The ELASTE squad had two icons who stood the test of time: Andy Warhol and David Bowie. The King of Pop Art, our biggest inspiration, and the most enormous influence in contemporary art were coming to visit the Hinterland.
Thomas loved his silkscreen prints fusing photography and painting, Michael was fascinated by his public persona personal branding and Chris, an early subscriber to Interview magazine, was captivated by his radical experimentation in all media forms and by his films, which he hadn’t even seen at the time.
Andy Warhol epitomized New York, USA, and its subculture. He was a visionary. He foresaw so clearly the tabloid world of accidents, celebrity, gossip, consumerism, wealth, and violence. Andy was a juggernaut who influenced not only the art world but also advertising, pop music, independent film, collecting, publishing, and reality television.
The prestigious Kestner Gesellschaft in Hanover, founded in 1916, was showing the first retrospective of Warhol’s work in Germany, and it was like art royalty coming to the boondocks. 68 works were shown, from Warhol’s early works from the 1960s to the “Myths” created in 1981.
ELASTE had just published their first issue; the second one was in print. We had to come up with an original plan to be able to meet Andy Warhol. Andy coming to Germany, was an event of utter cultural and national importance. The entire press corps were after him. Our attempts to get in touch with the gallery failed. In the first year of our existence, ELASTE was not an established magazine and did not qualify for any press credentials. Our original journalistic style was guerrilla.
A day before the epic moment, we came up with a plan. We were to catch Andy at the airport by handing him the first issue of our oversized magazine with a bright portrait of Helen Schneider on the cover. This cover did not stand the test of time, but it referred to New York underground magazines like Addict, Slash. The artwork included collage and colorization techniques inspired by Andy’s print work.
Our sidekick Andreas Bolle was suggesting to also give him a present at the airport: “he likes peanuts.” We bought a family pack of Ültje peanuts: Ültje means peanuts in the north-German east-Frisian dialect.
An ELASTE sticker was slapped onto the pack, a green triangle with our slogan “Das Magazin für Männer und Frauen” (A Magazine for Men and Women), with an icon of a man and a woman with a wall in between.
Around this time, most lifestyle magazines were gender-specific; our mission was to go beyond that. The bar was a reference to another slogan: “Die Mauer muss weg” (Away with the Wall). This was a wink to the German geopolitical situation and a precursor to the gender fluidity discourse of our time.
On the morning of Andy’s arrival, we bet on Andy flying from New York with Lufthansa, then making a transfer in Frankfurt on the way to “where it all came down” Hannover-Langenhagen. We checked the flight schedule. There was only one connecting flight from Frankfurt! We headed in Thomas’ shabby Volkswagen Variant to the airport.
In 1981 the airport was tiny. One could easily oversee the whole terminal. We stood by the sliding doors, where the first passengers of the Frankfurt fight were exiting. And there he was! Frail, in a green Barbour jacket and casual attire, approaching with Fred Hughes and Carl Haenlein of the Kestner Gesellschaft on his side.
Andy was left alone at the curb while his team was getting the car. Our moment has come. Painfully shy and super nervous, we were hiding behind our sidekick Andreas “no fear” Bolle as he stepped up and approached Andy. He handed him the peanuts and a copy of our magazine: “We are ELASTE magazine, we love your work and would like to have an interview.” Andy’s response was friendly and soft-spoken: “Is this your magazine? ELASTE, I know this magazine.” We started to chat him up until Fred Hughes, and Carl Haenlein drove by and Andy got into the car, shouting: “See you tonight!”
Carl Haenlein, Kestner Gesellschaft (left) with Andy Warhol. Photo: Thomas Elsner
We followed his car and took photos through the window. Andy was browsing our magazine the whole time. Arriving at the Hotel Luisenhof, we asked for an interview again. Andy’s response: “I am exhausted, I need to relax.” Fred Hughes was approaching us, saying that “Andy is very shy of the press. He only talks to interesting people and the people he likes. Let him relax first, and I think we can do something later tonight.”
We went back to our office nearby, got into the darkroom, and developed the films we just shot, made prints, colored them in reference and appreciation of his art. Bolle suggested calling the hotel. A friendly voice was openly sharing information: “Yes, the gentleman from New York has been on the phone with the US for an hour now. I will let him know you called.”
A few minutes later, the phone rang. Andy Warhol called us back.
Andy Warhol: Elaste, Good afternoon! This is Andy.
ELASTE: Andy, we would like to meet you.
Andy Warhol: I am exhausted. I need to take a nap. I will call you later.
Did you take a look at our magazine?
Oh, yes, I like your magazine, really. Would you like to go for a burger?
Oh, yes, we would love to.
He hung up but did not call back.
The evening approached, and the four of us marched over to the gallery. Hundreds of people were standing outside. Inside, the gallery was so crowded, there was no way for us to get in. Relying on guerrilla tactics, we circled the building and found the local Neo- Dadaist “Totalkünstler” Timm Ulrichs at the back door, saying, “What, You are here?”
“Totalkünstler” and Neo-Dadaist Timm Ulrichs. Photo: Thomas Elsner
We portrayed Timm in our first edition. Genuinely unimpressed, Timm continued: “You are coming to the Pöbel? This is a really shitty show; this is worse than Beckenbauer giving autographs.” Timm Ulrich told the security to let us in, and we stepped inside. Fred Hughes recognized us immediately and was pushing us to the gallery’s office. Andy, tired and hiding from the crowds, pressed Fred to leave. Fred was saying: “Let’s get back to the hotel. Andy would like to meet you there. He needs some quiet time.”
When we arrived at the hotel bar, Andy sat impassively under a large traditional portrait painting, his arms crossed like a grade-schooler, a gin-tonic in front of him, his eyes wandering and seizing the room. Fred Hughes pointed to the picture above, saying, “Look, this is
Andy’s great-grandfather.” Andy looked up, “Hi, grandpa.”
Andy interviewing Andy at Hotel Intercontinental, Hannover. Photo: Thomas Elsner
Our very own Andreas Bolle sat next to him on the sofa with a voice recorder in front of him. Andy was very curious about the peculiar-looking machine.
Andy Warhol: What’s this? That’s big! I’m asking you a question. What is your name?
Warhol: How does this thing work here?
Andy, you have an excellent antenna for trends. What kind of business would you take on in Germany?
My pick would be the media business.
Film and entertainment.
Do you know the media landscape in Germany?
Oh, no, very little.
In contrast to the States, in Germany, we only have two state broadcasters.
You said you distance yourself from crazy people and drug addicts these days, but your art was thriving on the underground culture.
Andy’s first studio was the raw Silver Factory on East 47th Street in Manhattan (for which he paid $100 a year in rent), afterward, the more polished headquarters of his varied ventures were on Union Square West, and, finally, at the refitted power station in the East 30s. There was a striking contrast between the Silver Factory of the 1960s and the Union Square Factory. Before the shooting of 1968, Andy hired rebellious heiresses like Edie and Brigid Berlin and transgressive street kids. After Andy was shot, all of that stopped. He weeded out many of the kids, the amphetamine addicts, and, gradually, the drag queens. Early on, there wasn’t really a robust bourgeois element. Starting in the early 70s and until the time Warhol moved to Broadway, almost everyone he hired came out of college, from upper-class families. Andy turned the Factory into a real business. There was health insurance, and everybody had a pension plan.
Andy Warhol: No, no, we work in our office from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm like in any other office. We don’t take drugs. The world is insane enough.
ELASTE: What are you working on right now?
At the moment, I’m a model. Why aren’t you a model?
Andy tried over and over again to evade the interview and take it over. He didn’t like to talk and even less so about himself. In the late sixties and seventies, Andy was notorious for carrying his tape recorder around. He founded Interview in 1969, and his obsession materialized on paper. Interview magazine’s interviews were printed verbatim and gave you a feeling of what it was like to be there, sometimes dull and trivial, like being a fly on the wall. They featured cult celebrities, artists, musicians, creative thinkers. It was a library of American talent, who were asked what they ate for breakfast, whether they wore underwear to bed and if they wanted to live forever.
Andy Warhol: Why don’t you all come over and visit me at the Factory? You have the right vibe.
ELASTE: Thank you, but New York is expensive.
When can you be seen on the ELASTE cover?
No plans, we haven’t seen you on the Interview cover either.
By the way, thanks for the peanuts and the photos. Do I honestly look like this?
In the gallery, we gave him some prints of the photos we took, developed, and colored in the morning.
What is most important to you?
I am a comedian now in the show called life.
I live now you live now. I can interview you, you can interview; that’s fantastic. And in New York, you have the greatest show on earth, and I’m in the middle of it.
Tell us more about your new series, “Mother and Child.”
I’m working on that right now. I’m always thinking about it.
Do you want to process your relationship with your mother in your art?
Yeah, almost. This is a topic that people, whatever happens, always carry with them, in the subconscious. Mothers are loved, but only in the psyche: a myth that is never lost. I take pictures of mothers with children every day.
Are they real mothers with their children, or do you shoot models?
No, they are real mothers with their children.
Is the mother-child theme based on the religious portraits of Mary?
Many artists turn to religious subjects with increasing age.
No, it is not. I don’t have much in mind with religion yet. But I’m going to do something with God.
What will you do with God?
Will the mother-child series be printed?
They will be silkscreen prints. An extensive series.
Who is the most important person for you?
20 seconds pause.
I have none.
When will you get into politics? Doesn’t that interest you?
We made a cover with Mrs. Reagan.
I mean the job of a politician, like Reagan.
It’s too hard, and I’m not an actor either.
The job you are doing now is not exactly easier. It is just more familiar to you.
I get around a lot. I do what I need to do.
We heard you like to complain about paying too much taxes. Why don’t you form your own country, like the Kingdom of Monaco, for example, where you can collect taxes?
New York is my kingdom. Why don’t you do it?
Your zodiac sign is Leo. You project so much energy in your work, but here you act rather sluggish.
The boys are pushing me. I work among very energetic people.
Does that mean you’re not the boss?
The question was left in the room, Fred Hughes came over: “Off to dinner, come with us.”
We left the hotel bar. It was 11:30 pm. Andy strolled with us, with his arms crossed, his body bent forward, across the opera house square. The surroundings and the cityscape didn’t seem to interest him much. When we arrived at a Chinese restaurant, the food was already being served on a huge round table. Carl Haenlein always goes to the same Chinese restaurant with his guests and orders for everyone. We were missing Andy’s close friend, Joseph Beuys, who was unable to make it to Hanover.
Carl Haenlein has placed the gallery owners from Italy, north Germany and the art scene giants from south Germany next to Andy. Andy was grumbling that he doesn’t want to sit next to these annoying people and asked us to sit next to him. Carl Haenlein had to push the art crowd down the table under mild protest so we could sit next to Andy.
Andy Warhol and Carl Haenlein. Photo: Thomas Elsner
While dining, Thomas took photos of Andy talking to us and eating his fried rice with a fork. During the interview, his eyes kept wandering over the people around him. He never moved the corners of his mouth. He covered his plate with plenty of vegetables, but only nibbled a little bit. His body changed when he spoke. Only his pale head appeared to be alive due to the darkness of his clothes and he turned it alternately left and right. Sometimes he woke up a bit, answered in a little more detail or even smiled slightly.
ELASTE: What kind of music do you like? Does a music artist need to have charisma?
Andy Warhol: Music is vibes. I like all kinds of music. I only listen to music when I go to parties and the music is always great.
Are you still in touch with Lou Reed?
No, I am not.
You need to ask Fred.
What role does Fred Hughes play in your group?
He is the manager. He has the same job that you probably have in your magazine.
He is very good looking, a bit like Brian Ferry.
No, I know Brian Ferry. Brian looks more like you.
What is happening in New York’s music scene?
Oh, well, we just signed a new band.
You’re managing bands again?
What is the name of the band? What kind of music do they play?
The name is still a secret. We have agreed not to publish it. Otherwise, record companies will try to steal it.
Why did you make a film of the Empire State Building?
The films are long and were a lot of work, but they show the characters I love. They are symbols that reflect an entire generation. They talk about the people who made them and about the ones who are being portrayed. The Empire State Building is art. It is fantastic and monumental. Computers are also art. I plan to make another film about computers.
“Empire” was filmed on the night of September 11, 1964 from the 41st floor of the Time-Life Building in New York City, from the offices of the Rockefeller Foundation – simply filming a static view of the Empire State Building from that position. The film was shot at 24 frames per second but is projected at 16 frame/s, so that, even though only about 6 hours and 36 minutes of film was made, the film when screened is about 8 hours and 5 minutes long.
The movie turns out to be gripping. If great works of art can be thought of as machines for thinking, triggering ideas by the dozen, then “Empire” is a Rolls-Royce: It keeps us thinking about what film is and does, what great buildings are all about and even how and why we look at things.
ELASTE: How will that look like?
Andy Warhol: It’s easy: we’re going to film the end of the century. The most important thing is just doing it. Can I interview you for ELASTE?
Why do you have a small diamond in your ear?
Don’t you like it?
Why don’t you talk to Hermann (a gallery owner from Bonn) he likes guys with earrings.
Because I prefer to put a woman next to my earring.
Really? I can imagine that. Do you do water skiing or surfing?
When do you come to New York to visit me in the Factory?
When I earn as much as you as a photo model. There’s a book by you, “A-B and back again”, could we translate and print parts of it?
I think it’s already translated. You have to get the rights from the publisher.
You are a great observer, but many details of your life are quite incoherent. You put them together to create your worldview, is that correct?
That is my philosophy. I know a lot of good people and I see a lot. A picture develops from this. Everything relates to each other; I don’t have to understand the connections. You need to shut up and just do it.
Is that why you like to interview?
You want to make sense of it again. Did you get to know all the important people for your magazine?
You are the most important person.
Oh, thank you, you have to come to NY. Don’t you ever go out for dinner like this here?
No, not so far. We don’t have the money to eat with all the famous or important people.
You don’t need money, you need personality.
But to achieve personality, one shouldn’t not go out too much. One should do more creative work.
Oh yeah. I always have work. My free time is hard work too. I constantly work at dinners, in clubs, at parties.
Is this work for you?
All of life is work. And you give away half of it. You pay taxes and everything is expensive. They collect taxes on everything.
But you never pay anything, your management does.
This is the biggest expense.
Do you have more plans to make money?
I am working on the dollar sign. Dollar signs are everywhere.
Where did you get your haircut?
By Tolla Cruse. Blondie goes to him too.
What is your relationship with women?
Do you have close relationships with women?
I live alone. I work too much. No boyfriends, no girlfriends. I have a lot of friends; we are all very busy. My best friend is the phone.
You say you’re always working. You are very busy. Is there a reason for that?
Answering the last question did not seem important to him. We continued to talk about artists and celebrities, from Bianca Jagger, Nixon, Hunter, Bowie, to the Rothschilds. About each Warhol had a brief sentence to say. Either he knew them well, they were his friends or they have seen each other often. He took on no attitudes and was of a humble nature; his posture radiated innocence and mystique.
At the end of the dinner, we asked Warhol to contribute to ELASTE, namely, to make a small drawing that we would then print exclusively in our next issue. We had a ‘SponsArt’ section in the magazine in which we asked our interview subjects to create a small scribble. Before, the band Bauhaus, Dieter Meier from Yello, underground star Kiev Stingl and NDW singer Joachim Witt had done it. Warhol took out an Edding marker, grabbed a napkin, marked it with a $ sign, signed it and pushed it across the table. However, Thomas didn’t accept; he pushed it back and asked to make it more personal. Warhol completed the drawing with the words: “For ELASTE.”
Napkin art by Andy Warhol for ELASTE
“Everybody has their own America,” Warhol explained. “You live in your dream America that you’ve custom-made from art and schmaltz, and emotions just as much as you live in your real one.”
Warhol was an incredibly astute businessman who formed his first corporate entity, Andy Warhol, in 1957, but he never really stopped working for hire. He made thousands of commissioned portraits based on photos taken by a machine, or rather a photo booth. By the 1970s, commissioned portraits were a substantial chunk of Warhol’s income.
Anyone could have their portrait made for $25.000. Along with these services, Warhol was also keen to trade on his own image, creating numerous self-portraits throughout his career and offering himself up for endorsements. Of course, Warhol was not only a visual artist, but also a filmmaker, band manager, magazine publisher and TV producer who fearlessly explored and embraced the new media. From the 1950s until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was a shapeshifter always open to the new.
He was always innovative, but also kept reflecting his time.
People debate whether Warhol defined the ad and celebrity-driven, factory-made culture or was himself defined by it. In any case, his work remains essential because what mattered to Warhol proved to be prophetic: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
People call him a sell-out, but by exposing the relationship between commerce and art Warhol nullified the very idea of a sell-out. This process made possible the work of Jeff Koons, Takeshi Murakami, Damien Hirst and so many other contemporary artists.