Brigid Berlin, American artist and ex-socialite known as a member of Andy Warhol’s entourage, has died aged 80. Having met Warhol in 1964, Berlin left her high society debutante life behind to become a regular part of the artist’s entourage and, according to various sources, one of Warhol’s closest friends and confidantes.
Berlin was known for her dedicated documentation of life at The Factory via tape recordings and Polaroid photographs, the latter a medium introduced to her by Warhol, which later were considered a major part of her artistic output when they were compiled and published in the book Brigid Berlin: Polaroids by Reel Art Press in 2015.
When she joined The Factory and moved into quarters at Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan, Berlin adopted the name ‘Brigid Polk’ in reference to her frequent administrations of amphetamine injections – known as ‘pokes’ – to herself and her friends, a habit that finds its history in her childhood when her mother (also a socialite), who was constantly worried about Berlin’s weight, sent her to Dr Max Jacobson (the Kennedy family physician known as ‘Dr Feelgood’) who treated her with amphetamines.
Berlin was known for her rebellious attitude and in his foreword to Brigid Berlin: Polaroids, American filmmaker John Waters described her as ‘old money combined with danger’ and ‘my favorite underground movie star; big, often naked and ornery as hell.’
Alongside her recordings, Berlin’s most infamous works include several series she began in the 1960s including Tit Prints, which she made between 1966–96 by dipping her breasts in paint and pressing them against canvases; her performance series Brigid Polk Strikes! Her Satanic Majesty in Person during which she would call a selection of people and amplify their conversation for an audience to listen in on; ‘trip books’ that were diaries/scrapbooks filled with drawings, clippings, photos, collages, and other ephemera she made while high on amphetamines.
And then there was the ‘Cock Book’, which began as a plain notebook in which Berlin would ask artists (including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Peter Beard, Basquiat, Leonard Cohen, Victor Hugo and others) to draw their penises. She made several volumes of these, which later included Polaroids and prints. Richard Prince bought three volumes at auction for $175, 000. Berlin also made appearances in several of Warhol’s films including Chelsea Girls (1966), Women in Revolt (1971) and Ciao! Manhattan (1972), which starred Edie Sedgwick. Decades later, Waters cast her in small roles in Serial Mom (1994) and Pecker (1998).
From the mid-1980s Berlin began to imitate her mother, dressing like her and keeping two pugs, and in her later years described herself as a recluse; according to the New York Times, the post-conceptual artist Richard Dupont, who lived with her in the mid-2000s, ‘remembered her rarely leaving the apartment except to buy yarn’. She preferred to ‘go out’ via the telephone. In an interview, Berlin’s brother and only surviving immediate relative Richard Berlin said ‘Brigid was a force and liked to fight… She was complicated, but she was a hell of a lot of fun.’