Lily Hoagland reviewed Holy Terror, the Warhol biography by Bob Colacello, in the June issue of Quest.
By his own design, Andy Warhol became something more than an artist. He is now the symbol of an era when art and society kissed under a mirrored disco ball. He represents the blurred line between talent and merchandizing. But before he was a legend, he was a man: an obsessive, fearful, profound, and intrinsically ambitious man. This is whom Bob Colacello knew and wrote about in Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up.
Colacello recalls the first time he connected with Warhol in the fall of 1970. He had been writing for Interview for six months, but it wasn’t until Warhol proposed he snap Colacello’s picture that they formed a bond. Looking at the results, Warhol pronounced his subject a beauty. “A beauty?” Colacello scoffed. Then he looked at the pictures. “It was amazing. Somehow my face had angles and bones, where I knew there were only curves and mounds. My chubby nose was acqualine. Of course, the softness of the Polaroid image, and the extreme overexposure, helped a lot.” What was forged then would lead to that same goofy-faced boy from Bensonhurst being the right-hand man to the king of Pop Art for 12 years, and writing what most consider Warhol’s definitive biography.
Warhol’s ability to transform not only himself, but also those around him, led him to create an encapsulated world “where everything was extreme and nothing was mediocre.” He demanded that every moment be either good enough or bad enough to be great. In Warhol’s world—populated by the wayward heirs to vast fortunes, movie stars, and drag queens—the only cardinal sin was not being entertaining. (There was a note of irony in this: Warhol himself was not known as a conversationalist. Colacello repeatedly points that Warhol would rarely contribute more than “gee, wow, and oh, really.”)
The parties, the debauchery, the excitement of Warhol’s scene make for thrilling stories. The banal, like a stroll down Fifth Avenue, became legendary when he was involved. One afternoon he was doing just that, with a teddy bear under his arm. “I know I was putting on airs,” he told Colacello at the time, “but I just felt like it.” He ran into Gala Dali, who had always refused his pleas to paint her portrait. As soon as she saw the bear, she started pulling at it, trying to take it from him. He, however, had no urge to part with it, especially as she had never agreed to sit for him. Imagine: Andy Warhol and Gala Dali playing tug-of-war over a teddy bear in front of the St. Regis. Even the Surrealists would find that incredulous.
Colacello left Warhol’s employ to write the aptly named Holy Terror about his time at the Factory. Originally published in 1990, three years after Warhol’s death, it is finally receiving its much-deserved second life with a brand-new republication this month by Vintage Books. Warhol has since ascended into the pantheon of great names in art (deservedly or not, as some would contend) thanks to the monumental impact he had on culture. “Now, a quarter century after his death,” Colacello writes in a new introduction, “it has become almost a cliché to say that Andy Warhol was the most important artist of the second half of the twentieth century.” Which was just what the man wanted.