Warhol's Things, Room Of Surprises

Robert Long | November 29, 2001

When Andy Warhol died unexpectedly in 1988 the photographer David Gamble was let into his Manhattan townhouse for a bit over a week to record what he found there. His images show us how the house looked before everything was packed up and carted off to Sotheby's to be auctioned; you may remember the frenzy over Warhol's cookie jars.

Edge Media in Sag Harbor is showing 10 of Mr. Gamble's prints. Some were reproduced in the London Observer just after they were taken, but otherwise they haven't been seen much. There are remarkable documentary images of the living room, drawing room, medicine cabinet, and kitchen sink, and there is a series of four intentionally kitschy still lifes in screaming Day-Glo.

The latter pictures, which take us back to the bad old days of Richard Avedon's solarized color portraits of The Beatles, show one of Warhol's blond wigs set on a stand before a pair of mantel-sized marble statues of Isis and Ramses. A pair of glasses, a wristwatch, and some folded money are the variant objects in the series.

The pictures of Warhol's furnishings and collection are far more interesting, and you curse the day that his executors decided simply to sell everything rather than find a way to preserve the house, perhaps as part of the Warhol Foundation, perhaps with some help from the city or another foundation. To have a chance to visit it as you can visit the Frick, the Morgan Library, the Barnes Foundation, or Ronald Lauder's new townhouse of German art would have been spectacular. It's the sort of lost opportunity you try not to think about, like watching the Creeks, Alfonso Ossorio's estate, pass into private hands.

Warhol had a great eye for objects, and his living room included a couple of beautiful armoires (one, with a mirrored front, was covered in what looks like rhinoceros hide), an elegant and outrageously phallic Art Deco stainless steel creamer, a round painting of a cartoon cat that is an early masterpiece of Roy Lichtenstein's (if you had to pick six Lichtensteins to represent his whole career, this would be one of them), an equally beautiful Jasper Johns, and what looks like a Braque.

In the drawing room there's a great big American primitive picture of a little girl and a mysterious canvas that shows a woman falling out of bed. This looks like a 19th-century French picture but its subject puts it in the territory of Max Ernst's "Une Semaine de Bonte." In the kitchen, Fiestaware and a huge Aunt Jemima cookie jar.

The six shelves of Warhol's medicine chest are full of goodies: Vetiver talc, Fashion Tan, several lipsticks, and a bottle of Neet hair remover (with cocoa butter) on top of an Altoids tin are among the treasures.

Mr. Gamble's visual inventory can be seen through Dec. 31.

Gallery Merz, also in Sag Harbor, has a holiday exhibit of small works by 22 artists, also up through the end of December. This is one of the most enjoyable exhibits I've seen in a while. The paintings, drawings, assemblages, and sculptures are by artists who, like the gallery's directors, David Slater and Elisca Jeansonne, employ a distinctive vocabulary of images, so the room is full of pleasant surprises.

And all these juxtaposed sensibilities somehow add up to a powerful whole - the show is very well installed.

Among the highlights are Mr. Slater's wall-hanging assemblages, which have a kind of Native American Surrealist feeling and also seem to be channeling some of Ossorio's spirit. Ms. Slater likes found objects, so bicycle reflectors, for example, find their way into the creepy and grand "Spirit of the Spider," which also includes rubber bugs, little metal fetishes, and bits of reed and rope. The objects form a kind of face that seems to be looking back at you.

Charles Waller's playful mixed media sculptures and painted tins have an R. Crumb-by-way-of-Saul Steinberg aura, as do Dominick Cantasano's inscrutable abstract watercolors. In Christine Najdzionek's "God Bless America," Generals Grant and Lee, seen with each other's battle flags, are pasted to the sides of a little box that shelters a tin can of "Whoop Ass" energy drink.

Mary Remian's small paper collages are very much in the spirit of Kurt Schwitters, and the wobbly trees in Jane Johnson's bright acrylic landscapes look like something Van Gogh might have painted at age 8.

Gary Beeber's photos are straightforward, tightly cropped, colorful images of architectural details, very elegantly composed. Michael Butler and Alex Signon work in naive or pseudo-naive styles; Mr. Butler is showing acrylic paintings including a flat view of a white-gowned choir arranged on ascending steps like the notes of a scale, and Mr. Signon's paintings of children jumping rope or standing in water have an iconic, Keith Haring-like simplicity.

Among the other artists represented are Bill Antonow, Nicholas Bergery, Kathleen Bifulco, Brenda Branch, Mary Delaney, James DeMartis, David Gochenour, Michael Heller, Audrey Lee, Rhodia Mann, Bernice Mast, Dan Rizzie, Joe Strand, and Ms. Jeansonne.