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September 6, 1939 |
New York City
|Other names||Brigid Polk|
Brigid Berlin (born September 6, 1939) is an American artist and former Warhol superstar.
Berlin was the eldest of three daughters 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 32 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 1940s and 1950s 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."
She was briefly married to John Parker, a window dresser. They married in 1960 and later divorced. As Andy Warhol observed in his book Popism, "When Brigid brought her window dresser fiancé home to meet the family, her mother told the doorman to tell him to wait on a bench across the street in Central Park. Then she handed Brigid her wedding present – a hundred dollar bill – and told her to go to Bergdorf's and buy herself some new underwear with it. Then she added, 'Good luck with that fairy.'
She has three siblings, all younger: sister Richie, who was, for a time, the roommate of Warhol Films' "It Girl" and superstar Edie Sedgwick; youngest sister Christina "Chrissy" Berlin, who was instrumental in engineering the defection of Russian ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov; and the youngest sibling, brother Richard Berlin Jr.
Association with Andy Warhol
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 several of Warhol's films, including Chelsea Girls (1966), in which she is seen injecting herself while performing a monologue, and Ciao! Manhattan (1972), which starred Edie Sedgwick. Decades later, she appeared in minor parts in two John Waters' films, Serial Mom (1994) and Pecker (1998). Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story (2000) 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.
She was known for her obsessive taping and photographing of everyday 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.
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."
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 Prints" 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 Prints 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 Prints, 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 unselfconscious nude person... [She has] great confidence 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 brought her Cock Book 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 notables like Basquiat to Jane Fonda, whose cock is adorned a match-head pearl necklace, to Leonard Cohen, who opted out of drawing a cock, instead writing "let me be the shy one in your volume". 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; "I would have the book alone at night, and be absolutely flying high when I came home from Max's [Kansas City, a now-defunct New York club] and I would get on the floor of my room in the George Washington Hotel [...and work on the book]. And I tell you, I never laughed so hard, alone, by myself, doing this." 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 has obsessive-compulsive disorder, a theme that she often explores in her artwork.
- 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)
- Danny Williams and the Dream Factory (2006)
- "Richard E. Berlin, Ex-Leader of the Hearst Corporation, 92". The New York Times. January 29, 1986. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
- "Obituaries: Muriel Johnson Berlin". The New York Times. March 16, 1987. Retrieved 2010-11-11.