To talk about Andy Warhol it is impossible to avoid the word pop, but when describing the spaces he inhabited, one needs terms more typical of an El Rastro antiquarian than of the New York scene of the seventies. This is the case with the Macassar and amboina ebony table where Warhol and his superstars held their Factory meetings, to mention just one of the antiques with which the pop art luminaire furnished his famous Manhattan studio. In the state-of-the-art Factory there were also chairs by Ruhlmann, upholstery by Jean Beaumont, and even a figurehead with a bust of Da Vinci. “Used furniture,” Warhol used to call these and other design treasures. And he explained that, as many had bought them as props for his films, they had served him to deduct taxes.
That apparent disdain for antiquities, however, was called into question when entering his house, something that happened very exceptionally because Warhol guarded it with the zeal of a sphinx. When Bob Colacello, editor of the magazine InterviewHe had the honor of visiting her, he ran to write down everything he had seen in his diary. “Very stately,” he described the cornucopia of Neo-Egyptian chairs, bronze statues, and other antiques in which his boss lived, still in shock by the hand-carved mahogany four-poster bed she’d discovered she slept on. Wasn’t Warhol so modern that he had once refused to visit an Aztec pyramid because he considered it a pile of old stones? Didn’t he always say that he wanted to live in a house as minimalist as the designer Roy Halston’s, designed by the ultra-modern Paul Rudolph?
On Holy Terror, his book on Warhol, published in 1990, Colacello also tells that, to defend himself against this apparent betrayal of his philosophy that was his home, the pope In pop art she used to blame her longest-serving boyfriend, Jed Johnson, for decorative quirks. Indeed, it was he who decorated the Warhol mansion.
Born in 1948 to a humble Minnesota family, Johnson had always wanted to study design, but lack of means forced him to take a few detours before fulfilling his dream. And what detours! In 1967, her beauty opened the doors to the Factory, where like so many superstars she began sweeping the floors. Then he started editing Warhol films. His personal relationship with the artist became closer a year later, when after feminist Valerie Solanas tried to kill the artist by shooting him, Johnson moved with him to his home on Lexington Avenue to take care of him. The house was shoulder to shoulder and Johnson took it upon himself to sort out the hundreds of works of art and junk that Warhol, whose collectibles bordered on the pathological, had been piling up. Warhol got used to order and later asked him to decorate the new house Johnson had found on 66th Street to live in together.
Now that it has just been 25 years since Johnson’s tragic death in the crash of TWA Flight 800, his twin brother, Jay, also a Factory satellite, explains from New York that that house was not only Johsnon’s debut feature: it also served as the design school where he would have liked to train. Johnson restored the mansion and decorated it with American Empire furniture, a glorious early 1800s Napoleonic style that was not very popular in the 1970s, but later fetched stratospheric prices on the market. “Jed spent three years collecting the best furniture from that era,” recalls his brother. “In the trips to Europe he made with Andy he had seen many luxurious houses and that inspired him to do something special for him. I remember he also had a team of painters doing some very elaborate stencils. The lobby was painted in seven shades of white that only Jed and Andy could distinguish; to the others it seemed white and period. Johnson paid so much attention to detail that many rooms looked like museum rooms and you could hardly live in them, although it didn’t matter, because not many other people came into the house. Who did visit her was Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent’s partner. He liked it so much that he hired Jonson to decorate his apartment at the Hotel Pierre, also in the American Empire style ”. Then he would decorate the houses of other celebrities like Mick Jagger.
In 1980, Jed Johnson left Warhol for Alan Wanzenberg, a young architect who was then working in the IM Pei office. With it, he created one of the best interior design firms in New York. “Jed had extraordinary visual acuity. He was able to remember the design of a piece of furniture with all its details, but not the name of the person with whom he had been sitting for hours at a party, “recalls Alan Wanzenberg, who at the time of Jed Johnson’s death was still being her boyfriend and partner. “He was meticulous, shy and introverted, and he loved being able to isolate himself to study decorative elements and historical references,” he adds by email. “He was very proud of the work he did at Andy’s house. He gave an organized structure to the thousands of objects that Andy had acquired, creating compositions of great complexity and sophistication ”.
Jed Johnson’s style was refined during the professional stage he shared with Wanzenberg. Jed began to take more into account the comfort of the spaces he created, decorating them with what his twin brother describes as an “opulent containment”: a refined version of the tension between antiques and contemporary art that existed in the offices of La Factory. The house on 66th Street, on the other hand, presented an increasingly crowded and chaotic appearance. Warhol was filling it, although he never got rid of the Empire-style furniture to make room for other more pop ones. How much she missed her ex was another secret that this silver-wigged sphinx never wanted to reveal.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.