What Was Andy Warhol’s Factory Really Like?

Lothar Parschauer/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

To many young people now, artist Andy Warhol is just that stylishly dressed dude who made that soup can painting, but back in his prime in New York City, Warhol was the influential center of a powerful artistic community both venerable and strange. Warhol was mysterious. He influenced pop culture. He controlled a vast network of other artists and hangers-on. He had a group work and gallery space called The Factory, where artists, friends, sycophantic scenesters, and assorted oddballs involved themselves with him, did drugs, painted and made films, and tangled themselves in Warhol’s never-ending psychodrama. The amphetamines surely worsened peoples’ relationships by heightening the paranoia, but art somehow got made, too. For The New York Times, Guy Trebay and Ruth La Ferla ask participants about Warhol and the Factory, creating a fascinating oral history of a bizarro scene that had as much to do with sex and appearances as it did art.

Benedetta Barzini, 75, Vogue model, actress. Factory years: 1960s.

There was also this about the Factory: There were all these people hanging around hoping to find themselves but losing themselves more and more and more. I think Andy enjoyed seeing the suffering.

Danny Fields, 78, music industry executive, former manager of the Ramones. Factory years: 1960s.

There was a time when we went to Peter Knoll’s [heir to the Knoll furniture fortune] apartment on East 72nd Street. Andy was sitting on a sofa while Ivy Nicholson [model and actress] was disgracing herself, crawling around on her hands and knees bemoaning her love for Andy. Every so often Andy would, not violently but with a slight lift of his foot, kick her like a tiresome child or a dog you did not want to hurt but wanted to go away.

Dustin Pittman, photographer. Factory years: 1969-75.

He chased you and then — there is no gentle way to say this — he moved on. When Andy dropped the Superstars, they were upset. They all expected Andy to take care of them. They felt they certainly had a part in Andy’s fame.

Geraldine Smith, 69, actress. Factory years: 1960s.

He liked people that he thought had star quality. He put you in his movies, and then it was up to you to parlay that into something else. A lot of people didn’t.

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