Andy Warhol and the ghost pissers
These nice older women were asking me how Id done them and I didnt have the heart to tell them what they really were because their noses were right up against them.
From "Urination and its Discontents," by Jonathan 'Weinberg:
In 1978 Andy Warhol and company executed a series of elegant abstractions called Oxidation Paintings . Iridescent, made up of coppery yellow, orange, and green strokes and drips, these canvases seemed to offer the viewer precisely the kind of sensuous enjoyment of paint denied by Warhol's more famous pop images. Such modernist pleasures were upset, however, when it was discovered just what kind of oxidation was involved in the making of these works. Bob Colacello describes the creation of these paintings in his book Holy Terror. "Andy paid Victor [Hugo] to be the collaborator," Colacello writes. "He would come to the Factory to urinate on canvases that had already been primed with copper based paint by Andy or Ronnie Cutrone, who was a second ghost pisser, much appreciated by Andy . . . ." Warhol himself notes in his diary the secret to Cutrone's technique: "I told Ronnie not to pee when he gets up in the morning to try to hold it until he gets to the office, because he takes lots of vitamin B so the canvas turns a really pretty color when it's his pee. Supposedly Andy pissed on the first few pictures but then let others do the pissing: "boys who'd come to lunch and drink too much wine, and find it funny or even flattering to be asked to help Andy 'paint."
According to Colacello the idea for the paintings had its origins in "sex clubs" and gay bath houses, including one in New York called the Toilet, where "there were tubs and troughs where naked men lay for other naked men to urinate on them." With either horror or glee, Colacello exclaims, "It was like a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph come alive."
Colacello's linking of Warhol's practice to the contemporary sado-masochist subculture documented by Mapplethorpe does not have much explanatory force. While perhaps giving us one of Warhol's inspirations, it does not provide us with his intentions, nor relate his technique to the history of modern art. What are we to make of this curious act of Andy Warhol? Is the act of urination meant to negate attempts at art historical explanation entirely? In 1986 Grace Glueck, reviewing the New York exhibition of the Oxidation Series, felt that it was indeed "hard to be serious about these random, perverse creations, yet they are seriously beautiful." For Glueck the surfaces suggest a "bevy of associations" from "Oriental" screen painting to the all-over paintings of the Abstract-Expressionists. Glueck notes that the technique itself is descended from "an ancient sculpture technique-the use of urine to speed up the patination of bronze and other metals."
But she says nothing about one potentially disturbing byproduct of that technique, the odor. Eight years after their creation the smell of urine would have dissipated, but knowledge of the works' manufacture upsets a focus on the purely visual. Warhol brought excrement into the pristine space of the art gallery, embarrassing even himself: "these nice older women were asking me how I'd done them and I didn't have the heart to tell them what they really were because their noses were right up against them. And it was so crowded."
This page draws on "Piss Art: Images of Urination in 20th Century Art," by Christopher Chapman.
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