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Virtual Asian-American Art Museum Project

Alexei Taylor, Author

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Shimomura and Warhol

Warhol, I recall you mentioning, was a particularly important influence for you (fig. 7).

More and more so, though initially not so much what he did, but what was written about him. We had a dean at Syracuse who was very insistent that all of his graduates be able to write a thesis paper. So we all had to come up with a subject to write about and then had to integrate our [own] work into that historical stream. Mine was called “The Objectified Image: Pop Culture and Andy Warhol,” and it ended with where I thought my work fit into this whole thing. Then we had to do a presentation of our paper. I decided to do the first performance that, as it turns out, I’d ever done. I rented every piece of equipment from the campus media center and lined up all the projectors on a long table, and I flashed these images of Warhol’s that filled up the whole wall and overlapped each other. I even forged one of his movies. I claimed that I had gone to the New York Public Library and found an uncataloged film called Back. I shot one of my students [Shimomura was a teaching assistant at Syracuse] without a shirt on, looking out a window. It’s very grim, and flash frames are going by to make it look like it was shot by an amateur. It lasted about five minutes. I had everyone believing that I’d actually discovered this film. Then I faked an interview with Warhol, and I had one of the graduate students be Warhol, and I had a party tape of Viva, Ultra Violet, and all of those people, glasses tinkling, and the Velvet Underground playing in the background. I interviewed this graduate student who answered all my questions exactly like I wanted Andy to, in order to support my thesis paper. Everyone was so impressed, including the dean, that I had added so much to Warhol’s history. Word got out to the local TV stations in central and upper New York State, and they wanted to broadcast it. So I said, “I have to own up to something” and told them the truth. They said, “This could cost you your degree, you know,” and I said, “No, I don’t think so, because it was really a conceptual act.” They stripped out the fake film and they stripped out my interview, and what it came down to was just a real dry, straightforward lecture on pop culture and Warhol. They broadcast that for weeks and weeks. It wasn’t something I was very proud of. But it ended my graduate career with a bang.

Are you aware of whether Warhol ever got wind of that?

No. I spoke to him once, but that was before I went back east. It was at a dinner party at my house, and we were calling famous artists as a form of entertainment, because at the time they were all listed in the Manhattan [telephone] directory. So I called Warhol, and his mother answered the phone. She said, “He’s not here. I have his phone number. He’s in Los Angeles.” I remembered he was working on the Exploding Plastic Inevitable nightclub. So she gave me his number in L.A., and I called there and he answered the phone. I had no idea what I was going to talk to him about, because I had never expected to get him. He said, “Well, what can I do for you?” And I said, being a needy potential graduate student, “I need a letter of recommendation,” and he said, “Oh, I’ll be happy to write one for you.” No talk about who I was or what I did. Then he said, “But I have to tell you that the last three people I’ve written letters for never got what they wanted.” And I said, “Okay, well, I’d still like to try,” and he said, “Good.” Due to the excitement I hung up the phone without getting his address or anything and even forgot to give him my name. That seemed like a fitting ending to my only personal encounter with Andy Warhol.
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