William John Kennedy, aware of Warhol’s new Flowers series, was searching for a creative way to incorporate him with his new work. While driving near the grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens, Kennedy spotted a large patch of six-foot tall, wild black-eyed Susans growing in an abandoned eld. Excited about the concept of using the location as an immersive set to photograph Warhol and his Flowers paintings, Kennedy headed to the nearest public pay phone to call him with the news of his discovery. Warhol loved the idea and responded, “Pick me up!”
Kennedy, always with camera on hand, immediately headed to the Factory on East 47th Street where Warhol, actor/poet Taylor Mead and Kennedy’s wife, Marie, squeezed into Kennedy’s tiny Volkswagen. With a rolled-up freshly painted and un-stretched Flowers canvas between them, they headed back to Queens. The painting served as a makeshift backdrop, held up by Mead and Marie, with Warhol (wearing Kennedy’s sweater) posing waif-like in front of the large canvas holding a handful of the wild owers. In rapid lm-like sequence Kennedy shot the compliant actors, creating a series of more than 50 color portraits. At times with a bottle of gin in hand, Mead engaged Kennedy’s lens with remarkably uid motions, while Warhol laughed and frolicked in the owers. According to Marie Kennedy, “Bill always made everyone so comfortable. It was truly a magical moment. While Taylor was the court jester, Andy completely let his guard down and loved every moment of that remarkable day in 1964.”
Later that year, the Flowers paintings were shown in Warhol’s rst exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, his new art dealer. Warhol had tried unsuccessfully to join Castelli’s revered stable of artists for the previous three years. In 1962 Henry Geldzahler, then a young curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, prompted Warhol to create rst the huge Death and Disaster series and, later, the Flowers paintings. The Death and Disaster series depicts American social dysfunction, hypocrisy, and its mass consumer fascination with violence, tragedy and glamour. Targeting vicious attacks on peaceful protesters ghting American racial segregation, airliner tragedies, car crashes, suicides, wanted criminals, capital punishment or the numerous portraits of American Glamour icons Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, Warhol portrayed both impersonal disasters and victims of personal tragedy.
The Flowers exhibition, viewed as a coda to Warhol’s huge Death and Disaster series, marked the end of 1964.
By Matt Wrbican, Chief Archivist The Andy Warhol Museum