text to steal it from her.

A few hours before the drama, Valerie goes to see a young 23-year-old producer, Margo Feiden, whom she asks to produce her play. Her interlocutor, who does not appreciate her project of eradicating the male sex, refuses. Determined, Valerie pulls out her gun. "I'm going to shoot Andy Warhol, and it will make me famous, and it will make the play famous, and then you will produce it!" She says before leaving in the direction of the Factory. Alarmed, Feiden calls several police stations. Alas, it is not taken seriously.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia and paranoid, Solanas is sentenced to three years in prison and incarcerated in a criminal asylum. When she left, she threatened Warhol again, which led her to be interned again for several years. What had she liked about Warhol, she who hated men so much? Perhaps she had the impression of rediscovering a little of herself in this homosexual and androgynous artist with a difficult childhood, misanthropic and provocative, revolutionary in his way of dynamiting the concepts of art and artist and interested in American violence, as evidenced by his silkscreens Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963), Race Riot (1964) and Big Electric Chair (1967).

Deeply affected by the event, Warhol later painted a series of skulls and another depicting firearms. On his guard, he transforms his underground workshop into an agency and develops a phobia of hospitals. It is undoubtedly that the after-effects of this assassination attempt weigh in the balance when he succumbs to a cardiac arrest on February 22, 1987. The following year, Solanas died of the consequences of pneumonia in a seedy San Francisco hotel where she prostituted herself for a living.

In 2000, Solanas famous play, found in 1999 at the bottom of a trunk, was performed in a theater near the place of her death.

© Beau Arts, Josephine Binde