Roslyn Dexter

One of the very best exhibitions you can see in New York just now is on the corner of 57th Street and 8th Avenue, at the Hearst Building, and it’s free. There, on the building’s street level, one can view work by the late artist Andy Warhol, who, for many years, earned a living as a commercial artist, sometimes doing illustrations for the Hearst-owned Harper’s Bazaar. Warhol’s Hearst show illustrates how the artist’s popular work, and “real” art, sometimes converged, and in 1964, during the time Warhol’s fame as a “fine” artist grew and grew, he publicized/”photographed” young artists and other up-and-comers who were making a significant contribution to New York culture in a photo booth–the same machine he took Ethel Scull to, and had her perform for, so he could create his incomparable 1962 portrait, “Ethel Scull 36 Times,” which remains one of the best images about portraiture–the art of being seen–ever produced. In the Hearst piece, one finds several of Warhol’s then associates–the late curator Henry Geldzahler, a soulful Larry Poons, and poet Sandra Hochman. Particularly striking is Warhol’s take on the artist and writer ┬áRosalyn Drexler, whose name I first recall seeing as a credited writer on an early Lily Tomlin special. Drexler has always distinguished herself as an artist who is not restricted by form. Whether working as a novelist, sculptor, painter or performance artist (she has also wrestled for a living, an experience she captured in her fine 1972 novel, “To Smithereens”), Drexler inspires by her sheer invention, and productivity. She came of age when male contemporaries like Warhol were making a name for themselves, but she wasn’t restricted by the lack of imagination and verve the art world showed and continues to show when it comes to women artists. As I looked at Drexler’s self-presentation in the Warhol piece, I wondered what the art world would make of the dark-haired beauty if she came along now. To pretend that that rarefied world is increasingly not an extension of fashion is absurd, given how a number of today’s older artists who outlast their economic value are being jettisoned by gallerists who feel they’ve outlasted their time, and how those social fixtures who once dressed this or that table are absented once they fail to amuse. In the art world, mess and confusion and self-discovery–the very stuff of art making–is out, as are discussions of difference that threaten to add calories of thought. As with any society based on hierarchy, where the status quo and fashionability are sometimes protected and upheld by those who have the least to gain from it–gay people, people of color, and so on–today’s art world replicates the normative family structure, wherein the patriarchy dictates those rules that the mother carries out: keep the gallery tidy, and the insurrectionists out. Currently, institutions are feared, not challenged, and dissent leads to expulsion. In her work as a thinker, Drexler breaks rules to remake them in her own fleshy image.


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