The Factory

Warhol superstars

The Factory was Andy Warhol’s New York City studio, which had three locations between 1962 and 1984. The original Factory was on the fifth floor at 231 East 47th Street, in Midtown Manhattan. The rent was one hundred dollars per year. Warhol left in 1967 when the building was scheduled to be torn down to make way for an apartment building. He then relocated his studio to the sixth floor of the Decker Building at 33 Union Square West near the corner of East 16th Street, where he was shot in 1968 by Valerie Solanas.

The Factory was revamped and remained there until 1973. It moved to 860 Broadway at the north end of Union Square. Although this space was much larger, not much filmmaking took place there. In 1984, Warhol moved his remaining ventures, no longer including filming, to 22 East 33rd Street, a conventional office building. Many Warhol films, including those made at the Factory, were first (or later) shown at the New Andy Warhol Garrick Theatre or 55th Street Playhouse.

The original Factory was often referred to as the ‘Silver Factory.’ In 1963, artist Ray Johnson took Warhol to a ‘haircutting party’ at photographer, filmmaker, and lighting designer Billy Name’s apartment, decorated with tin foil and silver paint, and Warhol asked him to do the same scheme for his recently leased loft. Silver, fractured mirrors, and tin foil were the basic decorating materials loved by early amphetamine users of the sixties. Name covered the whole factory in silver, even the elevator. Warhol’s years at the Factory were known as the Silver Era.

Aside from the prints and paintings, Warhol produced shoes, films, sculptures and commissioned work in various genres to brand and sell items with his name. His first commissions consisted of a single silkscreen portrait for $25,000, with additional canvases in other colors for $5,000 each. He later increased the price of alternative colors to $20,000 each. Warhol used a large portion of his income to finance the Factory.

The Factory was the hip hangout for artistic types, amphetamine (speed) users, and the Warhol superstars. It was famed for its groundbreaking parties. In the studio, Warhol’s workers would make silkscreens and lithographs under his direction. In 1968, Warhol moved the Factory to the sixth floor of the Decker Building, 33 Union Square West, near Max’s Kansas City, a club which Warhol and his entourage frequently visited. By the time Warhol had achieved a reputation, he was working day and night on his paintings. Warhol used silkscreens so that he could mass-produce images the way corporations mass-produced consumer goods. To increase production, he attracted a ménage of adult film performers, drag queens, socialites, drug addicts, musicians, and free-thinkers who became known as the Warhol Superstars. These ‘art-workers’ helped him create his paintings, starred in his films, and created the atmosphere for which the Factory became legendary.

Speaking in 2002, musician John Cale said, ‘It wasn’t called the Factory for nothing. It was where the assembly line for the silkscreens happened. While one person was making a silkscreen, somebody else would be filming a screen test. Every day something new.’

Billy Name brought in the red couch which became a prominent furnishing at the Factory, finding it on the sidewalk of 47th street during one of his ‘midnight outings.’ The sofa quickly became a favorite place for Factory guests to crash overnight, usually after coming down from speed. It was featured in many photographs and films from the Silver era, including ‘Couch’ and ‘Blow Job.’ During the move in 1968, the couch was stolen while left unattended on the sidewalk for a short time.

The Factory became a meeting place of artists and musicians such as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Mick Jagger, as well as writer Truman Capote. Less frequent visitors included Salvador Dalí and Allen Ginsberg. Warhol collaborated with Reed’s influential New York rock band the Velvet Underground in 1965, and designed the noted cover for ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico,’ the band’s debut album. It featured a plastic image of a yellow banana, which users could peel off to reveal a flesh-hued version of the banana. Warhol also designed the album cover for the Rolling Stones’ album ‘Sticky Fingers.’

Warhol included the Velvet Underground in the ‘Exploding Plastic Inevitable,’ a spectacle that combined art, rock, Warhol films and dancers of all kinds, as well as live S&M enactments and imagery. The Velvet Underground and EPI used the Factory as a place to rehearse and hang out. ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ Lou Reed’s best-known song from his solo career, was released on his second, and first commercially successful, solo album, ‘Transformer’ (1972). The song relates to the superstars and life of the Factory. He mentions Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis, and Joe Campbell (referred to in the song by his Factory nickname Sugar Plum Fairy).

Andy Warhol commented on mainstream America through his art while disregarding its conservative social views. Almost all his work filmed at the Factory featured nudity, graphic sexuality, drug use, same-sex relations and transgender characters in much greater proportion to what was being shown in mainstream cinema. By making the films, Warhol created a sexually lenient environment at the Factory for the ‘happenings’ staged there, which included fake weddings between drag queens, porn film rentals, and vulgar plays. What was called free love took place in the studio, as sexuality in the 1960s was becoming more open and embraced as a high ideal. Warhol used footage of sexual acts between his friends in his work, such as in ‘Blue Movie,’ a 1969 film directed, produced, written and cinematographed by Warhol. The film, starring Viva and Louis Waldon, was the first adult erotic film depicting explicit sex to receive wide theatrical release in the U.S.

Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis were noted drag queens who were part of the Factory group, as was transgender woman Candy Darling. Andy Warhol frequently used these women and other sexual non-conformists in his films, plays, and events. Because of the constant drug use and the presence of sexually liberal artists and radicals, drugged orgies were a frequent happening at the Factory. Warhol met Ondine at an orgy in 1962.

Warhol started shooting movies in the Factory around 1963, when he began work on ‘Kiss.’ He screened his films at the Factory for his friends before they were released for public audiences. When traditional theaters refused to screen his more provocative films, Warhol sometimes turned to night-clubs or porn theaters, including the New Andy Warhol Garrick Theatre and the 55th Street Playhouse, for their distribution.

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