Until very recently, like last Monday, I had no idea who Aby Rosen was or how very important he is to mid-town Manhattan, but thanks to a little photo spread of power house New Yorker’s offices in, what else, New York Magazine, now I do. As I was to find out Aby Rosen not only has his main office in the Lever House on Park Avenue, he owns it as well. He also owns the Seagram and is co-owner of the Gramercy Park Hotel-a hotel none of us will ever stay at, including Russell Means. Rosen is very very very wealthy. Like, unbelievably wealthy. He can afford to stay at his Gramercy and buy all sorts of cool stuff, which includes a sizable 60s pop art collection, focusing mostly on original Warhols, Rosen’s favorite artist of that era. In fact, two rather large Warhol panels hang in his office in the Lever House.
After contacting his office on behalf of NAICA and Russell Means, who may or may not find the idea of a fantastically rich German dude owning his Warholian mugshot interesting, I managed to get a few minutes with Rosen to ask him of all the many Warhols to be had why this one?
Maria: So, out of all the Andy Warhols you could have, why this one?
Aby Rosen: Love his face. Love his history. A minority man but still very strong, very dignified.
Maria: Did you know before putting the (Warhol) Gun opposite Means’ portrait that he is known for pistol-whipping the shit out of people he doesn’t like?
Rosen: No I didn’t , but I always thought the gun and the Russell go together.
Maria: Well you are correct, guns and Russell do go together. Do you know the history of this painting? Why Warhol chose to make a portrait of Russell Means?
Rosen: No, but I do have a book at home and now that you are doing this Russell Means story I will look it up.
Maria: Yeah I’m curious to know because I couldn’t find any information about it.
Rosen: I just loved this image, I loved his strength. You see when Andy was doing the work and if he liked somebody a lot he worked really strong with the colors and the handpainting on the painting. Most of the time he worked with simple silkscreens rather than the paint on top of it, but he really painted him (Means) really deep and really hard out of respect and the liking of him.
Maria: Of Russell Means’ (painting) personally?
Rosen: Yes, of Russell personally.
Maria: One last question. This is the original correct?
Rosen: Yes, it is.
Maria: If Russell wanted to come and see the painting would you invite him?
Rosen: Yes, of course I would love to show it to him. Please invite him up.
Maria: Yeah he might like that (to self: mmmmm questionable)
Rosen: You know I was just speaking to someone today, another gentleman, who says he has the same exact Russell Means painting, same size, behind his desk.
Maria: Really? Maybe he copied you?
Rosen: No, no I think it is pure coincidence, but I can’t remember his name.
Maria: Actually, one last question. Have you ever heard of the German Indian movement?
Rosen: No I don’t think so.
Maria: Well (photographer) Max Bescher did a series of images on them.
Rosen: Oh yes, now I know. The ones who dress up like plains Indians with tepees?
Maria: Yeah, those are the ones. They do a festival every year.
Rosen: They are parasites.
Maria: (to self) Couldn’t have said it better!
(all photos by Maria Colon, editor of NAICA online.)
To give some context regarding Warhol’s portrait of Russell I did a little more searching and found the following from a website called “Art in Context”
Andy Warhol has been credited with reviving the tradition of grand portraiture from the moribund state it had fallen into during the 20th century. Warhol’s interest in portraiture began in the early 1960s when he began to make drawings and paintings from publicity photographs of celebrities such as Troy Donahue, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley. These images, which he collected from books and magazines, appealed to Warhol due to their simple, straightforward presentation of the subject. By using a photograph from a magazine or his own Polaroid of the subject, Warhol distances the portrait from its subject, thus allowing him to explore the relationship between the genuine and the fake, the real and the simulated. Like many of Warhol’s portraits, Russell Means was done as a multiple. Warhol would often display these multiple images in decorative rows or grids-a device that further distanced the unique reality of the person from the image. The process of making his portraits was also journalistic and impersonal: Warhol would send the snapshot or Polaroid to a laboratory where it was enlarged in black and white and then transferred to a silkscreen. From the silkscreen, the image was printed on canvas and embellished with touches of artist-applied paint.Russell Means, an Oglala Sioux, gained wide visibility in 1973 when he led a group of Native Americans in a symbolic takeover of Wounded Knee. The siege lasted 71 days. Warhol’s image presents Means as a giant celebrity whose noble features have been softened and glamorized. In Warhol’s portrait, Means’ status as celebrity hero takes precedence over his actuality as a person and his political importance.Marianne Lorenz
McShine, Kynaston, ed. Andy Warhol: A Retrospective. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1989.
Whitney, David, ed. Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1989.