When Andy Warhol Met Donald Trump

“And I just hate the Trumps,” wrote Andy Warhol in his diaries, published posthumously in 1989, “because they never bought my Trump Tower portraits. “And I also hate them because the cabs on the upper level of their ugly Hyatt Hotel just back up traffic so badly around Grand Central now and it takes me so long to get home.” He would undoubtedly have many more reasons to hate them now.

Warhol and Trump met on several occasions, developing what can only be described as a difficult and lopsided relationship. “Had to meet Donald Trump at the office (cab $5.50),” Warhol had previously written. This was back in 1981, when Trump Tower was still being built and Trump was still married to his first wife, Ivana. “Donald Trump is really good-looking… He’s a butch guy. Nothing was settled, but I’m going to do some paintings, anyway, and show them to them.”

Warhol produced eight ‘chic’ paintings of Trump Tower in black and grey and silver, intending them to be hung in the tower’s lobby. “But it was a mistake to do so many, I think it confused them,” he noted. “Mr. Trump was very upset that it wasn’t color-coordinated. They have Angelo Donghia doing the decorating so they’re going to come down with swatches of material so I can do the paintings to match the pinks and oranges. I think Trump’s sort of cheap, though, I get that feeling.”

Warhol’s interpretation of Trump Tower

Trump was an apparent outlier, refusing the Warhol brand due to aesthetic considerations; after all, Warhol once famously wrote, “You’d be surprised how many people want to hang an electric chair on their living-room wall. Specially if the background color matches the drapes.”

Nothing more seemed to come of the Trump Tower project: certainly, the Trumps never bought any paintings from Warhol. This clearly annoyed him and he tried to confront Ivana at an event – “she was embarrassed and she said, “Oh, whatever happened to those pictures?” and I had this speech in my mind of telling her off” – but never carried through.

In a very minor way, he managed to get some petty revenge: he was invited to judge a cheerleading competition at Trump Tower but turned up fashionably late. “It was the first tryout, and I was supposed to be there at 12:00 but I took my time and went to church and finally moseyed over there around 2:00.” The event was ruined.

“This is because I still hate the Trumps because they never bought the paintings I did of the Trump Tower.”

Trump didn’t seem to hold a grudge: in his 2009 book, Think Like a Champion, he quotes Warhol’s thoughts about business: “I’ve always liked Andy Warhol’s statement that, ‘making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.’ I agree.”

“Gold Marilyn Monroe” by Andy Warhol, 1962

Architectural critic Herbert Muschamp once orchestrated a meeting with Trump and architect Philip Johnson in front of Warhol’s Gold Marilyn at MoMA. He recalls Trump’s entrance: “There’s a large sculpture in the middle of the room, a brass floor piece by Donald Judd. Evidently Mr. Trump mistakes it for a coffee table, for he uses it as one, tossing his overcoat and some binders full of pictures on top of it as we walk over to the painting.”

Clearly Trump has never paid close attention to the art world: his current America First budget blueprint proposes to entirely defund the National Endowment for the Arts. Muschamp continued: “There’s an obvious parallel between it and Mr. Trump himself. The man has attained the status of a popular icon, set against the gold of celebrity.”

There are clear similarities between Trump and Warhol: both craved celebrity status, curated careful public personas, and were/are infuriatingly inconsistent. Neither seem to care what’s being said about them, as long as people are talking: “Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.” Warhol exploited celebrity and rumour to create an unstable, unpredictable character – but the ball was always in his court, he was always in charge, and he can never be truly unmasked.

And, unlike Trump, he was deeply self-aware and ultimately very kind and open. He supported equality, albeit in the most consumerist and American of ways: “What’s great about this country is America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest… 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.”

Trump, meanwhile, tells bare-faced lies to get votes and support. Whatever Warhol’s politics, he craved influence more than outright power. Trump has taken the cynicism of Warhol and made it a reality; he has approached the sarcasm and acid wit at face value – and convinced millions of Americans to do the same. He has mounted the phenomenon of “fifteen minutes of fame” and ridden it to the White House.

“Vote McGovern 84,” by Andy Warhol, 1984

It’s a shame Warhol never did a portrait of Trump, either before or after he started to despise the Donald. After all, he didn’t shy away from politics: in 1972, when Richard Nixon was running for reelection against Democrat George McGovern, he painted Nixon in sickly green and pale blue with ‘Vote McGovern’ scrawled underneath. When the Watergate scandal broke in the following months, despite Nixon taking the electoral college by 520 to 17, the portrait took on an eerie prescience. Warhol’s Trump Tower paintings – dark, phallic, foreboding – almost do the same.

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