Andy Warhol's 'famous for 15 minutes' quote may not be his, experts believe
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Andy Warhol’s famous quote predicted fame’s fleeting nature in our celebrity-saturated culture.
But the Pop Artist, who built a fortune by mass-producing other people’s creations, may never have actually said those words it has emerged.
The original aphorism has been traced back to a 1968 brochure Warhol distributed at one of his exhibitions in Sweden.
However after investigating the statement’s history, art critic Blake Gopnik believes Warhol was not its originator, even though he became firmly associated with the quip.
Gopnik discovered that the Stockholm show’s creator Pontus Hulten included the quote in the catalogue’s compendium of Warhol quotes.
“If he didn’t say it, he very well could have. Let’s put it in,” Hulten told an assistant, Gopnik reports on the Warholiana blog.
The painter Philip Pearlstein, who was at art school with Warhol, tells Gopnik that Warhol had initially embroidered a comment that he had made in 1946.
Warhol, still in his teens, asked Pearlstein how it felt to be the “famous” winner of the 1941 Scholastic Magazine National Art Contest for high-school students. Pearlstein recalled: “My spontaneous answer was, ‘It only lasted five minutes’.”
But photographer Nat Finkelstein claimed that he was the source. During a 1965 outdoor photo-shoot with Warhol, some bystanders tried to push into the shot.
“Andy’s looking at them and he says to me, ‘Gee whiz, Nat, everybody wants to be famous’… I say back, ‘Yeah, for about 15 minutes, Andy’. He took that line,” Finkelstein claimed, although the photographer’s story changed after he previously attributed the crack to Warhol.
The quote first appeared in print in 1967. A Warhol insider, Larry Rivers, described an art world in which “everybody will be famous” in a book about the contemporary scene.
In October 1967, Time magazine reported: “Whole new schools of painting seem to charge through the art scene with the speed of an express train, causing Pop artist Andy Warhol to predict the day ‘when everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.’ ”
The 1968 Stockholm catalogue followed and the expression’s wider currency was assured when it was inscribed into wall text at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1970.
Gopnik quotes an obscure US cable TV interview with Warhol where he is asked to confirm that he once admitted that the by then widespread phrase was not his. “No I was just being funny. I said every 15 minutes someone will be famous or every 15 people will be famous in every 15 minutes or…” Warhol replied.
Gopnik argues that it was in keeping with Warhol’s artistic method to muddy the waters over an expression he had probably not originated.
“Warhol, the world’s greatest sponge, would hardly have proclaimed that he hadn’t coined his trademark aphorism. Warhol’s art and persona were all about the rewards of his sponging.”
Warhol rejected notions of “originality” in his art. He employed assistants who produced multiple versions of his silk-screens and embraced consumerism, reproducing images of soup cans and Hollywood celebrities.
The “15 minutes” phrase may now join the pantheon of misattributed quotes alongside “let them eat cake”, which there is no record of Marie Antoinette ever saying and “not a lot of people know that” - Sir Michael Caine never said it but Peter Sellers did when impersonating the actor.
Who didn't say that? Misattributed quotes
“Let them eat cake”: There is no record of Marie Antoinette ever saying this. May have originated with Marie-Thérèse, Louis XIV's wife, and referenced in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's autobiography.
“Not a lot of people know that”: Sir Michael Caine never said his “catchprase”. Fellow star Peter Sellers did when impersonating the actor, to Caine’s eternal frustration.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil that good men do nothing”: Attributed by JFK among others to Irish statesman Edmund Burke, the phrase is not found in his speeches or writings.
“Elementary, my dear Watson”: Never uttered by Sherlock Holmes to his companion in the Conan Doyle stories, the phrase was used in P.G. Wodehouse’s “Psmith Journalist”.
“Nice guys finish last”: Baseball player Leo Durocher actually said nice guys finish in “seventh place” but a quick-witted newspaper journalist improved his original quote.
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