Interview - Marta Minujin

By  por Philip Larratt-Smith, Curador. (New York) | March 25, 2010

PLS: When did you first meet Andy Warhol?

MM: In 1966. PLS: How did you meet him?

MM: I lived in Paris for three years, then I went back to Buenos Aires and did these crazy happenings that appeared in the New York Times. Andy knew about me from the crazy things I was doing with the Fluxus people in 1964, 1965. So when I showed up in New York, I brought a big piece of mine called El Batacazo to Leo Castelli, and Castelli got me an exhibition at the Bianchini gallery on 57th [Street]. They invited Andy to my opening in February 1966 and that’s how I met him.

Andy Warhol y Marta Minujin

PLS: Did you hit it off right away?

MM: He thought I was a freak, and he was collecting crazy people. So he immediately became my friend.

PLS: And you started going to the silver Factory.

MM: We became very close. We had dinner every night at Max’s Kansas City. Every time an Argentinian came to New York, I took them to the Factory. I took Jorge Romero Brest there, he was like the Pope of art in Buenos Aires, and nobody at the Factory even talked to him! Anyone who went to the Factory could walk around and do anything that he wanted. The doors were open and you could go back and forth. But Andy wasn’t famous.

PLS: You mean he had a reputation but he wasn’t famous yet?

MM: Right, he was recognized by a group of people. We were very much alike, we were looking for the same thing: the concept of fame. I was interested in television, how people had gone on television and then immediately became famous. He was also exploring that. We were very much alike but in different ways.

PLS: What was your first impression of him as a person? Did you find him very shy and quiet, or did he talk to you?

MM: He just said, “Hello, Marta, how are you? What are these things that you make?” We always spoke a lot, but sometimes when he was with people he didn’t know he acted shy. When we used to go to Max’s Kansas City at night, he talked to everyone. He was always surrounded by a group of underground people. When he went to openings he always had four, five people around him.

PLS: Who were these people?

MM: Nico, the Velvets, and Gerard Malanga. Also Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage, all those filmmakers, because he still wanted to make films. When I first arrived, he was already doing Chelsea Girls, and I saw the room in the Chelsea Hotel where they were filming it.

PLS: That must’ve been a trip.

MM: Filming people shooting heroin through their pants. That big fat woman didn’t even take off her pants.

PLS: You mean Brigid Berlin.

MM: When Andy and I did the piece with the corn, she was there in the Factory on 32nd Street.

PLS: She stayed on at the Factory until Andy died.

MM: I also became a close friend of Taylor Mead.

PLS: Did you like the Factory scene?

MM: I saw a lot of action there. I met all the Pop artists. I visited Roy Lichtenstein when he was living in a church. Also Robert Rauschenberg, who was living on the East Side. He was helping other artists because he was already much more famous. But the Factory was different, there was always much more activity there than at any other studio. If you went to Lichtenstein’s there were already a lot of helpers, two or three maybe, but you didn’t find people walking around. At Andy’s it was like walking in the streets, people would come and go, back and forth, and always much younger people, very underground, people without any money, but also some very rich people like Edie Sedgwick, and others who had more power. Sometimes Andy seemed dominated by those people, and became very, very shy. Later on, as he became more famous, he started acting shy, with an attitude towards people. He wouldn’t talk. Others spoke for him.

PLS: In the 1970s a lot of people saw a big change in Andy. He had a new Factory and it was much more of a business and less of a scene. His assistants now came from the middle-class, and socially he chose to hang around with the rich and famous.

MM: He never loved them the way he loved the underground.

PLS: Did you know Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis?
MM: Yeah, sure. In 1966-67, Salvador Dali used to hold five o’clock tea in the St-Regis Hotel, and he always invited Andy and I, Candy Darling, René Ricard, and Ultra Violet. Everything happened very fast. When I arrived Andy wasn’t famous but within one year he was very famous. But he always loved the underground people, even after Valerie Solanas shot him and almost killed him. It was wonderful when he first started making “Interview”, his way of relating to society people through a newspaper.
PLS: Andy always liked to talk to people on the phone, or have a camera or some other technological barrier.

MM: To protect him

PLS: The crazy people who were so interesting could also be scary. Your look is very similar to Andy’s in a lot of ways. He had a collection of wigs. Some were platinum-blond, and some were more of a natural blond, and some were really very white. In the 60s he also wore dark glasses a lot, like you.
MM: I always wear my dark glasses as a kind of protection.

PLS: Warhol used his look as a brand. It was cool, neutral, withholding, somewhat bloodless, artful and artless at the same time. It confirmed what many of his contemporaries thought of him: that he was a fraud and a master manipulator who preyed on the talents and weaknesses of others.

MM: Andy was one of the most generous people that I ever met. He was great to everyone. When we went out to eat at Max’s Kansas City he used to pay for the whole crowd. No one knows that.

PLS: Yet there are lots of stories about him using other people.

MM: No, no, no, he would use them but at the same time they got a lot out of him. Also, the people he was using were usually taking a lot of drugs and didn’t see what he was doing for them. It wasn’t true at all because he was always feeding those people.

PLS: He became very successful, which is a great way to lose old friends. When you met Andy, did you make a decision to change your look and try to look like him?

MM: No, I was always like this.

PLS: It was more of a coincidence.

MM: He always was my mate in New York. He didn’t help me in my career in New York and I didn’t want him to, and yet we still became really good friends.

PLS: Before you went to Paris in ‘63, were you living in Buenos Aires?

MM: Yes.

PLS: Had you ever heard of Andy Warhol?

MM: No, no.

PLS: So you found out about him in Paris.

MM: Not really. In Paris Ileana Sonnabend had her gallery and was showing him, but she also was showing Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, and I was more interested in them. The thing about Andy was his personality, he was much more fun than the others. The others were boring and conservative.

PLS: Did he have a good sense of humour?

MM: Fantastic! I don’t know if you know that he once sent somebody that looked like him to give a lecture. He did so many things: interviews, films, everything. Everything that he touched turned to gold. Joe Dallesandro became a star, Ultra Violet, those people all became artists from hanging around with him. Nico was the one I knew best. She lived around the corner from me and we used to go to the laundry to wash our clothes at the same place.

PLS: Did you like her?

MM: Yeah, she was very beautiful, very special. Everyone who was around Andy at that time was wonderful. I went to the opening of the Pillows [Silver Clouds] at Leo Castelli uptown on 77th Street and it was fantastic.

PLS: That was in 1966.

MM: I was there. We went to see Salvador Dali many times.

PLS: Do you think there’s a strong connection between Dali and Warhol?

MM: No, because Andy was Andy and Dali was Dali. Dali liked Andy because he was famous. And Andy liked Dali because he was a snob. Andy liked snobbish people.

PLS: Why?

MM: Because they believed they were better than common people.

PLS: But Andy was a common person, he came from nothing.

MM: Yeah, but he was completely different. For me he came from another planet.

PLS: But why did he like the company of snobs?

MM: I think it was because he was very nervous inside and frivolous people calmed him down.

PLS: I think that’s exactly right. People who were too intellectual or too serious made him nervous, or silent.

MM: Yet he was very brilliant. Everything he wrote, the way he spoke, brilliant.

PLS: Were you friendly with other members of the Fluxus group, like George Maciunas and Yoko Ono?

MM: I was familiar with Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Emmett Williams, Ray Johnson, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, and Al Hansen, but not so much George Maciunas. Mostly the ones in Paris, Robert Filliou, Wolf Vostell, Allan Kaprow.

PLS: Did Warhol’s work influence your work in any way?

MM: No, no influence at all, just friends.

PLS: So it was just a personal connection.

MM: Right. When I made the Electronic Telephone Booth in ’67 they gave a party for me on the roof of a building at 57th Street and 3rd Avenue. And Andy came with one hundred people or two hundred people, so by the end we were all chased off the roof. It was a scandal, people were going to the bathroom up there. It was a scandal and Andy loved that. PLS: You left New York in ‘67?

MM: No, I left in ’69.

PLS: Back to Buenos Aires?

MM: At first, but later I went to work and live in D.C. for personal reasons. I kept coming to New York and I always saw Andy.

PLS: You kept up your connection?

MM: Yes. The last time I saw him was in 1985 when we made the piece. In the meantime I had become very famous in Argentina. Well, I was famous before, but now I was really famous. Everybody was so crazy about the Argentinian external debt. The dollar went higher every moment. So I decided that since he was the king in New York and I was the queen in Argentina I would go and pay off the Argentinian international debt in corn.

PLS: Why corn?

MM: Because during the first and second wars, when nobody in Europe had food, Argentina fed the world. Corn comes from Latin America, but think of corn flakes, Americans eat a lot of corn. That’s the true Latin American gold. I went to meet him at the Odeon and asked him if he wanted to do the piece and he said yes. So I went to the Puerto Rican market uptown and bought one thousand pieces of corn, and I painted them all orange to look like gold and took them to the Factory on 32nd Street. We made a mountain of corn, and then I took twelve pictures in which we started off by looking straight at the camera and then kept turning towards each other by degrees. Next I took a piece and I gave him one, two, three pieces at a time, and he accepted, and the debt was paid.

PLS: Warhol never went to Buenos Aires.

MM: No. He didn’t even know where it was!

PLS: But he painted a portrait of an Argentinian woman in the 1970s.

MM: That was Amalita Fortabat. She is the richest woman in Argentina. That was a commission, and she paid $400,000. Andy got many millionaires to come to the Factory.

PLS: How do you think his work is understood in Argentina? Has it changed over the years?

MM: Well, people travel so much, and there’s the internet, so they knew Warhol before.

PLS: Now, the piece you made with Warhol has political overtones, yet Warhol was not a very political person.

MM: Yes, but he liked the idea of being king. I believe he knew what was happening in Argentina in 1985, after the military dictatorship and everything. So he loved the idea, we talked on and on and he said yes, and we did it, and that was it.

PLS: In your mind, was the performance the work of art? Or is it the photograph?

MM: The photograph. The performance was executed in order to produce the photograph, which is a symbol of what was going on between the two countries.

PLS: Did Warhol ever see the finished piece?

MM: No. We went together to a place where they could make the blow-up of the picture, and then he left on a trip, I don’t know where. I brought the piece back to Argentina, where it stayed for twenty-five years here in my studio. After Andy and I finished, we walked to the Empire State Building, and we took the corn with us and gave it to people. Then we threw everything on the street and ran away.

PLS: Warhol’s death marked a change in New York. The old underground was gone by then.

MM: Not so many parties.

PLS: He represented a certain moment of New York.

MM: When he died, his work wasn’t considered so fine and good, and many people didn’t believe he was a good artist. But later, yes, they understood him later.

PLS: Part of it is his influence on the younger generation of American artists that really appreciated him.

MM: Yes, well, the other pop artists were very jealous. No one would have recognized them if they passed them on the street, but Andy was on television and Andy was everywhere, and everybody in the United States could recognize him. He was like a pop star.

PLS: Did you always like Andy better than the other pop artists?

MM: As a person, yes.

PLS: But do you think his work is better than that of the other pop artists?

MM: No, no, it’s very similar, very similar. I don’t think it’s better. What’s better is his attitude, which was very avant garde, very advanced. He was more creative than the others. James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselman, they were always doing the same thing. Lichtenstein, too. Probably the one that I liked the most as a person was Rauschenberg, he was also very generous, talking all the time, and always doing new things. But the rest were boring. I met all of them but Andy was the coolest one.

PLS: Andy always wanted the party to go on forever. I find his work more interesting because it’s more pathological.

MM: It’s more contemporary.

PLS: Look at all the art world now. It’s as if Warhol designed it. The rule of the market, the parties, the relationship to contemporary pop culture, TV, playing footsie with porno – it all looks very Warholian.

MM: His books are extraordinary. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol is one of the most fantastic books ever written.

PLS: His observations of human nature are spot on.

MM: Yeah, he understood society really well.

PLS: Did you find Warhol changed when you made the piece with him in 1985?

MM: No, he was exactly the same, he never changed, that was a good thing about him. Even when he was established, once he knew you and liked you, it was forever. I always said to him, I don’t want you to put me in Interview because Interview is part of your work. What I want is to put you in my work, so that’s what I did. He was the king of New York, that’s why New York is so boring for me since he died. I don’t have anyone to talk to and take me to all the parties.