Leo Lerman was a prescient editor, a wunderkind of sorts, who never went to college, knew everybody, and attended every party. Marlene Dietrich was a very close friend of his. At twenty-one he was features editor of Harper’s Bazaar, wrote a book about Leonardo at age twenty-six, Michelangelo at twenty-eight, and was senior editor of Playbill for thirty-two years. Ultimately he became a fixture at Condé Nast. He had a great capacity for friendship and networking.
I worked with Leo for many years, beginning at Mademoiselle. He was always wonderful because of his huge appetite for everything. He was capable of great generosity and encouraged many young people in their careers. I remember distinctly a phone call from Leo, who said something new was happening in the art world. He thought we should investigate. That something turned out to be Pop Art. He suggested we should do a series of portraits of this fledgling group, among them Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, and Roy Lichtenstein. I was surprised that Andy was on the list, and when I visited his studio, he was in a room full of Campbell’s Soup can paintings, wearing black, surrounded by the din of rock and roll. Andy went from showing his decorative gold celebrity boot drawings at the Bodley Gallery to becoming a rock star wannabe. He was curious to know what other painters were on my list to be photographed, and he wondered what their paintings looked like. I mentioned photographing Tom Wesselmann in his little apartment on Bleecker Street, drinking a cup of coffee. I felt since they were dealing with ordinary objects, doing something ordinary was appropriate. The great American nude and still lifes made of grocery products were the subjects of his early collages. I had never heard of Jim Dine and thought his hanging a hammer by a length of twine on a canvas was art-school desperate. I recalled originally seeing Rosenquist’s very large close-ups of objects from Bonwit Teller’s windows. Rosenquist had been a billboard sign painter and could render a ten-foot pack of cigarettes with one hand tied behind him. I met Lichtenstein at Castelli’s gallery and thought the Ben-day paintings of cartoon comic strips a novelty item, but a logical appropriation, given the Zeitgeist. I always considered Pop Art to be popcorn.
Excerpt from “ABCDuane.” Copyright © 2014 and reprinted by permission of The Monacelli Press