Brigid Berlin  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Brigid Berlin (also known as Brigid Polk born September 6, 1939) is an artist and former Warhol superstar.

Contents

Early years/pre-pop

Brigid was born to socialite parents, Muriel Johnson "Honey" Berlin and Richard E. Berlin, into a world of Manhattan privilege. Her father was chairman of the Hearst media empire for 52 years. As a child, Berlin regularly mixed with celebrities and the powerful:

I would pick up the phone and it would be Richard Nixon. My parents entertained Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, and there were lots of Hollywood people because of San Simeon - Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Dorothy Kilgallen... I have a box of letters, written to my parents in the late 1940's and 1950's from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Her socialite mother frequently worried about Brigid's weight and constantly attempted to get her to lose it through any means, from giving her cash for every pound she lost at age 11 to having the family doctor prescribe amphetamines and dexedrine.

Berlin recalled, "My mother wanted me to be a slim, respectable socialite. Instead, I became an overweight troublemaker."

It was Brigid's sister, Chrissy Berlin who played the role of the elegant debutante. Christina was instrumental in engineering the defection of Russian ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov. The third sister, Richie, was a boi, and the roommate of Warhol Films's "It Girl" and superstar Edie Sedgwick.

Brigid and Andy, from B to A and back again

After several years as a reluctant debutante and a failed marriage, Brigid Berlin met Andy Warhol in 1964 and quickly became a central member of his entourage. After moving to Hotel Chelsea, she took on the nickname Brigid Polk because of her habit of giving out 'pokes', injections of Vitamin B and amphetamines. These injections were readily available through the many 'Doctor Feelgoods' in New York and perfectly legal.

Berlin appeared in many Andy Warhol films, including Chelsea Girls, in which she is seen injecting herself while performing a monologue. After a role in the Edie Sedgwick film Ciao! Manhattan (1972), she appeared during the 1990s in John Waters' films. Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story (1999) is a documentary in which she tells her life story in intimate detail and breaks her diet by consuming an entire meal of key lime pies.

Brigid was known for her obsessive taping and photographing of every day life. Selections from these tapes were later compiled to form the play Andy Warhol's Pork. Other tapes made by her were the basis for The Velvet Underground's first live album, Live at Max's Kansas City (recorded 1970, released 1972).

Berlin was complicit in one of Warhol's most infamous pranks when, in 1969, Warhol announced that all of his paintings were the work of Berlin. Brigid enthusiastically followed this line when interviewed by Time. The prank led to a drop in the value of Warhol's work and both parties eventually retracted their statements. The question of authorship looms large in valuing Warhol's paintings to this day. However, questioning concepts of authorship was part of Warhol's engagement with American mass culture. A Warholian philosophical question might be, Who owns national icons, such as Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola, or cowboys?

In 1975, Brigid Berlin began work as a permanent employee for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, a position that she held until well after Warhol's death. Berlin would transcribe interviews and knit and needlepoint under the desk. Patricia Hearst (a close friend of Berlin's who began work at Interview in 1988) would observe "On my first day at work, I noticed two small pugs who seemed to have the run of the castle. They belonged to a woman who sat behind the front desk every day from 9:00 to 5:00, but who never seemed to answer the phone. Instead, she compulsively knitted, ate bags of candy and tended lovingly to the dogs."

Artwork

Brigid Berlin is also famous for her prolific art, which has been argued by many to have been both influential to Andy Warhol's artwork and simultaneously overshadowed by Warhol's celebrity and own artwork. Berlin's "Tit Paintings" were artworks created using her bare breasts. Berlin would dip her breasts into multiple colored paints and then create a "print" by pressing them down onto canvas/paper. The Tit Paintings are arguably Berlin's most infamous work and were exhibited by Jane Stubbs at a gallery on Madison Avenue in 1996. On occasion Berlin would publicly create Tit Paintings, integrating visual art and performance art that "is totally not about nudity, this is about, you know, art." She performed this act live at the Gramercy International Art Fair. After experiencing the performance, filmmaker John Waters later commented, "I think that she's the most un-self-conscious nude person... She has great self-esteem for a fat girl."

Another of Berlin's art projects was her series of themed "Trip" books. "When we were all on amphetamine in the sixties this is what we used to do - would be to draw in our trip books and I could spend my life drawing circles and filling the circle with circles and more dots and more circles around it and then coloring them all with Doctor Martin's watercolor dyes." The most famous of Berlin's trip books was her Cock Book. The Cock Book was initially a large, blank-page book entitled Topical Bible which she purchased from a shop on Broadway. "Topical" was somewhat whimsically imagined to rhyme with "cockical", so she decided to make it her Cock Book. Brigid schlepped her Cock Book around with her when she went out at night to places like Max's Kansas City or the Factory and got others to fill each page with their rendition of a penis. Brigid was not particularly selective about who drew in it, because she was consumed with the idea of having it filled and completed. Contributors range from artists like Basquiat to Jane Fonda, whose cock adorns a matchstick pearl necklace, to Leonard Cohen, who opted out of drawing a cock, instead writing "let me be the shy one in your book". Berlin herself drew in the Cock Book, as did Andy Warhol, who refused to sign his proper name or draw a proper cock. The Cock Book was an artwork and entertainment for Brigid who "had more fun doing that than anything I've ever done in my life. I would come home, stoned from being up at Max's [Kansas City, a now-defunct New York club] and I would sit on the floor and work on the book. [laughs]" Brigid's Cock Book recently sold for $175,000 to artist Richard Prince.

Both Berlin and Warhol used the medium of Polaroid photography obsessively, and are said to have been very competitive in the Polaroid film department, whether over the best equipment or the best film. In 1969-1970 German art dealer Heiner Friedrich did a small showing of Berlin's work called Polaroids and Tapes and created a catalogue for the work of the same name. The experimental nature of Berlin's double-exposed Polaroids transcend the static, emotionless "icon" polaroids of Warhol's, clearly showing the power of her personal vision and photographic style. Common subject matter of Berlin's polaroids are self-portraits, Warhol Superstars, other artists and celebrities, and off-Broadway one-woman shows.

Brigid still suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, a theme that she often explores in her artwork.

Filmography

  • Chelsea Girls (1966)
  • Tub Girls (1967)
  • Bike Boy (1967)
  • Nude Restaurant, The (1967)
  • Imitation of Christ (1967)
  • Four Stars (1967) aka 24 Hour Movie
  • Lonesome Cowboys (1967) (originally Berlin was to play a leader of a rival gang of cowboys)
  • The Loves of Ondine (1967)
  • Women in Revolt (1971)
  • Ciao! Manhattan (1972)
  • Phoney (1973)
  • Fight (1975)
  • Andy Warhol's Bad (1977)
  • The Critical Years (1987)
  • Serial Mom (1994)
  • Pecker (1998)
  • Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story (1999)





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Brigid Berlin" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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