Trace ~ Groton MA ~ February 2013
So Much Water ~ Citadel Laferriere, Haiti ~ March 2008
"What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains."
Men in Her Life, 1962
Silkscreen and pencil on primed canvas, 84 1/2 x 83 1/4 inches
Men in Her Life is an outstandingly important work from one of the most significant and creative moments in Andy Warhol’s career. Made in the fall of 1962, arguably the artist’s breakthrough year, the picture is among his earliest silkscreen paintings, and it combines in one image many of the central themes of his oeuvre: celebrity, wealth, scandal, sex, death, Hollywood, icons of American life. The present painting, moreover, is one of only four works in the Men in Her Life series; it is one of only two of these works on a large-scale, multi-image format; and it is the largest of all the four pictures in the series. It is a work of great significance, fascination and beauty.
The painting is based on a news photograph of Elizabeth Taylor walking with both her third husband Mike Todd, seen to the left, and her fourth husband Eddie Fisher, who is seen at the right with his then current wife Debbie Reynolds (fig 1). Warhol took the photograph from an April 13, 1962 issue of Life magazine, which featured an article on Taylor. Describing her as a “storybook princess,” the article presented pictures of her from throughout her life, but with special emphasis on her husbands and lovers —the “princes” in the fairy tale. Warhol used a total of three images from the article as the basis for different paintings; the other two photographs were pictures of her in National Velvet and in (and as) Cleopatra. The Men in Her Life pictures from 1962 were his first paintings of Taylor, one of his most iconic subjects, which he treated obsessively, for example in the Silver Liz series (fig 2).
The photograph he used for Men in Her Life had been shot on June 5, 1957 at the English Derby at Epsom Downs in the United Kingdom. Taylor, Todd, Fisher and Reynolds were then best friends and at the height of international celebrity. Fisher had served as Todd’s best man at the wedding; Reynolds had served as Taylor’s matron of honor. At the time of the photograph, Taylor and Todd were on a trip to Europe, a combination honeymoon and publicity tour to promote the best-selling film he had produced, Around the World in Eighty Days. When the photograph was made, the two couples appeared to have every success: wealth, fame, privilege. Taylor was the highest paid actress in the world, and internationally famous for her stunning beauty (fig 3). Todd was in the course of making $29,000,000 in one year on his film. Fisher was a topselling pop singer, with a million-dollar-a-year endorsement contract from Coca-Cola. Reynolds was a leading actress and America’s sweetheart. They even seemed to enjoy the blessings of happy domestic life: at the time of the photograph, both Taylor and Reynolds were pregnant.
But tragedy and scandal were just around the corner. Less than a year after the photograph was shot, Todd died in a crash in his private plane, The Liz. Always flashy, he had spent ten times more money on installing a lavish lilac-colored bourdoir in the plane than on updating its safety systems. It went down in a thunderstorm near Grants, New Mexico on March 22, 1958. He had just received the Showman of the Year award and was on his way to New York for a banquet. Taylor was supposed to have been on the plane, but had stayed home in Los Angeles with a bad cold. At his funeral, thousands of gawkers showed up to see Taylor grieving. They snacked on Coke and potato-chips and sat on the headstones in the cemetery during the burial, then attacked Taylor to snatch souvenirs, tearing away her veil, hat, and coat. She had to be rushed into a limousine for protection, which sped off as the mob started to pound on its windows. The sordid nightmare of the event was a national news story.
One biography has summarized her life up to this point in the following terms. “Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most famous women in the world, had appeared in twenty-seven movies, had been married three times, was twice divorced, had three children by two husbands and was now a widow. She had just marked her twenty-sixth birthday” (Donald Spoto, A Passion for Life, The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor, New York 1995, p. 142).
Following Todd’s death, his widow and his best friend looked to each other for solace. Romance soon blossomed, and in August of 1958 they became lovers. Their affair instantly turned into scandal, made all the more notorious in September when gossip columnist Hedda Hopper quoted Taylor in an interview as saying, “What do you expect me to do? Sleep alone?” Taylor was pegged as a hussy and home-wrecker, while Fisher was portrayed as dishonoring his friend’s memory and abandoning his own wife. The notoriety of the affair severely damaged Fisher’s public reputation, and Coca-Cola fired him, his career never recovered; but it boosted Taylor’s, who was able to double the fees for her work. Fisher and Reynolds divorced in Las Vegas on May 12, 1959; moments later Fisher and Taylor married. But the scandal did not go away. Fisher was addicted to amphetamines and Taylor to pills and liquor, and they led very messy lives, trashing hotel rooms and Taylor sometimes even passing out in public. Taylor almost died twice from illnesses caused or made worse by her addiction. Yet recovery from near-death experiences helped her garner still more fame: it was sympathy for her struggle for life that helped her win the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance as a call girl in Butterfield 8 (1960). Everyone voted for her, even Debbie Reynolds, Fisher’s angry ex-wife.
At the time of Warhol’s painting, Taylor’s love with Fisher was ending, although they did not divorce until 1964, and she had recently taken up with Richard Burton. Indeed, Taylor and Burton are featured together on the cover of the April 13, 1962 issue of Life, shown during a break on the set of the film-extravaganza, Cleopatra. They are seen in costume as the Roman general Anthony, and his royal Egyptian lover Cleopatra. Yet the photograph has a large touch of unintended irony: Burton is smoking a cigarette; and overweight and wearing absurdly thick eye shadow, Taylor looks dumpy, and unglamorous. The fictionality of their roles in the film is clear, but the impression that a private life behind the fiction is being shared with the public is a fiction too.
In Men in Her Life Warhol ingeniously examines the drama of the Taylor-Todd-Fisher affair. Warhol repeats the photograph from Life thirty-eight times, arranged in seven rows. By varying the cut of the image and the inking of the silkscreen, he was able to articulate and narrate the story. In the top tier, one sees the photograph four times, and the image appears relatively clear and stable in each iteration. There it is a seemingly unambiguous image of the two happy couples. But in the lower tiers on the canvas the images begin to stutter across the canvas, like frames of a filmstrip slipping in a projector, and to fracture and blur as they do so. In some of these images, Taylor stands forth as if in isolation. In others, either Todd or Reynolds is cut out of the image or obliterated with paint. In many the emphasis is on the gaze on Taylor’s face, as she looks at Fisher. In actuality, it was a moment in passing, one friend smiling at another. (We know from other photographs taken immediately before the scene in the painting that Eddie and Debbie were hurrying to catch up with Mike and Liz as they walked in front of the grandstand at the track.) But in light of their subsequent history, it is easy to imagine a leer in Taylor’s eyes, and to see smug arrogance in Fisher’s suave stride. Paul Newman, her costar in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, made in 1958, said of Taylor that she was not only a “beauty [but also] a combination of child and bitch who wants to love and be loved” (quoted in Spoto, p. 141). The look on her face seems to suggest this combination of passions: both the unbridled cupidity and the anxious desire to please that have characterized her celebrity and her career.
In its manipulation of photographic imagery, the picture marks an important step in Warhol’s exploration and development of the possibilities of silkscreen painting. The fracturing and blurring of the image is more successful in structuring the canvas than it is in Baseball, the first of the silkscreen paintings, from August 1962, or in the Let Us Now Praise Famous Men paintings (fig 4), made shortly before Men in Her Life. Moreover, the stuttering effect created by repeating the photograph here more obviously has a cinematic result; it looks like a strip of stop-action photographs by Muybridge. The cinematic quality of Men in Her Life is also evoked by being in black-and-white, rather than color. Warhol was to explore this result even more directly in the Merce series of 1963.
Men in Her Life is a compendium of many of Warhol’s favorite themes. Like the paintings of Marilyn and Jackie, it portrays a vulnerable woman who spectacularly combines fame and tragedy, love and sorrow. Indeed, as in Warhol’s paintings of Jackie Kennedy smiling, the picture is all the more powerful because of the viewer’s ironic knowledge of the doom that will soon grip the seemingly happy and enviable person in the photograph (fig 5). Like the images of Marilyn, Elvis, Natalie and Troy, it addresses the extravagant excess and the glittering immateriality of celebrity. Like the Car Crash and Disaster paintings it is an image of catastrophe, although an impending one.
Because of the death of Todd aboard The Liz, it is particularly related to Warhol’s 129 Die in Jet, also from 1962 (fig 6). And through the presence of Fisher, a spokesman for the company, it even can be associated with Warhol’s Coca-Cola bottle pictures. It is an emblem of Warhol’s reflections on the peculiar character of modern American life.
Indeed, Warhol himself once spoke of America, democracy, consumerism, Coca-Cola and Elizabeth Taylor in the same breath: “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
The juvet landscape hotel by Jensen & Skodvin.
Located in Norway, The Juvet Landscape Hotel is based on the idea that a structure should blend into its surrounding environment, offering amenities that are oriented outwards towards the surrounding nature. The minimal design features floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows installed in all the rooms and even the hotel’s spa, giving guests a splendid, uninterrupted view of the forested landscape outside. Inside, the rooms are sparsely but stylishly furnished as to keep the focus on what’s available to see and do outdoors.