Brigid Berlin on her Iconic Polaroids, Phallic Art and More
"What was Andy Warhol really like? I’ll kill the next person who asks me that!” The original superstar talks to AnOther about her extensive collection of polaroids and life after the Factory
“Hail Brigid, full of attitude, Warhol is with thee. Blessed are thou among superstars and blessed is the fruit of blue blood privilege,” reads John Waters’ poem to Brigid Berlin, the reluctant debutante who became Andy Warhol’s best friend and the brightest of all the superstars. A failed member of Manhattan’s aristocracy – "My mother wanted me to be a slim respectable socialite... Instead I became an overweight troublemaker," she once stated – Berlin substituted high society media parties for the New York City bohemia: from her first meeting with the pop art pioneer in 1964, the pair were inseparable.
A prolific artist in her own right, Berlin's own projects ranged from The Tit Prints, a series of artworks made by covering her bare breasts with paint and pressing them against a canvas, to The Cock Book, a collaborative affair in which she asked every artist she came across to draw a penis in a large leather-bound book she carried with her. Most famously, though, Berlin took photographs of everybody she came across, and in so doing has created a collection of some of the most iconic faces of the 20th century which are now being published for the first time in their entirety.
Fascinated by her long and colourful life, AnOther sat down to speak to the formidable woman about her reputation for nudity, her famous book of penises, and life after the Factory.
On the storage facility that made her decide to exhibit her polaroids for the first time…
“I made it all – the tapes, the polaroids – because I loved doing it, but I never planned on showing anything, so all of that stuff has been in boxes for 40 years. I had a storage room over on 17th Street and 11th Avenue, and I went over there once and I kinda freaked out: I felt like I was in a penitentiary, walking down a hall that was longer than two city blocks just to get to my room, y’know. That’s when we decided that all that stuff had to go. I mean, what else am I going to do with it?”
On the idolatry of Warhol and his Silver Factory today…
“I kind of don’t understand it, because I was such a part of it, it seemed to be so normal then. I never felt like a groupie. Andy was just somebody I saw every day of my life and talked to every night on the phone. I didn’t have to go out with Andy at night, after I’d been with him all day long; I wasn’t the one trying to sit on the couch with him at Studio 54 with Liza [Minnelli] and Bianca [Jagger]! I wanted to be in a totally different spot in the room.
"It’s been such a long time. It was another era, y’know? I’m tired of it all. What was Andy Warhol really like? I think I’ll kill the next person who asks me that!” – Brigid Berlin
It’s hard now, the going back. I found it very difficult when Andy died, and I got all these telephone calls from television channels in countries all around the world who wanted to film me. Even Liechtenstein. How big is Liechtenstein? The size of Staten Island? They all came over and put up their paper lights in the living room, to talk to me about ‘what Andy was really like.’ It’s been such a long time. It was another era, y’know? I’m tired of it all. What was Andy Warhol really like? I think I’ll kill the next person who asks me that!”
On her reputation for nudity…
“I was never, like, totally nude. I was only topless because I was doing those Tit Prints, and I didn’t think anything of it. I remember once, I left the Factory on 42nd Street and went to Big Birds to buy Andy a vanilla milkshake and a burger, and I went topless. I wasn’t topless all the time though – I mean, I wasn’t a hippie or a flower girl. No! I was a conservative Republican in the 60s. I voted for Nixon.”
On the serendipitous stationery store purchase that made her decide to start The Cocks Book…
“It all started because of a book called The Topical Bible. I saw it in the window of a store down near The Strand, and it was in the window and it said ‘The Topical Bible’ and it was all black leather with gold edges, and down the spine it said ‘with Cruden’s Concordance’. And I looked at this book lying in the window and said, ‘what is this Bible? This is too weird.’ I walked in the store, I asked to see it and it was a total misprint. It was empty! The entire book, was empty with all the gold edges and pages, so I bought it for $10. Because it was a Bible, it was so thick – I carried it around in a Gucci shopping bag for a year or so, everywhere I went, and got the artists and people I knew to draw cocks in the book. Cocks!”
On how she first started taking photographs in the Factory…
“I got one of the first Polaroid cameras, because Polaroid stock belonged to Dreyfus and Company, and they lived quite near us in the country. One morning Mr Dreyfus walked over to our property with the package – my father used to like to ride on the tractor through the fields – and he stopped my father and he gave him the tip, ‘you should buy Polaroid stock, along with the camera.’ So that’s when I started taking Polaroids.
“There were eight photographs in a box, which had rainbow stripes on it. I knew I only had eight shots, so I would put a pack in my camera: I might take four of the rug below me, and a couple pictures of the sky out the window. And then I’d only be happy when I put the next new box of film in. And I would carry the Polaroids to Max’s, Kansas City along with my tape recorder.”