Olivia Laing’s ‘The Lonely City’

9781250039576Philip Hoare at The New Statesman:

The city is lonely because it is so full of people. For Laing, Andy Warhol epitomises the idea that the very act of looking is an expression of that alienation. From his immigrant background, born in Pittsburgh, the misfit boy moves to Manhattan and uses art as a social disguise. He hides behind his tools: from the tape recorder that he calls his “wife” to the Polaroid camera whose pictures don’t even have to go to the chemist to be developed. In his paintings, involving photography and silkscreen, Warhol developed perhaps the most distanced practice of any artist of the 20th century, and in so doing augured the art of the 21st. He wanted to be a machine, and he became one at the expense of his self. Narcissism – even in a person as unsure of his body as Warhol – binds itself with loneliness. “I like being in a vacuum; it leaves me alone to work,” he said.

All that changed when another loner, Valerie Solanas, took a gun to Warhol’s Factory and shot him. As Camille Paglia wrote, the shooting left Warhol “unable to advance beyond his set formulas”; it arrested his ­already arrested development. Although he survived the assassination attempt by Solanas, he retreated further into his own world as a result. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look so ill or so alone as when I met him in 1986, despite or even because of his status as the cynosure of a glamorous art opening. He had become so pale that he seemed to recede into the background.

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