The whole thing started in high school art history class. I learned that Andy Warhol had immigrated from Poland as a child with his family, and that the family name was actually ‘Warhola’. I couldn’t stop thinking about that discarded “a”…what did he do with it? where did he put it? what were his plans for it?
A couple of years went by, and I periodically would throw an “a” at the end of my name when signing my work. When people asked about it, I explained that it was Warhol’s discarded “a”, but I knew it was just a sham, a fake, a mere representation, a charade.
At the Art Institute, during our freshman year, we were given an assignment to choose a particular artist to concentrate on for the next few projects. Actually, I had chosen Rauschenburg, but that’s another story. As a side project, inspired by the class assignments, I began to get the idea of obtaining permission to use the actual unemployed letter itself.
It didn’t take too much detective work to find out that Leo Castelli was Warhol’s dealer, and it was just as easy to get the address and phone number of Mr. Castelli’s office. So, I sat down and wrote a brief letter introducing myself and outlining the proposal of obtaining Warhol’s “a”.
A week or two went by, and I hadn’t heard anything. Geez. I had put my phone number and my return address on the letter…I wondered what the hold up was. I suppose it had something to do with being a brash young turk of an art student, or perhaps it was my rural naivety, but I felt no intimidation whatsoever in calling Mr. Castelli myself and finding out if he had received my letter, and what his thoughts were regarding my proposal.
At the time, I thought very little of the fact that I was able to pick up the phone, dial the number for the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, introduce myself, ask for Leo Castelli and actually be put right through to him. I can’t say that I was that suprised at the time that he knew exactly who I was when he picked up the line to speak to me.
He explained that they had indeed received the letter, and that they had been discussing it off and on since its arrival. He thought it was a great idea, was sure “Andy” would go for it, and would mention it the next time they spoke. I thanked him, made sure he knew how to contact me, and hung up. It wasn’t until I told the story to one of my professors that it struck me with whom it was I had just engaged in casual conversation. The prof was very impressed with this fact alone. I, on the other hand, still had a ways to go.
Another week or so went by with no word from the East. I decided to call Mr. Castelli again to check the status. He wasn’t available, and I was put through to one of his many assistants. From this point on, whenever I called, I always spoke to his assistant, and never again to Mr. Castelli himself.
As time passed, I grew more and more anxious, and I guess the assistant could detect my earnestness. He finally got permission from Mr. Castelli to give me the phone number to The Factory, Warhol’s studio. I thanked him profusely, and proceeded to call The Factory.
Call after call after call…day after day after day…before class, between classes, after class. “No, he’s not here now”…”no, he just left”…”no, he won’t be in today”…”no, he should be in later”…these are the types of responses I got for the next two or three weeks of calling The Factory.
Finally, one morning, I was running late for class, and I thought I might as well give it another shot…he won’t be there anyway. I called the number, and asked the person on the other end if I could speak to Andy. The voice said, “Hold on.” I expected another absentee report, but the voice came back and said, “he’s coming.”
My heart began to race. I couldn’t believe it. I forgot about being late for class. I forgot what it was I was going to say. I nearly forgot my name.
When Warhol picked up the phone, my voice crackled, “Hello, Mr. Warhol? My name is Chris Kim, and I’m a student at the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City.”
“Yes…” I was already afraid he was thinking that I was a complete idiot…
“Uh, I had sent a letter to Leo Castelli a few weeks ago…has he mentioned it to you?”
“Well, I, um, I had found out a while back that your name used to be Warhola, that your family name is actually Warhola.”
“Well, uh, I was wondering…well, what I proposed in my letter was…um, what I mean, Mr. Warhol, is…what I was wondering…you know the “a” that you dropped from your name?…if you’re not doing anything with it…I mean, if you’re not using it, I was wondering if I could have it?”
“Sure, you can have it.”
And that was it. The next few moments were filled with my gushing various mutations of “thank you Mr. Warhol”. The whole exchange took less than 90 seconds. Maybe even less. The important thing now was, that I could use the “a” without the slightest compunction. Since it was now mine, I decided to dress it up a bit and capitalize it…but I always make sure that it stands out on it’s own, in its own space, right there, proudly at the end of my name.