Today isn’t the first time that the NYPD has had to worry about the safety of a visiting Pope. Almost exactly 50 years ago to the day, another Pope was visiting New York and a strange sight set the cops racing to investigate. Some kind of silver flying saucer – or flying sausage, really – about 25 feet long, was floating away from the roof of an old hat factory on 47th St. near Third Avenue, no doubt with evil designs on His Holiness.
Andy Warhol threatens Pope at the factory, where him and his crew hung out; the helium-filled UFO was Warhol’s first work of kinetic art, intended to replace the Pop paintings he’d been showing for all of three years and was already tired of. (Warhol was one of the first people to realize that painting had really and truly died – which is a fact his hundreds of subsequent canvases always kept brilliantly in sight.)
Warhol had gathered a crowd of acolytes on the Factory roof to watch the launch – literally – of his latest work, and Billy Name, the studio’s majordomo, was there to snap today’s Daily Pic. (The shot is in his recent book called The Silver Age, put out by Reel Art Press.)
The painter Harold Stevenson was also there to lend a hand … that wasn’t quite strong enough: “Somehow I let the balloon escape and the police were called in and all hell broke out, because they thought that we were trying to endanger the life of the pope.”
Warhol, for his part, was ecstatic to see his new and greatest “painting” flying off into the ether: “Oh, it’s beautiful. It really is. It’s infinite, because it goes in with the sky. Oh, it’s fantastic. This is one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me.” (Click on my image to see a clip of this moment.)
As a practicing Byzantine Catholic, Warhol was a loyal follower of the Pope. Rather than harboring any ill will toward Paul VI, Warhol might have been extra pleased to imagine him witnessing the glory of an art of the infinite.
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