Critics looking for evidence of how art changed in the latter half of the twentieth century could do little better than consider the name that Andy Warhol chose for his studio.
The Factory was originally based at 231 East 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan on the fifth floor, a sprawling space that became the meeting place for a dissolute posse of artistes manqué ranging from Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed and John Cale to future Warhol Superstars Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling. This relentlessly social aspect was common to all of Warhol’s workspaces: while the artist busied himself with his endless stream of silk-screened images, the Factory hangers-on would entertain themselves with a variety of dubious activities.
Regular visitors called the original Factory “the Silver Factory”, since the entire space was covered in tinfoil and silver paint; cultural commentators were quick to note that the stylistic themes that Warhol’s friend, Billy Name, used to decorate this workspace were revealing. Silver, fractured mirrors and tinfoil were symbols popular with regular users of amphetamines. Name, a photographer and lighting designer, became a key figure at the Factory, capturing many images of Warhol at work and his friends and neophytes at play.
Warhol is best remembered for his two-dimensional images, but the silk-screens were by no means the only items that he produced in the Factory. With a solid background as a commercial artist, Warhol focused on the practicalities of making his art pay, using his studio to produce films, shoes, sculptures, commissions and anything else that could help him to turn a profit.
Music was also an important part of Factory life. Velvet Underground, one of the most influential rock bands in history, was virtually the house band and Warhol received frequent visits from Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger, for whom he would design the cover for the Rolling Stones’ album, Sticky Fingers. Lou Reed would later recall his days at the Factory in his famous 1972 solo hit, Walk On The Wild Side, with its references to Warhol Superstars Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and Joe Campbell.
In 1967 Warhol moved his art and his disreputable entourage to 33 Union Square and it wasn’t long before this space also became known as the Factory, but it never had quite the same anarchic spirit of the previous location.
It would be comforting to report that the original Factory had been transformed into a memorial to Warhol and his followers, but unfortunately 231 East 47th Street no longer exists.
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