Paris by Warhol

September 30, 2022

If New York was the hotbed of Andy Warhol’s work, the legendary artist developed a soft spot for Paris. Not only was he infatuated with its pulsing fashion, art and underground scene, he showed a certain wonder for the city itself. Through the 1970s and ’80s, he visited frequently, capturing the architecture from atypical angles, or else freezing a streetscape in time. Simultaneously, he amassed a veritable pantheon of designer portraits, both staged and candid. An enchanting selection of these photos, all originating from a private collection, is currently on display at the latest Gagosian gallery to open in Paris on rue Castiglione. Curated by Serena Cattaneo Adorno, Director of Gagosian Paris, Andy Warhol: Paris and Fashion is at once a throwback to a golden age and a captivating compilation of iconic people and places.

Aside from knowing that he kept an apartment in Saint-Germain which he visited frequently, what was Warhol’s relationship with Paris?

Warhol had a strong relationship with Paris, as he actually occupied his own apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Prés when he came to visit. We know that he sometimes stayed in hotels but kept a pied-à-terre in the capital, demonstrating an attachment to it. The series of photographs dedicated to Parisian monuments testifies Warhol’s sensitivity to Parisian architecture. When he was in Paris, Warhol attended fashion shows, saw exhibitions, and went out to restaurants. We know that he also liked to party in Paris evidemment! He rubbed shoulders with Rachelle Zylberberg, known as Régine (Régine, 1977), an emblematic figure of the Parisian nightlife, whose portrait he silk-screened – a Polaroid of her is included in the exhibition. 

Do we see a different side to him when he is photographing here versus New York?

His photographs allow us to follow him in his daily life in Paris. We discover his habits, the places he frequented like the famous Café de Flore on the Rive Gauche (photographed in 1981). We follow Warhol as he navigates the city day and night crossing paths with important figures of the scene and more intellectual ones like the great photo of Christo and the art critic Calvin Thompkins informally speaking on a boat on the river Seine. In his Parisian photos, we find the same interest for the personalities he met (Hubert de Givenchy, 1981, Jean-Paul Gaultier, 1984, Carole Bouquet, 1978, Sonia Rykiel, 1986). In Paris as in NYC, Warhol liked to photograph the celebrities he met in his social life. We can date and contextualize Warhol’s photos thanks to his diary; and conversely, we sometimes have the feeling that Warhol managed to illustrate his diary with these Polaroids and photos. Today, these images and approach feels pertinent – as the modern world divulges everyday photos of oneself on the internet – Warhol was doing this nearly 40 years before. 

So much of his approach is about capturing a moment. Do you see this in his photography of the city’s monuments as well?

The immediacy can be seen in several of the Polaroids on display, such as at dinner parties (Loulou de la Falaise smoking c.1977-1978, Marina Schiano and Jack Nicholson, 1978 and Diane de Beauvau-Craon and Andy Warhol, c. 1977), but also during his vacation in Marrakech at the home of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (Yves Saint Laurent and Clara Saint, 1981). We find this form of spontaneity in the photographs of monuments. For example, we know that Warhol took Eiffel Tower, 1977, from a cab as he joined Edwige Belmore for the Façade Magazine shoot. The Prisunic Store, 1982, was taken while Warhol was in the famous store, and the framing reflects this approach and desire to capture a moment, as we see the crowd moving in and out of the photo frame as they enter and exit the store.

While fashion designers were certainly photographed before Warhol, in what way do his portraits of them stand out?

There is something unique about Warhol’s portraits. The tight framing, the eyes gazing straight into the lens and the monochromatic backgrounds are all characteristics that distinguish Warhol’s portraits from others. Sonia Rykiel told an anecdote about her photo shoot with Warhol, “I think he was in love with my hair. I sat there for hours, and he took hundreds of Polaroids”. It is important to note that Warhol’s silkscreen works are often the direct result of these Polaroids. He selected from the photos, the one he then uses for the painted portraits. Polaroids of Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Sonia Rykiel and Carolina Herrera were used for Warhol’s silkscreen portraits. You can differentiate these by seeing how the skin was pigmented white with make-up, this was done so that the image could be better used for the painting flattening the angles of the face. 

What do his self-portraits presented here – including the Façade cover – tell us about his own self-fashioning?

We learn from Warhol’s diary that this portrait was part of a series commissioned by the English gallery owner Anthony d’Offay who wanted to exhibit a series of self-portraits by the artist. In this self-portrait taken a few months before his death, Warhol shows himself with his eyes hidden behind black sunglasses; we can hardly distinguish his upper body whose black turtleneck sweater blends with the black background. Only the silver wig and the artist’s face contrast with the darkness of this self-portrait with a fateful look. Toward the end of his life, Warhol staged himself as he enjoyed shaping his recognizable character even in his choice of clothing.  Warhol liked to recall that he was the first to combine blue jeans and a suit jacket. Warhol himself said, “You know, I do think I started this whole blue jeans-with-a-tuxedo- jacket thing because years ago after I wore that to a few big events and was photographed, all the kids began doing it and they’re still doing it.”

This presentation of photos takes us back to a golden age of Parisian fashion and nightlife. Several of these figures are no longer alive. Is there a feeling of nostalgia that comes through?

Everyone will dive into this golden age with different feelings.  I think that, above all, these figures have left a strong imprint in Paris and elsewhere. Some of the photographs lead us directly into the intimacy of the subjects, such as this group photograph where Yves Saint-Laurent, Paloma Picasso, Thadée Klossowski, Clara Saint and Pierre Bergé, c. 1981, are lying on a bed. The close framing gives the visitor the feeling of being physically with them on this bed. Diane de Beaveau-Craon called me with great excitement when discovering the photo which is included in the exhibition, she has just published her memoir, and this adds to the reminiscence of those incredible years where perhaps one was allowed to live a little more in the present. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Andy Warhol: Paris and Fashion continues until October 12th, 2022 at Gagosian, 9 rue Castiglione in Paris. 

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