Although I have a copy of Warhol’s (in)famous Diaries for years already – including the two unofficial indexes of celebrity namedropping published by the magazines Spy and Face – I decided to also purchase a Kindle version. At a low price of $3.60, how can one resist the temptation? A great perk of the digital version, is that you can perform an instant search not just on celebrity names, but on any topic you want. So obviously I was very curious about what Warhol had to say about “album covers” or “record covers”. Not that much it seems, unfortunately, but one entry was really interesting:
“Wednesday, April 8, 1981 – Vienna
(…) Then we had to meet a kid named André Heller who has gold records and he owns all these paintings and wants me to do a drawing for his album cover. He was taking us down underground to show us dead people who’re petrified and they’re all in their eighteenth-century clothes. Fred said it might be a good idea to go, that maybe we’d get ideas there. So we met him and he gave us about twenty boxes of candy. Then we went down into the catacombs and we had to oooh and ahh at all the dead bodies, and it was really cold down there and he’d made us leave our candy behind and we didn’t want to do that but we did, and this place was just hateful. I hated it a lot. Fred loved it.” (Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett. The Andy Warhol Diaries (p. 379). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.)
The ‘kid’ André Heller is an Austrian poet and chansonnier who has published numerous books and albums in German (or in Viennese dialect). Worldwide he is known for his productions of large theatre projects and events, and the creation of botanical gardens filled with fantasy landscaping and works of art, in Italy and Morocco. He also was the man behind the brilliant Luna Luna art “fairground”, in 1987 in Hamburg, with carrousels and pavillions designed by Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Sonia Delaunay, Joseph Beuys and many many others.
ACT 1: DIE SPRACHE DER SALAMANDER (1981)
So, what was the deal with this “album cover”? I already knew about Heller’s 1983 album Stimmenhören, but the cover art is by painter Christian Attersee. Inside of the gatefold cover is an 8 page booklet, and halfway in that booklet is a very tiny reproduction (about 8 or 9 cm high) of a portrait drawing Warhol had made of Heller. For years sellers on eBay try to sell this as a “Warhol cover”.
I found it hard to believe this is what the Warhol portrait commission was meant for, so I started to dig a little deeper. It seems that at first the portrait drawing wasn’t used on an LP cover at all, but on the cover of a book: in 1981 André Heller published a ten year compilation of his song lyrics with the name Die Sprache Der Salamander. (The Language of the Salamander). So this little book definitely has to be included in any list of commissioned Andy Warhol book cover art.
ACT 2: VIENNA WARHOL VIENNA (2005)
In 2005 André Heller shares his memories of the 1981 meeting with Warhol in the book Vienna Warhol Vienna, quite vividly and with a lot of humor. During the visit Warhol was accompanied by his businessmanager Fred Hughes, and by Factory photographer Chris Makos. The photos in the book though, are by Gabriela Brandenstein.
On a cloudy day, the company toured the historic centre of Vienna. At the famous cakeshop Demel, Warhol told journalists (the book is in German, freely translated and summarized by me): “I am in Vienna to make pictures and to prepare some portraits. André guides me through his city, as I have shown him my New York some years ago. Andy and André, wouldn’t that be a great title for an operetta…”
To Warhol the visit of Demel was a highlight. They ordered ten or eleven varieties of cake and pastries, and Eiskaffee. “I hope we won’t be sick afterwards”, Warhol said. Heller replied: “I have always thought that you kind of look a bit sick”, after which Fred Hughes as a polite warning (or reprimand) gave Heller a kick with the foot under the table.
Another funny anecdote is when Fred Hughes tells Heller: “We are planning to have a fastfood restaurant in New York called Habsburger. We would buy hamburgers at McDonald’s across the street and sell them at our fancy place for triple the price, to the snobs…”
Last stop of the visit are the catacombs beneath the Michaelskirche (Church of Saint Michael). Heller writes that Warhol seemed very interested, spent a long time in the catacombs, looked at the skulls and graves in detail, gave tips to Gabriela Brandenstein what to shoot, and took a lot of pictures himself. Heller then says he obviously was very surprised, years later, when he read in Warhol’s Diaries that he supposedly hated the place…
ACT 3: SPÄTES LEUCHTEN (2019)
In November 2019 André Heller added a new chapter to this story of Warhol cover art. He issued a double album with brand new songs titled Spätes Leuchten (Late Glow). The left panel inside the gatefold of the LP cover, shows a different portrait drawing, but obviously from the same session as the 1981 portrait. This portrait was a collaboration with Keith Haring, who added clownesk features to Heller’s face. Both artists’ signatures are present. Keith Haring was one of the participants of Heller’s circus- or fairgroundlike art project Luna Luna, which might explain the clown theme.