ANDY WARHOL: A Penguin Life

Wayne Koestenbaum, Author . Lipper/Viking $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-670-03000-2

With at least two full-scale biographies in addition to his own voluminous writings in print, it might seem that there is little new to say about the life and career of mass market voyeur Warhol. Koestenbaum, a poet and author of fabulously rococo books on opera (The Queen's Throat) and Jackie Onassis (Jackie Under My Skin), seems acutely aware of this, and gives us a Warhol who is anything but the removed observer of most popular accounts, finding Warhol's own eros and mourning spilling everywhere into his art. The result is an intensely personalized psychologizing of the work; the more philosophically inclined will be horrified, while those looking for a way under "Andy's" implacable surfaces will be fascinated. The famous Brillo boxes become "boxes without openings [that] seem simulacra of Andy's body—a queer body that may want to be entered or to enter, but that offers too many feints, too many surfaces, too much braggadocio, and no real opening." Koestenbaum is most trenchant in the sections devoted to Warhol's little-seen films, bringing their shattering experiments in sexual cinema vividly to life, freely and directly relating his own reactions to them à la Pauline Kael at her best. Warhol's achievement in film, while clear to cognoscenti, certainly gets its best popular treatment here. Throughout, Koestenbaum's engagements with Warhol's life and art, tinged with poetic brilliance and surgical dispassion ("these accessories gave [Warhol] an alien aura, as if his vital fluids and gases had been evacuated"), feel very high-stakes indeed, making this book an engrossing battle of wills. (Sept.)

Forecast:Koestenbaum, an engaging speaker and notoriously marvelous dresser, should attract fans to his five-city author tour. This book may be a little too queer for the average fan of the Warhol silk screens, but its audacious bodily insistence should win it plenty of reviews and admirers. Theory-heads should check out Andy Warhol, a collection of essays edited by New York University cinema studies professor Annette Michaelson, and including work by the likes of Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Hal Foster and Rosalind Krauss. (MIT, $16.95 paper 132p ISBN 0-262-63242-X; Nov.)

Reviewed on: 08/06/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
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