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MARGARITA NIETO


It happened on a shimmering L.A. summer night. At the entrance to the long defunct Stella Polaris Gallery an enormous crowd had gathered expectantly, while inside a Northern Star’s image, Ingrid Bergman’s to be exact, filled the walls, as if in celebration of her departed presence. There were image after image of Bergman in all colors of the spectrum. The crowd buzzed restlessly, small groups entered and exited the gallery, excitedly gathering again in small groups and then moving back toward the entrance. The huge dark, silent warehouses clustered around the gallery seemed to loom like silent sentinels hovering over the activity in the brilliant pool of light, in the midst of the darkness.

At about 8:30pm a car from the past, a cream-colored vintage touring car pulled up to the door. The crowd grew silent. Out stepped. . .no, flowed a slight man with a mop of the whitest artificial hair possible, and a white mask-like face. It was difficult to see if the mask was really his face, or simply an artifice so carefully conceived that it had become real. He was followed by a female vampire, a woman with legs, arms and face beyond white, her eyes heavily lined and shadowed, her hair dark and straight as the night around her. She wore red. Alongside her walked a slim youngish man, almond-skinned with an Afro, dressed impeccably in a black smoking jacket and white turtleneck. The fourth passenger was a man, and unforgettably nondescript.

They entered and strode around the gallery, seemingly unaware of anyone else, but followed by the crowd which, intuitively and as if forewarned, kept a respectful distance.

Then, suddenly, almost abruptly, the being with the shock of white hair turned and walked toward the gallery director. On cue, the attending luminaries walked up to them. Now this group began the walk around the gallery together, the gallery director addressing the being, who hardly spoke, barely nodding in response. Curiously, the crowd left a wide circle as if held back by invisible barriers.

Suddenly, they were by my side and turning slightly toward me, the director motioned for me to join them. I looked fully into the face of the being and had the fleeting thought that he was dead, that he was not real. Even as the thought went through my mind, I heard the director say, “I’d like to introduce you to Andy Warhol.” And wonderously, the mask came to life smiling at me and addressing me in the most civil manner possible.

I uttered banalities and asked him if I might interview him during his stay in Los Angeles. “No,” he said. “I’m leaving tomorrow, I won’t have time. But come to New York and I’ll be glad to talk to you. But do come. I mean it. Meantime,” he continued. “Why don’t you interview my friend, Jean Michel Basquiat. He’s the most gifted young artist of our time and he’s spending the summer here.” The tall slim young man suddenly appeared and his side and bowed arrogantly. “I’m staying in Venice. Give me a call.”

I thanked him, walked away into the starry night, sensing that somehow, just as Warhol had captured Bergman’s image for immortality, I too had briefly caught a glimpse of a glossy image come to life. Warhol was charming, gracious and in those few minutes, I had been confronted with his intelligence and awareness.

But things happened and I kept putting off the trip to New York. Until unexpectedly, he was gone.
He taught me a lesson. That there is no time. That when the artist, or the event opens the door, you go through it quickly. Grab the interview, the moment, the chance. It may never come again.