The Life Story of Andy Warhol

30. June 2019

When I heard that Maren Gottschalk was working on a Warhol biography, I lifted my finger early to get a review copy. (Many thanks, dear Beltz-Verlag for the uncomplicated transmission.) I read down the first hundred pages of “Factory Man” like this. Then I was stupidly distracted with jobs. Now I could reach for the book again and devoured the second part in the same way. Although I already knew quite a lot about Andy Warhol from my job, I let myself be drawn into the history of this art genius. And that’s not just because of the exciting events in his life. Maren manages to bring this superstar of the art scene very close to you as a person.

“Factory Man. Die Lebensgeschichte des Andy Warhol” (The Life Story of Andy Warhol) was published in the Children & Youth Book section of the publishing house, in which Maren Gottschalk has also published biographies of Nelson Mandela and Frida Kahlo. What a blessing to have this target group in mind. Not only because I find it important to bring art and culture closer to young people. But also because I enjoy reading these publications (and I’m convinced that it’s not just me).

The author gives the many historical and art historical facts a clear structure. In 11 chapters one is guided through history, each ending with a “flashlight” – a closer look at Warhol’s work. I find this entanglement much more successful than if one had performed one story after the other! Even with the prologue, it becomes clear that this is also about understanding Andy Warhol.

To classify his art and to clear up many prejudices

“Andy Warhol has raised questions that are still being discussed today, almost 30 years after his death. Was he a genius? A man who crossed borders as an artist and filmmaker? Or was he just a troublemaker, obsessed with the addiction to success and blessed with a good instinct for marketing? In other words: Was the superstar Andy Warhol also an important artist? And if so, what did he give the world? What is behind his pictures of soup cans, electric chairs and cheerful flowers and what do his more than 100 films want to tell us?

In my many conversations with visitors about the Warhol works in Museum Ludwig, I repeatedly felt how much his art unsettled me. But most of them didn’t bother to take a closer look. And to deal with the artist. Factory Man” offers a lot of material even for Warhol fans. One notices that Maren not only studied the existing literature very carefully, but that it travelled to the places of his life, talked to people who knew him. I have the feeling as if one could follow how her sympathy for this often seemingly lost man has grown in the course of her research. Among the most touching passages of the book are the descriptions of the early years. Here one discovers some situations that will later also influence his work.

Biographies are non-fiction books, but somehow you always want to follow stories

You want to feel authentic closeness to the person you’re talking about. I find some of the passages in the book so exciting and so brilliantly written.

“June 3, 1968 begins like any other day. Warhol is at home in the morning and makes a phone call, then goes to his mother Julia and talks to her about an earthquake before he leaves the house and calls a taxi. He briefly stops by his lawyer and then drives to Bloomingdale’s department store. Meanwhile, Valerie Solanas comes to the factory and asks for Warhol, but Morrissey tells her he won’t be back today. Solanas waits anyway.”

The chronology of events leading up to the assassination attempt on him is soberly enumerated … but you can guess what will happen. Because you’ve already read the sometimes unpleasant constellations in the Factory before (and of course this story is one of the best known around Warhol). That is the special quality of this biography! Maren Gottschalk has adjusted her focus to the people. On the protagonist as well as on the secondary characters that surround him.

The art

The life story is told on almost 250 pages and important information about each of his work groups can be found. One experiences the history of the creation of the soup can pictures (“He has to do something new, something completely progressive”) as well as the concepts for the films (they were one of Warhol’s most important artistic concepts, one learns). The author also traces Pop Art and wonders why Warhol is considered her greatest representative. And then you notice the historian who sees Warhol as a child of his time. Again and again she draws a bow to contemporary events and refers to the references to the works of art.

The result is a portrait of a time, a certain scene with all its facets, in the middle of which Andy seems to shine as a true representative of the Pop generation. Now I’m going to make sure I visit the Museum Ludwig again as soon as possible. And there I will once again look at the Warhol’s with the newly acquired knowledge. I can warmly recommend Maren Gottschalk’s book to you. It is a worth reading and enriching piece of art history for all art fans.