“Remembering Warhol” on the 30th Anniversary of His Star-Studded Memorial Service
Photo: Raquel Welch (detail).
On February 22, 1987, at 6:32 a.m. Andy Warhol died while recuperating from gall bladder surgery at New York Hospital. Just 58 years old, his death shocked the world, for he who was everywhere was suddenly gone.
Warhol was the King of Pop Art, establishing himself as not only a leader in the visual arts but also a celebrity in his own right. His studio, The Factory, brought together people from all walks of life, the high heeled and the low lifes alike. He managed The Velvet Underground, founded Interview magazine, made films, wrote books, and coined the phrase “15 minutes of fame,” which would go on to define American culture for decades to come.
Under his guise, high art was transformed, embracing the age of mechanical reproduction in all its forms. Warhol transposed the disposable effluvia of everyday life with the enduring images of iconography in art. He asked us to consider the Marilyn Monroe as the Mona Lisa, the Campbell’s Soup can as still life, the electric chair as landscape of modern life. Warhol was as bold as he was intuitive, understanding that “Art is anything you can get away with.”
And though he was gone—but he would not (could not) be forgotten. He knew America better than America knew itself, and his memorial service, on April 1, 1987 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was evidence of this. Two thousand guests made their way to Fifth Avenue and 50th Street to pay their respects to the man in the silver wig. Hundreds more gathered behind blue police barricades to watch the parade of bold face names make their way inside.
Photographer Christophe von Hohenberg was there, on assignment for Vanity Fair. Stationed at the front of the cathedral with his camera, von Hohenberg took more than 600 photographs of the arrivals as they made their way inside St. Patrick’s massive doors.
Now, a selection of photographs and remembrances from that historic day are on view in Remembering Warhol: Thirty Years Ago at Alfstad& Contempoary in Sarasota, Florida. The exhibition runs through April 1, 2017, culminating in a special event on the thirtieth anniversary of the memorial service, with von Hohenberg signing copies of his book, Andy Warhol: The Day the Factory Died (Empire Editions). The exhibition will travel to ART New York at Pier 94, New York, and be on view May 3-7, 2017.
“My photographs convey warmth and sadness, despite the high-glitz factor of that day,” says von Hohenberg. “Thirty years later, I still see Raquel Welch, defiant in a full-length fur coat, a serious Robert Mapplethorpe hurrying past the crowd and Liza Minnelli on the arm of Halston. The most Warholian of the subjects I photographed was Stephen Sprouse, arriving beside Deborah Harry, taking a drag on a cigarette. My favorite though, is an exterior shot of St. Patrick’s, hearses parked in front, because the Hitchcock-like angle of the shot sums up the whole event for me.”
Von Hohenberg’s pictures are an elegant, eloquent mixture of portraiture, street photography, and paparazzi snaps, showing us the many frames by which we may view this historic occasion. It was an event that combined all the circles that Warhol centered himself in: the art world, high society, fashion, music, and Hollywood. Everywhere are faces and names that made headlines all over the world, some looking royal and regal, others looking intimate and vulnerable. It was everything Warhol would have ever dreamed, and undoubtedly he was looking upon the scene from the other side, exclaiming with pride, “Wow! Oh gee…”
All photos: Taken April 1, 1987 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York © Christophe von Hohenberg, courtesy of Alfstad& Contemporary.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.