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How Andy Warhol’s Red Self-Portraits Were Made

In response to:

Warhol Under the Waldorf from the August 18, 2011 issue

In 1964 Pete Palazzo, the art director at I. Miller Shoes, introduced Andy Warhol to Richard Ekstract, a publisher of magazines about consumer electronics with numerous contacts in the electronics industry. Ekstract became Warhol’s conduit to the Philips Corporation, which owned Philips Norelco, and to other electronic firms. In a letter to the Andy Warhol Authentication Board dated November 12, 2002, Ekstract writes that Warhol “began soliciting me regularly to obtain recording tape and tape equipment at a discount or for free. I always obliged.” Since he was not himself a manufacturer of electronic goods, his role was to contact manufacturers on Warhol’s behalf.

In mid-July 1965, Philips Norelco loaned Warhol one of the first consumer videotape recorders and cameras. Initially the loan was for a period of only one week.1 Warhol confirms this in an audiotape that is now in the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (Tape #1241), while Ekstract writes that he “secured for Andy the loan of a Norelco video recorder, a Norelco video camera and recording tape.” In exchange, Warhol agreed to appear on the cover of the first issue of Ekstract’s magazine Tape Recording and to be interviewed about the new machine.

Realizing the new machine’s potential importance for his work, however, Warhol began to think about how he could get the loan extended. He is heard on audiotape saying “maybe they’ll let us keep it” (the videotaping machine) and complaining about how expensive the tapes are (Tape #1223). Ekstract writes that “Andy was most anxious to have me continue to use my influence to enable him to keep the Norelco equipment longer and to secure more tape and other equipment for him in the future.”

On another of the audiotapes, photographer Stephen Shore asks Warhol how much the new camera costs and Warhol replies, “about fifteen thousand dollars” (July 1965, Tape #1241, side B). Warhol is also heard speaking about his need for money, how he can wangle discounts, and how to get people to work for him for free.

In their book Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, Tony Scherman and David Dalton discuss Warhol’s precarious financial position in the summer of 1965. In the week of June 19, three weeks before Ekstract’s camera arrived, Andy Warhol’s unpaid bill at Video Film Labs came to $1,100. “Several days later,” they write, “Andy received a desperate note from the Video’s owner—one of many such—to ‘please let me have a payment before the end of the month, as I need it to pay my bills.”’

Contrary to what people believed,” Sherman and Dalton continue,

Warhol was not making huge amounts of money at this time. In 1965, Andy Warhol Enterprises earned $47,153.66. Of that, $32,426.25 came from Castelli; the rest came from paintings sold directly to a client, without Castelli’s involvement, and from the commercial jobs Andy continued to do and dislike. Expenses, meanwhile, came to $47,040.89. Andy Warhol Enterprise’s 1965 net income was $112.77.2

Seen in the context of this financial background, Richard Ekstract’s importance to Warhol can hardly be exaggerated. It was he who arranged the extended loan of the video camera and player as well as the gift of approximately eleven videotapes (which sold for $100 each). With this equipment Warhol shot Outer and Inner Space with Edie Sedgwick, a work that J. Hoberman in The New York Times described as “a masterpiece of video art made before the term even existed.”3 Richard Ekstract recalled that Warhol kept the camera for six months (e-mail to the author July 19, 2011). One of the videotapes is dated July 16, 1965, and a photo published in Hi-Fi Magazine three months later (October 3, 1965) shows Warhol with the player.

At the time, Warhol’s work had so little value that he often traded his paintings to settle restaurant or dentist’s bills. He also gave paintings to people he wished to cultivate, such as collectors Bob and Ethel Scull, Fred Hughes, and Brooke Hopper, the curator and critic Bryan Robertson, and the dealers Irving Blum and Leo Castelli (or rather Castelli’s young son Jean-Christophe). The picture he chose to present to each was one of the 1964 series of self-portraits (Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné Volume 2A, nos. 1245, 1246, 1247, 1250, 1251). This perfectly accords with what Richard Ekstract says in his letter to the Warhol Art Authentication Board of November 12, 2002: “As I recall, at that time, Andy used his self-portrait silk-sceens primarily as gifts for promotion.”

The transaction he made with Ekstract, however, was not a gift but an exchange. Paul Morrissey, who became Warhol’s business manager in the summer of 1965, says:

I recall very well my dealing with Ekstract both for the loan of the Norelco video recorder and for the arrangements made for the party that Ekstract used to promote both Andy and his magazine as it was one of the first deals I handled as his manager.

He continues:

In order to feature Andy’s image in the magazine and at the party he needed a picture of Andy, something in the style of Andy’s earlier portraits. Andy used one of the “four for a quarter” photos done at a photo machine and had acetate transparencies made and gave the transparencies to Ekstract. By sending him only the transparencies which didn’t cost very much, he obligated Ekstract to pay for the expensive silkscreens needed to create portrait, which Ekstract agreed to do.

In one important detail of his account Morrissey is mistaken. Warhol lent Extract acetates he’d already used for his 1964 series of self-portraits. This has never been disputed. In a letter to the dealer Michel Kohn dated March 14, 1991, for example, Vincent Fremont writes of the two series that “all were clearly made from the same Warhol acetate.”

When the filmmaker Bruce Torbet was shooting a documentary about Andy Warhol at the Factory in 1965, he saw a self-portrait which he identified as the picture that was “to be used on the cover of [Richard Ekstract’s] tape recording magazine.” In the film Warhol is seen using the Norelco camera. When Torbet writes, “Andy confided to me that he had swapped self-portraits, one of which had just been photographed[,] for the video equipment shown being used in my film,”4 he is referring to the deal with Ekstract.

Notice Torbet’s use of the plural. Warhol usually swapped a single picture for goods or services, although in one well documented transaction he traded several flower paintings to settle a legal bill, and exchanged numerous paintings with Best Buy Electronics for electronic equipment. In this instance, however, the equipment was vital to his work and he could afford to be generous since he was obtaining the stratospherically expensive camera in exchange for pictures that did not yet exist and he did not have to pay for.

Prompted by his new business manager Paul Morrissey, who once asked him “why he didn’t save money by having the silk screen factory do the entire job with his instructions for all of his images,” Warhol turned over to Ekstract the acetates he’d used for the 1964 series of self-portraits and authorized him take them to a commercial printer for silk-screening. Ekstract would have to pay for the expensive silk screens, so the new pictures wouldn’t cost Warhol a penny. This is a significant detail because in his notarized affidavit of February 4, 2004, Gus Hunkele says that “the cost of a silk screen print would have been $50.00 at that time.” This means that the total bill for the silk screening would have amounted to several times Warhol’s net income for that year.

Together with his friend Herman Meyers, Ekstract went to the firm of Norgus, who printed ten pictures with Warhol’s written and telephoned instructions. Richard Ekstract has said that “the self portraits I had made were produced in complete accordance with Andy’s wishes and under his direction.” This statement needs qualification. Both Ekstract and Meyers say that Warhol had specified the use of linen canvas for the series. But according to Meyers, the canvas supplier recommend by Warhol “had only cotton canvas in stock for the reproductions—so we used that.” Meyers continues: “The stretcher on the other hand was readily available from the supplier Andy recommended” (letter to the Warhol Authentication Board, November 2, 2002).

What is immediately striking about this account is that Warhol micromanages the two men (neither of whom was an artist) by telling them what canvas and stretchers to use and where to buy them. Meyers and Ekstract, in his letter to the board, are completely transparent in their accounts of what happened: they used a canvas support different from the one specified by the artist—and explain why. Their departure from his instructions might have mattered to Warhol, but it didn’t. We know this because he wanted to show one picture from the series in his 1965 retrospective, and then included a signed, dated, and dedicated picture from the series in his first catalogue raisonné.

Several pictures from the series were exhibited at the party Ekstract gave to celebrate both the premiere of Outer and Inner Space and the publication of the first issue of his new magazine, Tape Recording. The Herald Tribune sent a photographer to snap the celebrities present. None of the published photos shows either the artworks (or the video equipment), but that is not what the photojournalist was there to photograph. Letters to the Warhol Art Authentication Board from Pete Palazzo,5 Ekstract, Morrissey, Meyers, and Sam Green all specifically refer to the Red Self Portraits on display at the party.

Writing to the authentication board thirty-three years after the event, Ekstract explained that after the party he gave portraits to people “who helped with such an amazing party.” Once again, that is not entirely accurate. Herman Meyers received a self-portrait (which his wife hated and which he sold soon after) because he helped Ekstract with the party, but Ekstract gave four of the others to people who were in a position to provide Warhol with what he wanted. All were employees of Philips Norelco and other companies that sold electronic goods.

The original owners of the Red Self Portraits include Ekstract himself, Jay Schwab and Enis Azzinaro (both of whom were employed by Philips Norelco), Walter Goodman of Harmon Electronics, and Bernard Newman of Audio Times. Ekstract gave two further pictures to the printers and one to an artist named Alan Fenton. Warhol kept one, which is presumably the picture he put pressure on Sam Green to show in Philadelphia and later inscribed to his dealer Bruno Bischofberger. What is so extraordinary about the early history of the series is that, unusually, it is possible to name the first owner of every single one of the ten portraits printed by Norgus.

There are no important contradictions in the overlapping accounts of all those involved, but there are discrepancies in the details. Ekstract, for example, places more emphasis on the party he organized to publicize his magazine whereas Morrissey was mostly concerned with the money Warhol saved by bartering pictures for the electronic equipment. Ekstract and Meyers say seven Red Self Portraits were made, yet we know of ten—that, however, is not unusual with Warhol, where the number of pictures in any series is often an estimate.6

Likewise Paul Morrissey says something I found initially incomprehensible in his 2002 letter to the board. I will quote the passage exactly as it is written, and then repeat the same passage with the syntax untangled and my additions in brackets. Here it is as written:

I distinctly remember the same self-portraits that Andy made around this time of this same image at the 47th street studio. Since the party was over I asked if the images were going to Leo Castelli. No, he said that they would be useful to trade for things, or to give to prospective buyers as gifts, or if a magazine wanted a picture of him, as it was better we supplied a painting instead of a photo.

When Morrissey writes “this same image” what he meant is the same image as in the Red Self Portraits but a different series, which also appears in the 1964 self-portraits. These, as Morrissey states, were in Warhol’s studio at the time. What he asked Warhol is whether the 1964 series will go to Castelli for sale and is told that they will not—because they will be useful as gifts for clients.

The passage then reads:

I distinctly remember the same self portraits of this same image [that is, the 1964 self-portraits] that Andy made around this time [with the] same image [as the Red Self Portraits] at the 47th street studio [the Factory]. Since the party [given by Ekstract] was over [and the Red Self Portraits dispersed] I asked if the images [the 1964 self-portraits] were going to Leo Castelli. No, he said that they would be useful to trade for things, or to give to prospective buyers as gifts, or if a magazine wanted a picture of, as it was better we supplied a painting instead of a photo.
  1. 1

    During the first month Warhol had possession of the video camera, he shot approximately eleven half-hour tapes, all of which are in the Warhol Museum. We do not know how many more tapes may exist in the unopened “time capsules.” 

  2. 2

    Scherman and Dalton, Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol (Harper, 2009), p. 259. According to the authors, Warhol owed money to a film company called Video Film Labs in June of 1965. The bill had nothing to do with the newly released Norelco portable video camera and player which Ekstract would loan him one month later and which he would be among the first artists to use. A prolific filmmaker, Warhol was being charged for having film developed in a commercial lab. 

  3. 3

    A Pioneering Dialogue Between Actress and Image,” The New York Times, November 22, 1998. 

  4. 4

    Bruce Torbet to the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, January 31, 2003. 

  5. 5

    Peter Palazzo to the Warhol Authentication Board, January 25, 2003, about the underground party: “I recall seeing several of Andy’s self-portraits displayed at the event.” 

  6. 6

    As Sally King-Nero pointed out in her deposition during the pretrial proceedings, “Warhol did not leave lists of how many works, so even the foundation do not know so how does Ekstract or Morrissey remember exactly 46 years ago? They know the approximate number but Warhol himself couldn’t remember how many flower paintings.” 

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