Fall 2001

Warhol’s Dream

Saul Anton

12 February 1972
I had slept badly. I decided to go out for breakfast, but when I got down to the street, there was no one there, and I thought, Andy, you must be still dreaming. It was like New York at eight in the morning on New Year's Day. Completely deserted. Everything shut. It's my favorite time to be out, actually. I decided to go to my favorite diner, the Star Palace, on 37th and Madison. And there, sitting alone at the window was, believe it or not, Robert Smithson, who I've met a few times. He comes by sometimes, but I think he's pretty shy, so I've never really spoken to him all that much before. That Spiral thing he did out west is great, though, everyone says. I've seen the pictures and I agree. For that alone, they should put him on the cover of Time or some magazine like that. They all think he's a genius. But I still can't get through the stuff he writes in Artforum. I get a headache almost right away.

Anyway, I walk in and he's sitting there smoking and drinking Lipton and he asks me what I think we should do, like he's been waiting for me all along. "How about going up the Empire State?" he says, and I thought that was pretty terrific.

The strangest thing about this dream is that I remember the conversation like I had recorded it, but I hadn't. What's weirder is that he seemed to be there waiting for me, and I knew he'd be there. We didn't even bother saying hello or any of that. It was as if we just picked up the conversation from where we'd left off:


Andy: This is my favorite stretch on Fifth Avenue. On weekends, it's so deserted. The rug stores have those giant silk carpets in the windows, and they're beautiful. It's like being in a museum, and you don't even have to pay for admission.

Bob: I like the windows. They're so big. I can imagine you doing rug paintings.

A: Actually, I've thought about it, but I'm not sure. If I started to paint them, they'd become work. That's already ruined more than a few friendships. Then what would I look at when I'm walking down Fifth?

B: You could make them really big.

A: Yeah, but then who could afford those? If I wanted something like that, I'd probably just buy the rug. It'd be cheaper than the painting, which you can't even walk on.

B: Can we walk around the building before we go up?

Bob puts on these shades, you know the ones he wore in the film, The Spiral Jetty. All the kids at the Factory went out and bought shades just like those. He looked pretty cool, I'll give him that.

A: Around the whole block. Why? Doesn't it look the same from all sides?

B: Not at all. There's only one sun in the sky, and it can only be in one place at one time. That creates imbalance.

A: Oh yeah. I know all about your thing with the sun, Bob. I saw your movie.

B: There's no such thing as symmetry. We try to create that, but the universe is not symmetrical.

A: It's lopsided.

B: It's gyrostatic.

A: Yeah, well… I can't wait to go up to the observation deck. I hear it's a good place to make out on a really rainy day.

B: The Empire State is the only place in New York where you are actually taken out of the urban desert. It's a doorway to another kind of existence.

A: Obviously. But now there are those Twin Towers down by Wall Street. But the Empire State is still New York to me. If it were up to me I would have built another Empire State building just like this one, instead of them. If I were in charge of the Empire State, I wouldn't want it to be forgotten, like the Woolworth building was, when it suddenly wasn't the tallest building. I'd want to have another one.

B: Well, two buildings still have the same problem as one. It lives in the mind, where people imagine going up a thousand times before they actually do, and when they get there, it's not even close to what they imagined.

A: That's what I love about stars. You imagine them in your mind a million times, and then you meet them, and after five minutes, they're picking their nose right in front of you.

B: The Empire State is like that in a way. It's all pretty and nice when you're walking down Eighth Avenue, and you look up and see it on the left, or you're downtown and you see it uptown on the right, always in your field of vision, always telling you exactly where you are. It's like a clock, only instead of telling time, it tells space and size. That's where the landscape begins to define you instead of the other way around. That building isn't just a monument. It is a rupture in the fabric of time.

A: The twin towers are pretty nice, too, now that I think about it. I mean, there's two of them, and two is always better than one, I always say.

B: Just because there are two of the same doesn't mean they're the same at all. There, where we see two identical buildings lies the beginning of the end of the old physics.

A: I would love to have a twin. It would make things so much easier. You could send one out to go to all the things you can't be bothered with showing up at but have to, you know, because you promised so-and-so, and the other could stay home and watch TV. The two of you could share the work of one life and, in fact, you'd get twice the amount of life, since you'd have all that time to stay home.

B: I wonder what it's like to go up to the Twin Towers. I'm thinking I'd be up there and I am seeing the world from the point of view of a new species. I could see Brooklyn, the Empire State, Queens, and the Hudson River all at once. I'd stand and turn in place and all these things would become part of my panoramic view, the moment that those places entered my consciousness not as distinct, disparate places, but as one unified picture. When you can have that, the entire history of art begins to melt into a diaphanous hallucination. The history of style comes to an end, and there's nothing that art history can do about that.

A: Now there, I'll put my two cents in. The world will end before style does.

B: It's only once you're up there that you can begin to experience the contraction of the earth around you. At that point, our century becomes like a whole millennium all its own. Our eyes see what it took hundreds of years for humans to chart.

A: All on the observation deck? Wow. And meanwhile, they're selling hot dogs.

B: It's only when you look over to the next building that the whole thing is completely dematerialized. There's someone standing on the observation deck of the other tower looking at you from the next building. So there you are, looking at each other, the two of you, through those big binoculars they have, instead of looking at the streets, or looking for your own building down there in the city. You're looking at this guy who's looking at you, and he's so close, right there, as if he's standing in front of you. And suddenly, you feel like a dumb tourist because you can see your own stupid look on the face of the other guy. That's when you begin to realize that the architect has no control over what he's built. It may or may not be a prime object, a unique place, but what's confusing is that everyone else gets to have it, too.

A: I think that's terrific. Everyone gets to experience it.

B: I mean, there's no way he could have imagined that experience of two men looking at each other from across two of the same buildings—how disturbing that might be. His intention was probably to make you feel like a god looking out upon the world, but instead, you're looking over at this guy who's looking at you. It's then that you are really looking out into the crystalline void in the heart of reality. That's when you see that not only are you looking out on the urban desert, on a new Mezolithic period, but that the desert is only one side of a winding spiral of time. And the whole time, all you thought you were getting was a nice view, something picturesque.

A: I wouldn't feel like an idiot. I would wave and say hi.

B: But you're still floating up above the world, where the form just escapes all that talk about function. I mean, what is the function of these two monsters? These are better than the pyramids and the ziggurats combined! And they're even prime numbers.

A: Huh?

B: A prime is a number that relates only to itself and to one. It is a singular thing. The Egyptians were fascinated by it. The pyramids are, it turns out, kind of like prime numbers. They're prime objects, units of measurement.

A: If I had to make the Empire State Building over, maybe I'd choose the Twin Towers instead. What bothers me is the idea that every building has to be different. Why can't they just find the best kind of building and once they do, make it all over the place. The projects are kind of nice that way, except that the buildings aren't very nice. Brownstones are nice like that, but everyone knows they're just projects from a different time.

B: They're all parts of this giant hive. Lewitt likes the grid, but to me, that's all about abstractions, pure conceptual geometries. New York, though, isn't about that. It's about the hive. Except up here. From up here, you'd never think that there was any life down there at all.

A: I somehow knew you'd say something like that.

B: And if you go up the Twin Towers, you're thinking, okay, I'm finally going to get a bird's eye view of this place, looking down on it, and you look over and there's another guy thinking he's god too.

A: It must be pretty deflating. Like there were suddenly two of everything: two Empire States, two Fifth Avenues, two Broadways. They could just build New York all over again, right across the river. Then, if you want to go somewhere and it's too crowded, you just take a cab and go to the other one. That's almost as good as having a twin. Or you could have both, a twin and a twin city, and the two of you could go to two of the same things. And there would be no chance that you'd mill in the same circles. And then you come home and you could compare notes. You'd never be lonely again…Do you want to go up now?

Bob stopped and looked up, looked around, then he looked at me. He looked like one of those old-time Hollywood movie stars. You know, the ones who squinted when they were supposed to be acting. He looked at me and squinted, and I thought, that's pretty good, Bob. You'd be a pretty good actor, and I made a note to myself to see what I could come up with for him.

B: Before we do, I've got a confession.

A: Ah, I wish I'd brought my tape recorder.

B: I've never been up there before. And I'm not sure if I can go.

A: But it was your idea! Oh, I think I'm starting to understand. This is what you mean when you wrote "The arduous thoughts of the Empire State fill one with thoughts of extinguishments and vertigo."

B: Not exactly. It's just that I have problems with elevators.

A: Well, I'm not going to walk up, Bob.

B: It's like stepping into a time machine.

A: But I thought you flew around in helicopters and small planes all the time.

B; That's different.

It took a minute, but I finally got Smithson into the elevator. I just stood there, waiting for him, why I don't know. If it were anyone else, I would have just pressed that "close door" button and gone up. But everything was strange today, and I somehow knew that he would just get in and I was calm about it.

A : Just think you're not in an elevator but in a really small apartment. You're in the bathroom, but they've ripped the sink and the shower out. And it's in an awful building where they didn't give it any windows, either. And there's no TV.

B: All I can think of is tombs and death and the pyramids.

A: And Stonehenge.

B: No, not Stonehenge. That's different.

A: I thought you liked this sort of thing.

This is when we arrived on the observation deck, and there was a beautiful breeze, and it was like we were standing on the mast of this immense ship called Manhattan. Isn't that what it sometimes feels like: a ship, except that it's going nowhere.

A: This is better than the ziggurats and the pyramids put together.

B: I just said that! From here, we're seeing the world after art—art without art.

A: There you go. You're obviously feeling better. Look, there's the Pan Am building. I hear that Henry Kissinger likes to take helicopters from there. A lot of other people, too. Henry Geldzahler said he did it once and it made him sick.

B: Andy, take a look around you. Don't you think this is better than any superstar?

A: Seriously? Well, it's not beautiful like a Titian or Liz Taylor. It's beautiful like a Coke, like TV. Every city should have an Empire State, I think. But they should all be exactly the same. Otherwise, it would just be so competitive and childish.

B: When a civilization builds one of these, art is just nostalgia.

A: All I know is that I would love to have another Spiral Jetty. You could put one out there just below the 72nd Street boat basin. You could even have a few of them running all along the west side. I don't think they do much with those piers anymore, do they? And I could have one at the beach house in Montauk. That would be fabulous. We can get Paul Morrissey to film it.

B: The Empire State is part of the jetty, too.

A: Huh?

B: The Spiral is time.

A: Time? Well I know all about time, my friend. I try to think of what time is and all I can think is… "Time is time was."

B: That's what I mean. The spiral: Time is time was. Otherwise it'd be a line. The Empire State, despite what it looks like, isn't a straight line. It's a built metaphor for time because on this scale, it no longer functions like a normal building. It's the same thing I tried to deal with when I did the Airport terminal project in ‘67. As an aircraft ascends into higher and higher altitudes, it's meaning as an object changes —one could even say reverses. The value of the object changes as it rises higher in the sky. It's no longer a building trying to add space. It transcends the rational registers of standard meanings. This observation deck is the space where this building ceases to be a building and becomes an instant of time.

A: At least it isn't a tool shed.

B: The thing about being up here, Andy, is that it's not at all like looking at your portraits.

A: I'd say.

B: Being in the spiral, the world becomes a film. We pull ourselves up, floor by floor, so that everything can be this view outside our window, even though what we really want is to be able to rub shoulders and mix and talk and the rest of it.

A: Well, no secret about that.

B: It's the view that determines what an apartment is worth. People will live in a miserable cramped little closet so that they can get the right view. But then, they get their view, and they lose their sense of where they fit in. In the view, they're left out, and so they start climbing, thinking that there's more above them. We think we need a better view so we try to climb higher.

A: Well, that's because the view is better, wouldn't you say? Does anyone really want to live with that deli in their window their whole life. Every time they look out, that same guy is standing in front of the deli looking around with nothing to do. But I know what you mean. I never like living on high floors. That's where I keep all the shopping.

B: That place from where we'd get this amazing view, that place doesn't exist. It's like a science fiction story.

A: But what a sight this city is, huh? I could just put a camera up and let the sun roll across the sky if they hadn't done it a thousand times already. It's such a cliché, but that's why it's a cliché, I guess. It's just true.

B: What do you think an art historian would say about that? They'd say it was a style in the period of so-and-so imitating the style of so-and-so, but the infinities that make up this space, they can never turn that into a history.

A: I'm thinking, we could put Edie up here to do a show, and it could be spectacular.

B: Michael Fried would say that's authentic.

A: Edie?

B: No, the view.

A: She'd be fantastic, beautiful, and completely sultry, you know, in that way she can do. Nothing authentic about that.

B: I think I'm ready to leave.

A: Thank goodness. Are you going to be okay in the elevator?

B: I'll just have to close my eyes and pretend I'm in a small apartment and imagine a big place.

A: That's a great idea.

B: Are we down yet?

A: I'll tell you when we get there.

B: Okay. Good.

The excerpt reproduced here is from a larger work-in-progress.
Saul Anton is an editor at Cabinet.