The Lasting Influence Of Warhol's Favorite Superstar, Brigid Berlin
On Friday, Lower East Side gallery INVISIBLE-EXPORTS launched an exhibition on the work of Brigid Berlin, the artist and Warhol Superstar, titled It’s All About Me. Berlin is our very favorite Superstar — she was Andy’s too, and they talked on the phone every day, with Brigid always recording their conversations. We were so excited to see a whole exhibition dedicated to her audacious brilliance. Suffice to say, we were not disappointed.
Berlin was born in New York, the daughter of Honey, a socialite, and Richard Berlin, the CEO of the Hearst Corporation. Brigid did not take to her 5th Avenue upbringing, and moved away from the Upper East Side, devoting her life to Warhol’s Factory. She appeared in several of Andy’s films, including Chelsea Girls, where she shot up with speed on camera. Berlin also served as a receptionist at the Factory for years, where she mostly just ignored the phone and knitted. She ate whatever she wanted, drank whatever she wanted, and did whatever she wanted. They don’t make them like her anymore.
It’s All About Me, curated by Anastasia Rygle, includes Berlin’s Polaroid pictures, her diaries and tapes (she obsessively recorded her life), and her infamous “Tit Prints” – works she made by dipping her breasts into paint and pressing them to paper. Berlin’s work will also be released in a book, Brigid Berlin: Polaroids, out later this month. The entire gallery essentially serves as a self-portrait – we see Brigid’s face, her naked body, the ridges of her nipples. But it doesn’t feel egregious, partly because of the fabulous presentation, and partly because Berlin was seemingly the first to hit on the concept.
At the opening, we spoke to Bibbe Hansen, the performance artist and actress who appeared in several Warhol films – she’s also Beck’s mother. “All over New York, all over the art world, there’s just tons of really big dick art, and it’s just refreshing to see some big titty art, you know? Or little titty art, or just tit art,” she said. “I’m just soaking up the estrogen, and really enjoying it. I mean, not that I have anything at all against big dicks—I like all kinds of dicks. But, it’s just refreshing to have a little shift in viewpoint, a little shift in hormone surge.”
“I’m just soaking up the estrogen, and really enjoying it. I mean, not that I have anything at all against big dicks — I like all kinds of dicks.”
Excessive documentation of the self is obviously ubiquitous in the Instagram age. Berlin, like Warhol, had a prescient understanding of what art, and life, would be like, and how the two would be intertwined. As art critic Paddy Johnson wrote, “Was Berlin documenting to capture her eccentric life, or living eccentrically to document it? It’s a question that’s valid in terms of her life/work with Warhol, but also in relation to contemporary concerns regarding social media and how identities are performed for it. Has anyone ever considered the presentation of a home-cooked meal for one because you wanted to Instagram it?”
Did Berlin purposely turn her life into a living art piece? It was arguably weird before she started recording it; her surreal, high-society childhood included phone calls from Richard Nixon and visits to the Upper East Side “Doctor Feelgood” for shots of amphetamines to help her lose weight. Did she push things further just for the record, or because she was a true eccentric? She did just tell the Wall Street Journal that she never wanted to be famous. As fans of Berlin, we’re inclined to think the latter, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Running for the tape recorder every time one receives a phone call does require quite a lot of energy.
Regardless of Brigid’s motivations, her work, and this exhibit in particular, is still unique and loud and delightful. In today’s environment of body shaming followed by loud responses, it’s lovely to just see a fat woman who just does not give a fuck. Berlin shows her naked body in every possible way, and she doesn’t call it political or a statement or “brave.” It just is; she puts herself out there, and the work is designed to be viewed and accepted just like any other self-portrait – and thus it is brave and political. As John Waters famously said of Berlin’s live Tit performance, in which she made the paintings in front of an audience at the Grammercy International Fair, “She’s the most un-self conscious nude person… She said this is totally not about nudity, this is about, you know, art.” Is Brigid Berlin the proto-Lena Dunham?
It’s refreshing to see a gallery devoted to a woman’s own depiction of her imperfect body, especially when male artists are so often celebrated for it. As Hansen said, “Brigid’s work has never been acknowledged or appreciated in its wholeness. What a great mind, what a great talent, what a great, great soul and spirit. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful show.”
Images Courtesy of Brigid Berlin, Vincent Fremont Enterprises, Inc., and INVISIBLE-EXPORTS.