Brigid Berlin

Brigid Berlin discusses life and art

Brigid Berlin, Self-Portrait Polaroid, ca. 1969,
 Polaroid, 4 x 3 1/4”. 
Courtesy Brigid Berlin and Loretta Howard Gallery.

Brigid Berlin is an artist, actress, and one of the most memorable personalities to emerge from Andy Warhol’s coterie. In 2000, she was the subject of a documentary, Pie in the Sky: the Brigid Berlin Story, which was directed by Vincent Fremont. Berlin’s diaristic recordings of her life and milieu during the 1960s and ’70s—her Polaroids, audiotapes, and journals—recall much of early Conceptualism’s documentarian impulses, but include an acidity and dark wit that is entirely her own.

I GOT INTO POLAROIDS even before Andy got into them because of some pictures I saw in Vogue in the early ‘60s by Marie Cosindas. She was one of the first photographers to use Polaroids seriously. I wanted to take pictures like hers.

I used a Polaroid Electronic 360 camera with a diffuser and different lenses. The double-exposure works happened when I would take pictures of the Empire State Building from a plane at night leaving New York, on my way to Paris. I’d take just one shot, and I’d frame it in the right, and then when I got to Paris, I’d photograph the Eiffel Tower, but frame it in the left, and I’d leave the picture in the camera for both shots. I just loved that camera. And I was so hooked on buying the film!

A lot of the trip books I made in the 1960s were sold when I had a show with John McWhinnie in 2006. Very few people had actually seen the Cock Book—a book filled with pictures of cocks made by a wide range of artists, celebrities, and personalities, like Taylor Mead, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Leonard Cohen, Larry Rivers, and Peter Beard. For the longest time it was this mythical object that most people had really only heard of. When I used to go out late at night, I’d carry it around with me, and once in a while I would give it to somebody to do a drawing in. But I never really liked that, because most of the time I’d be absolutely stoned and doing things in it myself. It became so full I couldn’t even hold it anymore—it was huge. When I showed it at the Gramercy Hotel International Art Fair in 1995 it was in a vitrine, and Lou Reed came to see it, and then Brice Marden came to spend some time with it too. Richard Prince ended up buying the Cock Book, along with the Cock Book for Poets, and the one for Germans. They’re all in his collection, but the Cock Book is the centerpiece.

I’ve also been working for a couple of years now with somebody in my apartment building to digitize all of my audiotapes—and frankly, I don’t even really know what “digitizing” means. I have a lot of them, and when I made them, they were all catalogued, so I know what’s on every single tape. They’re in perfect condition, too! But I get into terrible bad moods when I listen to them, they’re so incredibly intense. At one point I just wanted to throw them all out, put them on the sidewalk. I just can’t listen to them anymore.

They capture an era of New York art culture from the late ’60s to the early ’70s. Of course, there are lots of recorded conversations with Andy, but there are also conversations with Larry Poons, John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg, and so many other people and characters from that time. And I had access to all these people because I was a peer, I was considered one of them. I was never a groupie.

Here’s something really funny: My very close friend Robert Vaczy, the audio engineer who’s working on digitizing my tapes, was waiting for me when I got out of my recent back surgery, which lasted about six and a half hours. He was right there when I came out of the operation, and I must’ve been stoned on morphine, but he said the first thing I started talking about, lying on the stretcher, was my filing system. Filing is an art. And cleaning is the best kind of art. But to call me an artist is ridiculous.