This afternoon I had meandering conversation with one Ultra Violet, of Andy Warhol fame. Walking to her penthouse apartment near the Guggenheim museum, I was preoccupied with the kind of questions I would ask her. Ultra Violet was a muse to both Warhol and Salvadore Dali; she wrote a book titled “My Fifteen Minutes” which was published to some critical acclaim in the 1970s and was distributed widely and in many languages.
Ultra is now 75, and she made me and my friend wait outside on the deck of her penthouse apartment as she got ready. As the sun beat down on my forehead and I started contemplating exactly why I had time for a woman who was herself ready to acknowledge her own significance to have lasted no longer than a quick ride in a New York subway (hence the title of her book). Indeed, waiting outside made me develop a somewhat petulant insouciance towards her and her generation. Andy Worhol was insignificant, and remains insignificant to me. Why should I care about a woman who held the attentions of a man who, for better or for worse, ruined Western aesthetics?
After a few minutes waiting outside, I heard her slow, irregular steps at the entrance; she poked her head through the door and motioned for us, “come in!”
That short exposure to the sun had her face dripping with beads of sweat. “It’s far too hot outside,” she commented with her back to me as we walked through the portico. Her voice struck a somehow harmonious chord between English indifference, French passion, and American narcicissm. We sat down in her sitting room, which was plastered with her own artwork as well as a massive Warhol canvas.
At this point I should state that I had in no way intended upon my visit being an interview; as a 22-year-old assistant at Radar Magazine it seems hardly possible that I would lead the 80-something Ultra Violet along some sort of career-long perambulation, eliciting her deepest thoughts and fantasies.
No, reader: we talked about (in short order): Oxymorons containing either the word “good” or “bad”, Chinese nutritionalism, Jules Verne, and the mormon Church of Latter Day Saints (of which Ultra seems to be a fervent adherent).
Sitting on a couch guarded by end-tables fashioned out of bronze fire extinguishers (with morrocan-style trays welded to the tops), Ultra seemed at once sharp while at the same time distant and confused. We troubled ourselves for a while about oxymorons, in the end turning up things like “A good nightmare”, “a good Heart Attack”, “a Bad nose job”, etc. (looking back, it was all very bad)
I asked by way of a comment on her artwork what she was doing at the moment; she detailed me on a play she acted in last month about the life of Jules Verne, in which she plays his wife as the enfeebled author is met by a journalist from pittsburg who has turned his fabled trip around the world in 80 days into a reality.
My friend made a comment about a book she was infatuated with, Oscar Wilde’s A Portrait of Dorian Grey. Ultra looked at her with the sparkling eyes of a grandmother who is at once happy yet melancholy at the foolhardiness of youth. “I no longer read, I haven’t the time. It is just the same as these museum-goers, you know? Some people can spend their lives going to exhibitions, but I cannot. There are seers, and there are doers, you know?”
“Are you in the latter group?”, I asked.
“I haven’t the time to see these days,” she responded.