Paige Powell and Brigid Berlin documented the world of artists who overshadowed them. With shows in New York and Paris, can these women escape their connections?
For many of the ambitious young people who circled Andy Warhol, the enigmatic pop artist opened otherwise inaccessible doors but also cast an inescapable shadow.
Last month the photographer Paige Powell, a longtime close pal of Warhol’s, put a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting from her collection up for sale at Art Basel. Powell, who returned to her native Oregon in 1994, is still defined by her time in New York, where she arrived in late 1980. She started selling ads for Warhol’s Interview magazine a few months later. There she met Basquiat and was his girlfriend for a little more than a year.
In her photographs, Powell captured a fabled New York of the ’80s, at a time when, because of her connections, she had front-row access to the leading artists and scene makers. Her photographs are included in a Basquiat-Warhol exhibition this year at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris and in a group show that has just opened at the ILY2 gallery in Portland. Her reputation, however, lies in her relationships with famous men: Basquiat, and especially Warhol.
The association with Warhol is even more salient for Brigid Berlin, an outsize personality from a privileged background on the Upper East Side, who died at 80 in 2020. She arrived at Warhol’s Factory in 1965 and stayed until Warhol’s fatal gallbladder surgery in 1987. They were best friends, referring to each other as Mr. and Mrs. Pork. Berlin, whose socialite mother had introduced her to amphetamines in hopes of slimming down the overweight girl, was known in that circle as Brigid Polk, a reference to her penchant for poking herself and others with a syringe dosed with speed.
“Brigid Berlin: The Heaviest,” at the Vito Schnabel Gallery in Manhattan’s West Village until Aug. 18, is the most extensive view of her work since a 1970 exhibition at Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Cologne, Germany, and it explores her varied pursuits. She is primarily remembered for documenting life at the Factory with a Polaroid camera and a tape recorder — two instruments that Warhol employed with avid devotion. It is uncertain who influenced whom.