Dorothy Podber, Artist and Trickster, Dead at 75

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Editor’s note: Ray Johnson, mentioned below a colleague and co-conspirator of Dorothy Podber’s, is the subject of a wonderful documentary by John W. Walker called How To Draw a Bunny (2002). It’s well worth viewing for those interested in performance art and the art world in general between the 40’s and 90’s.

Dorothy Podber, 75, Artist and Trickster, Is Dead
by Randy Kennedy
New York Times
February 19, 2008

Dorothy Podber, by Joy Bergman, 2007Dorothy Podber, a wild child of the New York art scene in the 1950s and “™60s who is probably best known for brandishing a pistol and putting a bullet through the forehead of Marilyn Monroe”™s likenesses on a stack of Andy Warhol”™s paintings, died at her apartment in the East Village on Feb. 9. She was 75.

The artist Herndon Ely, her friend and caretaker for many years, said she died of natural causes.

Ms. Podber was an artist in her own right and in the late “™50s and early “™60s helped to run the Nonagon Gallery in Manhattan, which showed the work of a young Yoko Ono and was known for jazz concerts by performers like Charles Mingus. But she became famous, or infamous, in the art world mostly as a muse and a co-conspirator of more prominent artists like Ray Johnson, with whom she staged impromptu happenings on Manhattan streets.

In one, she and Mr. Johnson persuaded people they had just met to allow them into their apartments, where they would then play records used by speech therapists that contained samples of stuttering.

“She said people were pretty nonplused, as you”™d expect,” Ms. Ely said “She and Ray would also do another bit where they”™d re-enact the shower scene from “˜Psycho.”™ “

In a 2006 interview with the writer Joy Bergmann, Ms. Podber said: “I”™ve been bad all my life. Playing dirty tricks on people is my specialty.”

Certainly the most outrageous was her unsolicited contribution to a few of Warhol”™s “Marilyn” silk-screen paintings. In the fall of 1964 Ms. Podber, a friend of the photographer and Warhol regular Billy Name, visited Warhol”™s Factory on East 47th Street in Manhattan with her Great Dane (named Carmen Miranda or Yvonne De Carlo, depending on the account). Ms. Podber asked Warhol if she could shoot a stack of the “Marilyn” paintings; he apparently thought that she wanted to take pictures of them and consented.

But she produced a pistol and fired at them, penetrating three or four. One of them, “Shot Red Marilyn,” with a repaired bullet hole over the left eyebrow, sold for $4 million in 1989, at the time setting a record at auction for a Warhol work.

“After she left,” Mr. Name told Ms. Bergmann, “Andy came over to me and said: “˜Please make sure Dorothy doesn”™t come over here anymore. She”™s too scary.”™ “

Ms. Podber grew up in the Bronx, where her father, a onetime bouncer and speak-easy employee who had lost his sight, ran a successful newsstand.

Many accounts of her life chronicle heavy drinking and drug use. Ms. Ely said that Ms. Podber spoke of being in trouble with the law a few times, once for running an illegal abortion referral service from her apartment.

She was thought to have been married three times, most recently to Lester Schwartz, who died in 1986. She had no children.

Ms. Podber told Ms. Bergmann that when money was low, as it often was, she generally found unorthodox ways to make it. She once ran a service that dispatched maids to doctors”™ offices, primarily as a way to get the keys to the doctors”™ drug cabinets. “I never worked much,” she said.

thanks Erin