By Sigmund Shonholtz
Andy Warhol once suggested that we all get 15 minutes of fame. What happens if you have your 15 minutes with Andy Warhol himself? Well, that is exactly what happened to me in 1984. I was an advertiser in his Interview magazine. One day, I received a call from Page Powell, Andy’s personal assistant. She said, “Hi Sig, it’s Page. Andy wants to meet you.” “Me?” I asked. “Why does Andy want to meet me?” “You are the only advertiser without an office in New York, and he is surprised you are in the magazine,” she said. I thought, OK, why not? As it happened, I was going to be in New York in a couple of weeks. I said, “Page, I will be there in two weeks and will stop by.”
When I arrived in New York, I called Page, and we agreed to meet at Andy’s “factory” warehouse on Broadway around 4:00. I had plenty to do that day, so I preferred to meet later in the day. I was a vintage watch dealer and had several appointments. I left my hotel around 9:00 a.m., with a very heavy bag over my shoulder. It probably weighed 60 pounds. I am a very fast walker—perhaps I am (or at least was) the fastest walker you would ever see. In those days, friends had to jog next to me to keep up, while I simply walked. I am also an “S.E.E.”—a self-entertaining entity—and I like to have three things happen to me every day. Something funny should happen, I should have a small adventure, and I should see a goddess, a woman who takes my breath away in an instant. Usually, I do not see a goddess until later in the day, if it even happens. However, this day started rather auspiciously; in this case, it was the goddess who I saw first thing in the morning. I immediately noticed her when I exited my hotel because she walked past me so fast that I did a double take. I considered that my day was starting out of order, but I had to meet her. She was stunning. I lit out after her and realized that she was the fastest walker I had ever seen. Now I really had to meet her! It took a few moments to build up my momentum, and with my heavy bag, I was catapulted forward. I finally caught up with her, and she looked like she was going to a modeling job. I started a conversation about—what else—walking fast. Talk about pulling teeth. She clearly was not interested, but I did not care. I do not mind rejection or failure; I mind my own inaction. I chatted away like an old grandmother on a bench. But keeping up with her with the 60-pound bag was not easy, if for no other reason than the heavy bag was throwing me off balance. I almost knocked her over at one point, which certainly did not help the dynamic. After a few blocks, we finally parted ways. She did not even say goodbye to me.
Fast forward to later in the day. It was 4:00 p.m., and I had been uptown and downtown and gone from the East Side to the West Side. I had been on the move the entire day. I got out of my cab, slammed the door, and turned around. There she was, the fast-walker. She was right in front of me. She turned around as soon as she heard the door. “Hi, it’s me,” I said, almost breathless because of the coincidence. “It’s our destiny to meet,” I declared. I told her that I was just going across the street to visit with Andy Warhol and asked if she wanted to join me. Here she was, one of the fastest-walking women on the planet. (I am certain of that.) She looked at me with a blank stare and just said, “No thanks.” That was it. Not even a smile or a curious look. Oh well, I thought, she must think I am stalking her, but she has no sense of humor and certainly no sense of adventure. Now, you do not know this, but I am a non-spiritual coincidentalist, and I keep track of my coincidences. And my meeting the fast-walking woman was certainly unusual. I used to be simply a coincidentalist, but I found it created too much controversy. Some people argued with me: “There are no coincidences” (meaning that everything is predestined). Others insisted, “It is just a statistical possibility.” I looked for the center between the spiritual coincidentalists (or the believers, as I called them) and the anti-spiritual coincidentalists (or the statisticians). I became simply “non-spiritual.” I am a gigantic “wonderer.” I will always wonder what happened to the fast-walking woman. And by the way, Fast-Walker, if you are reading this, how have you been? Now that would really be an amazing coincidence.
I arrived at Andy’s “office” and “met” him in the alcove of a stairwell. I found it a bit odd but went along. Our conversation was convoluted, sentences were not linked together, and they had nothing to do with each other. I kept telling myself, “Siggy, don’t confuse the artist with the man.” I wondered if he was nervous meeting me, but I thought, I am the one who should be nervous, if that is even necessary. We finally went into his office and sat down for a few minutes. The conversation started to make a little more sense. After a short while, Andy said he had to leave and would be back later. Page came and took me into the factory part of the warehouse, and I soon learned what the word “factory” actually meant. Page said, “Sig, I have to leave, but I will be back later. You can stay here if you want to.” Then she asked me if I wanted to “buy some original Andy art” and left.
I realized I was completely alone in the “art studio.” There was a row of canvases lined up on the floor of a very large, long room. They were about 10 inches square, and there were perhaps 25 or 30 of them. I was there alone for about 15 minutes when two men marched into the room dressed as “flaming queens.” They were exquisite, flamboyant, theatrical, and colorful. They brought out several trays of acrylic enamel paint—blue, red, orange, green, yellow, and purple—and laid them out on the floor at intervals near the canvases. They had some wood-cuts with them, each about 4 or 5 inches long. I realized they were dollar signs. That’s right, dollar signs. Andy Warhol was the Houdini of the art world, and he was determined to mock that world. What better way to mock it than with “factory-made art” of dollar signs?
They dipped the wood-cuts into the paint trays and proceeded to “stamp” them onto the canvases. But I quickly realized these were not your average queen assistants. These were the Kings of Queens. They were thoroughbred, prancing, runway, limited edition, parade horse queens. They had style and proceeded to dance around the canvases as if they were choreographed by Balanchine. They did pirouettes as they stamped, and every now and then, they threw in a backhanded toreador movement. Sometimes, they let loose like Flamenco dancers and stomped their feet as they stamped the canvases with dollar signs. Each, one at a time, took turns stamping and dancing. I imagined Baryshnikov on a stage making art for Andy Warhol. It was an entire ballet. I was spellbound. I had never seen anything like it. I was watching Swan Lake in Andy’s factory. I could not believe my eyes and realized I was in a rare moment. They paid no attention to me, but I decided to move to a more discreet corner because I did not want to distract them. I can tell you for a fact that time stood still. I do not remember how long I was there because so much seemed to happen. After a while, perhaps 20 or 30 minutes, another queen came in. He was just as enthusiastic, but he went into what we used call an “absolute hissy fit.” He literally screamed out, “What…have…you…done? Andy wants more red!” They shouted back, “No, he doesn’t! He just told us he wants more blue.” I was there the entire time, and I did not see Andy say anything to them, so they must have made that part up. But I kept silent because it was not really my problem, and I did not want to disturb the beauty of the moment.
After some time, they realized it did not matter at all, and one of them threw up his hands and said, “Oh, who really cares anyway.” Then all three of them removed the paint trays and left. I stood there alone for a while in silence, still in my corner thinking about what I had just watched. Finally, Andy came back in and did not give the “paintings” a glance for even a second. (Obviously, he did not care either.) He seemed not to notice me. Then he signed the canvases unceremoniously with a pen. He started at the beginning and worked his way down the entire row of dollar signs. Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol, he wrote, and then left the room. Once again, I was alone. I sat down in a chair, not knowing what would happen next, and started to think about the entire day.
Page finally came back. “Hi Sig,” she said and then asked me, “So, did you decide if you want to buy some original Andy art?” Well, the first things that came to mind were the dollar signs. “Page, how much are those?” I asked, pointing to the row on the floor. She said, “They retail for $10,000, but you can buy one wholesale for $5,000.” I thought about it for a moment and asked myself if I could really justify spending $5,000 for “one of those.” After watching it being produced, it seemed ridiculous to me. I thanked Page, said goodbye to her and Andy, and left, deeply wondering about the “art world.”
A couple of months ago, I was visiting with a friend who is an art appraiser. I shared the story with her and suggested that I thought they might be worth $75,000 or perhaps $100,000 now. She looked at me strangely and said, “I don’t think so.” A quick search of her extensive database revealed that they are selling for upwards of $600,000. I was speechless and realized that, for as long as I have worked in my field as an antiques dealer, I could have bought 4 or 5 of those, put them in a box, and had something great to add to my retirement fund.
The moral of this story is “Don’t always stick to what you know” or “Do not confuse quality with value.”
Sigmund Shonholtz is a non-spiritual coincidentalist, a master watchmaker, and a philosopher. He is from Los Angeles.