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In His Own Words: Ashton Hawkins on Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe, David Hockney and Life in the Art World

By Ashton Hawkins, July 2014

I first met Andy Warhol in the winter of 1964 when I had been sent to St. Luke’s Hospital to heal a bad case of croup. My neighbor next door in the hospital was Edie Sedgwick who was recovering from a broken leg. Though I didn’t know her, many years earlier I had met her father and mother who were close friends of my parents in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, before the Sedgwick’s moved to a ranch in California.

Edie became friendly in the hospital, and two days later, she asked me to come to her room for a visit in the late afternoon to meet an artist friend of hers who was coming by. I shook hands with Andy Warhol and a young man who came with him. The young man talked with Edie and Andy was silent.

Over the next week, Edie and I had a lot of fun talking together. She told me that Andy was an artist and filmmaker and that she was studying to be an actress. When I was leaving the hospital to go home, she asked for my telephone number so we could meet again.

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Dennis Hopper (1936-2010): Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and Jeff Goodman, from The Geldzahler Portfolio, photolithograph on wove paper, 1998, signed, dated ‘1963’ and numbered 37/75 in pencil.

A month later, Edie called and asked if she and Andy could come for cocktails at the big house I was sharing with five friends on West 84th Street. It was in a somewhat dicey area a half block from the Hudson River. Edie came with Andy and a group of people, including Gerald Malanga who was carrying a bull whip. Andy, Edie and I sat down together for drinks and marijuana. For a while everything was going along fine, until Malanga took off his shirt and cracked his bull whip a few times to get our attention. Andy and Edie continued to chat without paying attention to him, and my housemates were quite amused. For me and my housemates, the evening was strangely memorable.

Over the next few years I greeted Andy at Studio 54. In 1969, we had a funny conversation at a party that Henry Geldzahler was giving for his old friend David Hockney in his townhouse on 36th Street. Henry and I had become good friends since my joining the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1968 as Assistant Secretary of the Board of Trustees. Henry and Andy had been good friends for quite some time, and Henry was one of the first museum professionals to champion Warhol’s work. Hockney came over to say hello to Andy and joined our conversation. As I recall, Hockney was doing all the talking and Andy was looking around as if trying to get away.

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Cecil Beaton (1904-1980): Diana Vreeland, gelatin silver print with hand-coloring, 1978, signed and inscribed ‘My love to you Ashton/ love – Diana’ on the mat.

Another close friend in this group was Diana Vreeland. Diana and I became close friends after she joined the Met to take on the Costume Institute in 1971. Diana began giving occasional, small informal dinners on Sunday nights (around 1975), and I would meet Andy there quite often. I noticed that he enjoyed talking with me and other people in that environment. One night, he asked me out on a “date”. The following week we went to a party together. Both of us forgot it was a date and nothing came of it.

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Alfred Steiglitz (1864-1946): The Steerage, large-format photogravure on cream paper, 1907, printed in 1915.

One of my responsibilities at the museum was to keep in touch with important art collectors whose generosity, of course, was essential. Georgia O’Keeffe, whom I first met at a lunch given by Tom Hoving in her honor, had given the museum the major part of the Stieglitz Collection which she had inherited from her husband. I began to see O’Keeffe every year when she came to New York each Spring. She would meet with her long-time art dealer, see some friends, and I would invite her for lunch and give her the news of the museum. She was pleased when I told her that I had inherited Stieglitz’s photogravure, The Steerage from my father.

In 1981, I organized a dinner for Georgia at my apartment to coincide with one of her visits. I invited sixteen people, including Andy Warhol, Renate Adler, Michael Arlen, Mike Nichols, Lillian Hellman, Diana Vreeland and Jackie Onassis.

When Andy came into the living room that evening he gave me a white t-shirt which he had signed and framed—it was a little weird and also touching, rather like Andy himself.

I found Andy’s diary entry about the dinner on April 21, 1981:

I went to Ashton Hawkins’ dinner at 17 East 89th Street, my old neighborhood, so it made me feel funny. The real howdy-duty heavy duties were there—Brooke Astor, Laurence Rockefeller, Alice Arlen. And Mike Nichols hair, I don’t think it’s fake, it looks so great, so really great. Ashton had a rent-a-maid, one of those old Irish types from Schrafft’s, the cute Irish ladies with the dykey Vassar haircuts in black uniforms and white collars. Brooke Astor said she was trying to save the South Bronx—the old people and the poor people. Mary McFadden was there with her escort Stephen Paley, and I made believe Bob hadn’t told me anything about her divorce, about the guy stealing all her stuff. I said “you look pretty” and she said “I am desperate”. I told her to just go out and buy herself a new St. Laurent dress and she started to hit me and she’s strong. Then I asked her if she wanted to arm wrestle and then she started to like me and that got strange. I felt bad because I think I hurt her hand. Went home. I called Jon Gould at the Beverly Wiltshire. Then I went to bed and had the most un-sleepful night. Woke up at 3:00 and had a big glass of brandy and a Valium.

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After Andy Warhol (1928-1987): Campbell’s Tomato Soup, screenprinted cotton t-shirt, signed ‘Andy Warhol’ in ink.

On reflection, I think I understand why Andy didn’t mention Georgia O’Keeffe and others in his diary entry… their “fame” was earned in a different way from his.

In 1986, after I had become the Chairman of the Dia Art Foundation, Dia put on an exhibition of Warhol’s work. I invited Andy and a few others to dinner after the opening, and he was happy and talkative and pleased by the show. I saw him only a couple of times after that before he died in 1987.

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Sale preview begins September 12, 2014. A fully-illustrated color catalogue will be available online September 11, 2014. The sale will take place Saturday, September 27, 2014, at 11am.

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