MADDER LAKE ED. #13 : TOWARDS★EGO / by James Merrigan

 
 
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TOWARDS★EGO

...and the importance of having one💀

By JAMES MERRIGAN  | March 21, 2018

 

“The people I love, the ones like Freddy Herko, the leftovers from show business, turned down at auditions all over town, they couldn’t do something more than once, but their once was better than anyone else’s. They had star quality but no star ego. They didn’t know how to push themselves. They were too gifted to lead regular lives. But they were also too unsure of themselves to ever become real professionals.” Andy Warhol, extract from Andy Warhol Documentary, 2016.  


In 1964, New York, a naked 28-year-old Freddy Herko leaps from his friend’s fifth floor apartment “with Mozart on full blast” and Speed and LSD ripping through his en pointe dancer's body. Whether drug-induced accident or Icarian leap, it has been said that Andy Warhol responded to the tragedy with something like: ‘pity we didn’t get it on film’. A year later in 1965 Warhol released silver helium balloons from the top floor of the Factory as a symbolic farewell to his relationship with painting. Recorded on film, you can hear Warhol fawning over the balloons in his drawn-out drunk voice: “OooooH HooooooW BeautifuuuuuuuuL...”. You have to wonder if Warhol would have fawned over Freddy airborne in the same manner.

Perhaps Fred Herko wanted to fly, or figured out that he couldn’t fly solo anymore. We will never know. What makes this tragedy especially Greek is the mythologically-bound body of Fred Herko entangled in Andy Warhol’s psychotic countenance. Warhol’s allegedly cold and cruel response to Freddy’s graceful fall from grace as a missed aesthetic opportunity is based on Fred Herko’s beautiful body in flight, nothing more. If Freddy had been a slob Warhol’s imagination wouldn’t have soared to the depths of such objectivity. That's what made Warhol the artist he was. 

 
 Fred Herko dancing on the roof of the Opulent Tower, Ridge Street, New York, spring 1964. Photograph: Public domain

Fred Herko dancing on the roof of the Opulent Tower, Ridge Street, New York, spring 1964. Photograph: Public domain

 

But is there a line you shouldn't cross as an artist? Every artist has their thing, and that thing is all encompassing or you're just kidding yourself. Warhol’s thing was to record other people living. So what’s so remarkable, so shocking, about Warhol’s response to Freddy's fall if you are indeed, Andy Warhol? Many victims fell by Warhol’s wayside, until his own immortal body was compromised in the most violent of ways when Valerie Solanas shot him point blank in the chest in 1968. After that Warhol became like everyone else: afraid.

If you go one step farther in your mind, like Fred Herko did in his body and Warhol did in his aesthetic leaps to record life rather than live it, you can imagine Fred Herko spreadeagled over the city, his penis an imperfect love handle on the otherwise perfect architecture of his fully erect body. Warhol envisioned Fred Herko launching, not falling, leaving those with their feet firmly planted on the ground head scratching in Mission Control.

 
 Artistic action  Leap into the Void  by Yves Klein, Gelatin silver print, 1960.

Artistic action Leap into the Void by Yves Klein, Gelatin silver print, 1960.

 

They say ballerinas want to fly, and in a manner of speaking they do. Artist Yves Klein’s fake intellectual Leap into the Void from a rooftop in the Paris suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses in 1960 has nothing to do with flying. It’s cynical, it’s mortal, it’s narcissistic, on a par with a carefully choreographed moment on Instagram. But like Yves Klein’s forever falsehood I cannot imagine what the pavement looked like after Fred Herko’s body careered into it. I don't want to. I don’t think Warhol was imagining that horror either when he said what he said. He was thinking about the launch, Fred Herko’s body extended in flesh and time: “OooooH HooooooW BeautifuuuuuuuuL...”.

 
 The body of 23-year-old Evelyn McHale rests atop a crumpled limousine minutes after she jumped to her death from the Empire State Building, May 1, 1947. Robert Wiles.

The body of 23-year-old Evelyn McHale rests atop a crumpled limousine minutes after she jumped to her death from the Empire State Building, May 1, 1947. Robert Wiles.

 

Warhol was an artist who placed himself in the right place at the right time. Talent had something to do with it, but temperament had more to do with it – as John Baldassari proffers: “Talent is cheap”. How do artists who desire to show their work in the public sphere transcend or transform talent into star ego? If Warhol had been at the foot of the Empire State Building on 34th Street in 1947 he would have surely snapped the body of Evelyn McHale, who jumped from the Observation Deck, 86 floors up, 1040 foot down. Can you say the same? 

 

1. Andy Warhol, 1963, Suicide (Fallen Body), silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 284.5 x 203.8 cm; 2. Matthew Barney, Drawing restraint 17: Evelyn Mchale , 2011, cast polycaprolactone

 

Robert Wiles was there, a photography student, whose now iconic photograph, the only photograph he would ever publish, achieved the tragedy belittling plaudit of “Picture of the Week” in Life magazine with the immortally brave tagline “The Most Beautiful Suicide". The photograph shows Evelyn tucked into the crumpled sheet metal of the roof of a car, alone, with no one close to kiss her goodnight or turn out the light. Still grasping her pearl necklace with one white-gloved hand, Evelyn bathes in the A.M. tide of sunlight while gimlet-eyed onlookers stand wallowing in the dark peace of the aftermath. No love handles.

 
 22 May 1947. View from the top of the Empire State Building. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

22 May 1947. View from the top of the Empire State Building. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

 

Fifteen years later in 1963, and one year before Fred Herko’s death, Warhol silk-screened Robert Wiles’ photograph of the Cadillac-cradled Evelyn. Maybe Warhol was thinking of Evelyn when he allegedly said what he said on hearing about Freddy’s death. I'm not making excuses for him; I don’t think he needs to be defended. I believe and accept that artists who transcend themselves and art give up a part of themselves, maybe even their humanity. As a looking machine Warhol’s sacrifice may have been empathy, if he ever had it in the first place.

 

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