Monday, May 24, 2010

Warhol and The Final Decline and Total Collapse of the American avant-garde

Diane Arbus

I sell history. With each review of a large and varied collection of women’s and gentlemen’s fashion magazines, I am constantly enamoured by the enormous amount of history that rests upon each page. The photographs, the settings, the artists, writers, models, and personalities of the last century evoke a sense of wonder.

I endeavour to share with you some of what I fine to be wonderful and special about the history, culture and style that lies within a particular magazine welcoming your input and knowledge on any of these subjects in an effort to better preserve and honour the images and those pioneers in the various fields of art that lay within the pages.

Esquire The Magazine For Men May, 1969

Cover’s Title: “The final decline and total collapse of the American avant-garde.”
It features Andy Warhol drowning in a can of Campbell’s soup. Inside is the article by Elenore Lester.

Scanning the first of the pages are the ads. The Shelby GT 350/500 powered by Ford – an awesome American automobile that many would thrill to own some forty years later. Another ad offers a free booklet from “La Salle Extension University – A Correspondence Institution” that will tell you how you can become a Computer Programmer and how you can train at home for big earnings in the world’s newest, most exciting profession. Let none of us from the sixties say we were not informed! XKE goes topless with the new Jaguar XKE Convertible Roadster. Bulova offers the Accutron watch – guaranteed to keep time within a minute a month. Another ad proclaims ‘Budweiser is the King of Beers (But you know that)… So you knew that. There’s Russian Premier Alexey Kosygin, newly attired by After Six Formals with the statement, “Frankly, Mr. Kosygin, your tailor should be exiled.” Brave copy, bold times.

The Ads are as much a part of our history as the articles that follow – and there are plenty of articles in this issue. Solid endorsements of how far we have come from the small-minded conformities and prejudices of an earlier, more conservative time in magazine history. This magazine represents an homage to those groundbreaking pioneers of the arts who erupted during the heat of the sixties; leading the way to a freedom of expression in all avenues of the media and the arts that today - we pay no thought to.

“The Wonderful World of George Wallace” by George Lardner Jr. and Jules Loh underlined with the words “Them bones gonna walk around for a while yet – they done got 13.5 percent of the vote”
While campaigning in Laurel, Maryland in May 1972, Wallace was shot four times by a would-be assassin named Arthur Herman Bremer. Bremer's diary, published after his arrest as "An Assassin's Diary," showed that Bremer's assassination attempt was not motivated by politics, but by a desire to become famous, and that President Nixon had also been a possible target. The assassination attempt left Wallace paralyzed, as one of the bullets that hit him had lodged in his spinal column.">

History has shown that this obsession with killing in exchange for the chance to become famous became a recurring theme.

On a Lighter note, the beautiful and multi-talented Candice Bergen wrote and photographed “Little Women” – no, not the passive little women from the movie of the same title, but the aggressive, Wonder Women of Skate known as the Los Angeles Thunderbirds. Perhaps not that much of a lighter note...Bergen writes of Tuesday nights at the Roller Races at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium. She photographs her subjects and her story’s teaser reads, “What has forty wheels, seven tits, and fights? I give up – but am willing to put myself there alongside an audience of “shiny-seat pants, Dr. Scholl’s sandals, purple patent leather, jumbo pink rollers, acrylic fur, plastic sneakers and canary capris.” This apparently was a particular look adopted by a particular group of Los Angelenos long before such items became a fashion statement worn by the likes of Paris and Britney.

“The Shock of Black Recognition - Awakenings to the American Dream” features thoughts by Ralph Bunche; James Farmer; Godfrey Cambridge; Gwendolyn Brooks; Richard Gordon Hatcher; Whitney M. Young, Jr.; each of whom speak about their earliest racial experiences. Recollections powerful in their simplicity, told through the experiences of their youth.

“The Final Decline and Total Collapse of the American Avant-Garde” by Elenore Lester. “Any avant-garde has to be out there avant of something. Used to be, reader, if a man took off his pants in public you called the police. Now you applaud. Drug freaks, revolutionaries, unisexies – you love them all, which is okay for you, maybe, but hell for people trying to stay ahead, like Andy Warhol.”

“Hello to the Dirty Half Dozen, Sierra Bandit, The American Playground and all the Superstars of the New Theatre” – An Album by Andy Warhol – “Say Goodbye to the Dirty Half Dozen, Sierra Bandit, The American Playground and all the Superstars of the New Theatre”. Warhol’s Royaltone photographs feature: The Performance Group; The Dirty Half Dozen; The Living Theatre; Theatre of the Ridiculous; The American Playground; The Pageant Players and a bonus photo of a self-portrait of the grand old man of the avant-garde himself, Andy Warhol, in the buff, scars and all. Upon completion of his essay, as he tucked away his instamatic, Warhol is said to have muttered “Great, but is it art?” Let the viewer let be the judge.

A side note: Heddy Lamarr visits Andy in his studio, The Factory, and photographs Warhol as “The Thinker.” Warhol photographs Lamarr in studio.

“Xanadu (Class of ’52) Revisited” – features in photographs by Earl Steinbicker and Jim Houghton, both previously assistants to Richard Avedon, twelve integral members of Black Mountain College in the hills of North Carolina.

“The New Theatre presents the work of its greatest living playwright, Sam Shepard, age 25.” Shepard writes “Operation Sidewinder”, a play about revolution, black militants, a computer generated machine with its own brain and its own synthetic form of life, UFO’S, the military, shamans, drugs, murder and mayhem. An early indication to the breadth of Sam Shepard’s long and respected career. His stage direction is embedded with music by The Holy Modal Rounders.

Check the links to learn more about this iconic duo - 60’s folk artists most easily recognized by their background song from an inspired scene in the movie ‘Easy Rider’ with Jack Nicolson on the back of Peter Fonda’s motorcycle “If You Want to be a Bird.”"

Claes Oldenburg, age 40, offers up “A Collector’s Item! My Very Last Happening” (read it as a warm, wet kiss but think of it as a play) “The Typewriter” Illustration by Claes Oldenburg with accompanying photographs by photographers to the avant- guarde, Earl Steinbicker and Jim Houghton.
This work consists of an anti-visual theatre piece. The setting is an accounting office, the props, a mixture of office sounds, tape recorders, office furniture, twelve secretaries, two pairs of floorwashers, several uncostumed assistants to handle lighting and sound production.The audience participates in the tightly scripted ‘office happening.” Caution could be mentioned as the piece requires some level of nudity from the dozen secretaries during the event. But hey…it’s the 60’s.

For those of you more astute to the politics of the era, an article by William H. Honan “The Art of Oratory in the Senate of the United States” most probably stands the test of time.

Evan S. Connell writes “Mr. Bridge”. Illustrations by Artist Paul Davis

Connell's novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969) are bittersweet, gently satirical portraits of a conventional, unimaginative upper middle class couple living in Kansas City from the 1920s to the 1940s. The couple tries to live up to societal expectations and to be good parents, but are sadly incapable of bridging the emotional distance between themselves and their children, and between each other. The pair of novels was made into a 1990 Merchant-Ivory motion picture, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

“The Groom Looks – Would You Settle For “Groovy”? Has singer John Davidson modeling two pages of fashions for the groom alongside his then wife, singer Jackie Miller.

Saving the best for last, a story by the amazing and short-lived talent of Diane Arbus. “Tokyo Rose Is Home. She lives in Chicago now – quietly”. Trust Diane Arbus to have come up with a story unearthing the Dragon Lady of WW 2, indicted on eight counts of treason by the Department of Justice and convicted on one - because she “did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships” one day in a Tokyo radio station. 

Arbus’ portrayal of Iva Ikuko Toguri d’Aquino, aka “Tokyo Rose”, is an interesting read because it portrays her as a victim of American injustice whereas, to those overseas during the war years, she remains clear in their memories as a Dragon Lady of the airwaves bent on disrupting the moral of the American and Canadian troops sent overseas to fight Hitler. Iva ‘s story is that of a young California daughter of a Japanese-American couple raised in California sent to Japan in 1941 to visit a sick aunt. At the outbreak of war, she applied for a passport home but was denied. Her family were interned in California and she was denied all contact with them, and they with her. She was registered as an enemy alien in Japan, under the surveillance of the Japanese Thought Police. Meanwhile, she supported herself by working at various secretarial jobs and finally became a typist for the Broadcasting Corporation of Japan. She was chosen to broadcast as a disc jockey on a semi classical musical program for the Allied soldiers whom, as she tells it, she befriended and smuggled goods to. The story goes on to tell of her troubles post-wartime once back in the United States, and broadcaster Walter Winchell’s efforts through the State Department to see that she was held accountable for her wartime derogatory remarks about the United States. Interesting story of Did She or Didn’t She? Accompanied by her portrait as Diane Arbus saw her.

It’s a condensed look at a spectacular piece of journalistic history involving iconic artists, many of whom played an integral role in popular culture which, in the process, made for social change and secured for them a legacy that, decades later, remains intact.

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