‘I don’t know what I think,’ says Lenny Henry, echoing what many of us who were listening were probably also puzzling over. ‘Part of me thinks it’s art by the sheer fact that an artist has decided that something like this should happen for the amusement and intrigue of his fans…’
Henry was at the museum in Pittsburgh dedicated to the life and work of Andy Warhol. Among the collection, now displayed on seven floors of an old warehouse converted into a glittering catacomb of Sixties and Seventies style, are 610 boxes, dated and sealed by Warhol and designated by him as ‘time capsules’. These, though, are not the kind of tin box buried by Blue Peter fans in the grounds of the BBC TV Centre at White City, which were filled with carefully selected objects of the day, deemed to be useful and tastefully representative.
Warhol’s boxes contain anything from a tin of toenail clippings to unused condoms and previously unseen paintings now worth millions of pounds. When the last unopened box was put up for auction it raised £30,000. Thirty thousand pounds just for the chance to open a box that would probably turn out to be full of old supermarket receipts! It makes Tracey Emin’s unmade bed look cheap.
In Andy Warhol: Time Regained on Thursday (Radio 4, produced by Simon Elmes) Henry took us to the museum on the day when thousands of Warhol fans queued up to look at the objects unearthed from the last but one box and laid out on three long tables. ‘It reminds me of a funeral,’ he told us, ‘like people walking past an open coffin.’ But what were they looking at? The detritus of Warhol’s life.
Warhol also kept a diary, religiously, every day, recording every detail from the cost of a cab fare to a conversation with Diana Vreeland. The time capsules are like a continuous diary, too, but in three dimensions, says Tim Marlow, the art historian, trying to persuade us of their value. We also heard from Warhol himself, in recordings of interviews during which he was asked some pretty banal questions.
‘Does the idea of being famous matter to you?’
‘I just like to work…’ says Warhol, deadpan, giving nothing away.
‘Do you think you’ve changed very much since you became an artist?’
‘No. I’m just the same person,’ he says, equally flat, unshaded, no nuance.
Warhol came across as so much wiser than his interviewers. And the boxes, though probably a bit mad, reflect with uncomfortable accuracy how we live now, stuffed with clutter and objects deliberately designed to die out imminently. One box had an envelope of used postage stamps, revealing an unusually down-to-earth side to Warhol. Whenever he received a letter, he would tear off a corner of the envelope, keeping the stamp and stuffing it into an envelope — just like everyone else who lived through the war years. (Warhol, it’s often hard to remember, was born in 1928.)
You may have heard a couple of years ago Geoffrey Palmer glugging about as a hermit crab at the bottom of a rock pool, moaning about his poolmate the sea anemone and her thumping dance music. The clever, laugh-aloud Tidal Talk from the Rock Pool was written by Lynne Truss, who’s now turned her attention to the garden pond, giving us the lowdown on life beneath the lily pads. In Gossip from the Garden Pond on Sunday night (Radio 4), Julian Rhind Tutt became the tadpole, a grumpy teenager, unwilling to grow up and turn into a frog.
‘Why do they give us gills if they’ve had a better idea all along?’ he complains, not wanting to lose his tail. He likes being a tadpole and wiggling about the pool, even if it means he’s vulnerable to predation from just about everything else except the glamorous dragonfly, who turns out to be none other than Alison Steadman, gloriously spoofing the sex-mad insect whose lifespan is longer than 15 minutes but less than a fortnight.
Truss has such an eye for detail, teasing out the human characteristics that might inhabit a tadpole’s form or a pond snail or diving beetle. It’s just a shame the monologues were recorded in front of a studio audience so that every time Rhind Tutt wiggled or Steadman swooned we got canned laughter. It would have been so much funnier done straight to mike with just the pondwater gurgling away in the background (recorded by Chris Watson).
Just room for a word or two about last Friday’s night shocking events in Ambridge. An entire episode devoted to nasty Rob (what a creep!) and duped Helen (will she ever wake up?). I don’t remember that ever happening before on The Archers. A whole episode on just one storyline. It built up the impact, giving us a gripping, stop-everything-and-listen 13 and a half minutes, but it turned the soap into a drama, which is something quite different. And what a drama. Ex-wife Jess turning up on perfect, priggish Helen’s doorstep obviously pregnant. I’m still reeling.