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How Real Is Real?

From Donald Trump's post-truth to Andy Warhol's philosophy, and back again

Andy, can we start by a getting few facts straight? I know you’re no longer alive, but I’m desperate to know: is it all true, what supposedly happened on that starry night in 1985? Were you really up close at Madison Square Garden? Did the spotlights twinkle on your rosy-coloured face? Or was it dark and discreet where you sat – far from the ring? Was it your first time watching pro wrestling? How very ‘real’ did the real thing look to you?

Or did the pay-per-view event Wrestlemania: The War to Settle to Score disappoint in the flesh? Had it seemed better on TV? Did its problems stem from being too showy or not showy enough? After the match, did it feel special to visit backstage, or was that just the normal route home for you? Did you stop and say hi to Hulk Hogan, Cyndi Lauper, Liberace and Mr. T? Or were you too busy thinking about what you would say in your spontaneous-seeming TV interview backstage? Did you write out your answers in advance, or was it by chance that you opened that door? Did you mean it literally when you said: ‘I’m speechless. It’s so exciting. I just don’t know what to say. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life. The most exciting thing’? Or was the interview as rigged as Wrestlemania that night in 1985?

Did you imagine how true your words would sound today? By the way, Andy, what do you think of Roland Barthes? Was it his line or someone else’s – how does it go? – that the great thing about pro wrestling is how ‘the public is uninterested in whether it is rigged’? Mind if I press you on your interpretation of that word, ‘rigged’? Or that word ‘wrestle’, which – to be precise – comes from ‘wrest’ – to steal, to distort the meaning of? Would you like to talk to me sometime about how daily life became so spectacularly newsworthy, so fake – something, like Hogan, to gawk at? Or would you prefer to point merely to what would happen, years later, to Hulk Hogan?

Andy, at some point I’d to ask you about the sad irony, in 2017, of a person who is the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO coming to hold public office in the US government (Linda McMahon, Administrator, Small Business Administration), but first, will you entertain some questions of mine about 1999? Do you know about the cover story in Germany’s SZ-Magazin featuring an interview with Ivana Trump (9 April 1999)? Did someone tell you that you were in it? Did you stop only to look at the pictures? Do you agree or disagree with Ivana when she said how ‘the great thing about America’ is ‘the fact that you can pass off others’ work as your own without upsetting anyone’? Did you recognize that a journalist had stolen your own words in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975)? Did you recoil a year later in shock when it was revealed that it was all made up, that Ivana was never interviewed and does it strike you as ‘hyperreal’ that the journalist cited ‘hyperreality’ in his defense? Was it just one of far too many gonzo routes to post-truth journalism? Is it possible the journalist took Ivana’s advice a bit too literally? Or was it really your advice, Andy? Tell me, Andy, is real news about a fake person still ‘real’?

Would you agree with me if I told you that you couldn’t make this stuff up? Is it okay if I ask you about your relationship to a man named Donald Trump – the pro wrestling fan and, like you, a veteran on the Wrestlemania television event (in April 2007)? Did you stop to think, when you wrote, many years ago, that ‘the president has so much good publicizing potential’ that someone would later interpret your words too literally? Did he pay you to reprint, more than once, your line about ‘being good at business is the best art’ in his books? Do you still agree that ‘good business is the best art’? If it is true what he wrote, that ‘modern art is a con’, does that make you a con man, too, Andy?

What were you thinking when you made eight portraits of ‘Trump Tower’ for Donald and Ivana in ’81, man? Was it acrid, when you wrote – disgruntled, in your diaries – how the Trumps opted for someone else’s ‘portraits’? Did you think that it was funny when Donald told you that he was ‘confused’ by your colour choices? How he told that it didn’t all ‘correspond’? When you later wrote that you ‘hate the Trumps’, was it only because it was bad business for you? If business is the same as art, is bad business the same as bad art, for you, Andy? Andy, are you still there, Andy?

What are we going to do with you now, Andy? Should I or should I not blame you for all of the mediagenic artists, the 1%er artists, the Instagram artists, the Martin Kippenberger-lite artists, the bespoke-suited artists, the ‘I’d Like To Add You To My Personal Network On LinkedIn’ artists, the ‘come to my panel’ artists, the slacker non-productive artists, the twitter-is-my-artwork artists, the fake news artists, the meme artists, the my brand is my ego artists, the curate-your-life artists, the make-your-life your business artists, for all the Etsy, Bit.ly and Gawker artists, the neolib artists, the Silicon Valley artists? In other words, should I blame you for the con artists? I want to like you, Andy, I really do, but considering what you’ve spawned is it even OK, right now, to admire Andy Warhol, mister mass production, lord of the commerce, Mr. There’s Nothing Below The Surface?

Or is it possible that you knew, you foresaw, something the rest of us didn’t? Did you feel it in your gut, how things would become one big pay-per-view advertorial staged pro wrestling event? Did you feel it in your ribs, how it’d be rigged? Is that the direction you were coming from when you unsubscribed to any division between brand, art, life and image? Could you foresee how your own image, your own philosophy, would be taken up by interests blowing every which way? Did you wrestle with that fact, too, Andy? I don’t like the situation at the moment, Andy, I really don’t, so tell me, wow me: how do we get back to the truth of the matter again, how do we get from B to A? What should we do with the fakery, the mockery of it? How can we settle the score?

Main image: The inauguration of the 45th US President Donald Trump's as seen via a Japanese news feed at a discount chain store in Tokyo, Japan, 21 January, 2017. Photograph: Hitoshi Yamada/NurPhoto

Pablo Larios is senior editor of frieze. He lives in Berlin.

Issue 185

First published in Issue 185

March 2017
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