In 1989, The Andy Warhol Diaries were published. Thirty-three years later, they have become the source for a riveting six-part Netflix documentary series about the father of Pop Art – and his silence about his sexuality.
Warhol comes to life in the Ryan Murphy-produced documentary, and it’s his voice that you hear reading entries from his diaries. Well, to be accurate, an uncanny AI voice closely mimicking the late Warhol. Being the king of Pop Art, that may well have been something the artist would have loved.
The series contains appearances by Rob Lowe and Debbie Harry, along with a slew of others who knew Warhol. Pat Hackett, who took down Warhol’s words from 1976 until shortly before his death in 1987, also appears, giving insight into not only Warhol’s life, but the process of compiling the diaries.
Despite the publication of his diaries, and the Netflix series, Warhol’s true character remains obscured. The artist was often viewed as asexual, yet he was involved in three significant relationships with men: Jon Gould, Jed Johnson and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was extremely private, and even those closest to him were unsure who the real Warhol truly was.
While the series covers his artistic exploits, the real untold story lies in his relationships and his reticence about his sexuality. This indeed makes for a more interesting narrative as most fans already know his art, his exploits with the Studio 54 crowd, and the influence he had on world culture from the swinging sixties through to the yuppie-driven eighties. And, of course, those Campbell’s Soup cans.
During Warhol’s time, homosexuality was not openly celebrated as it is in some instances today. Careers could be destroyed at the mere whiff of anything queer – which is one of the things that Warhol feared.
Many powerful gay people of his era climbed into the closet, shut the door, and kept it locked. Screen star Rock Hudson was one of them, until his AIDs diagnosis at the height of the eighties forced him out.
Still, in many cases, and in Warhol’s, being gay was an open secret. A sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation. And despite what the world and society may have believed about Warhol, he enjoyed several relationships. Some short and fleeting. Others deep, committed and long term.
What stands out in the series is his discomfort around his sexuality, and in particular, his overwhelming fear of HIV/AIDs when the disease decimated the gay community in the eighties.
It wasn’t unusual for the times, however, and certainly scores of queer people who lived in the same era grappled with the same issues. The shame, the doubt, the painful longing for love. These were all aspects of Warhol’s life.
The documentary provides a rare insight into the life and relationships of the artist; however, he remains enigmatic, a whisp of a man that can’t quite be pinned down. It seems that the deep aspects of the man that Warhol was will remain hidden, although his legacy continues.
The Andy Warhol Diaries is a remarkable exploration of Warhol’s life, art and sexuality. And most fascinating of all, the men he loved. But don’t be surprised if you walk away from the series with many unanswered questions.