The Daily Heller: Gerard Malanga’s Iconic Photographs Thrill the Eye

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If you remember the Warhol years from the mid-’60s to the late ’70s—the period when Max’s Kansas City near Union Square was a magnet for artists and musicians of the era—you’d know the name Gerard Malanga.

Malanga’s creative output spans six decades and is currently the subject of an exhibition, Gerard Malanga // Moments in Time :: 1965–2023, at Beatie-Powers Place in Catskill, NY, through Dec. 10. His work documents his life as a poet, photographer, filmmaker, archivist and Andy Warhol’s assistant for seven years. In addition to working on some of Warhol’s most prolific paintings, Malanga filmed over 300 “Screen Tests” inside the fabled Factory art studio, and created Interview Magazine with Warhol in 1969. He was also a stage performer and creative partner for the legendary art-rock band The Velvet Underground. Ultimately, his portrait photography has produced some of pop culture’s most memorable images—rockstars, writers, film stars and artists of all stripe over 60 years.

The exhibition was curated and designed by Martina Salisbury, creative director of TWOSEVEN Inc, a Brooklyn-based display-design firm. “It’s … Gerard’s first exhibition in over 10 years,” she told me. Salisbury was responsible for every aspect, from selecting the photographs and designing the installation to measuring the walls and coordinating production. She created the promotional materials (postcards, posters, digital assets) and exhibition graphics (brochure, wall labels, signage), wrote the press release and other texts, and coordinated PR for the exhibition. I asked her to talk about becoming friends with Malanga, and the process of curating this historic collection.

How did you come to meet Gerard Malanga?
I first met Gerard in the summer of 2018. My husband and I were hosting a dinner upstate, and mutual friends Peter Carlaftes and Kat Georges, co-directors of Three Rooms Press, suggested we invite Gerard, who lives nearby. They had published Gerard’s translations of the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, and I only really knew him through this book. When we met, I learned that Gerard was a poet, but had no idea that he was also a photographer and filmmaker, or that he had been part of the Warhol Factory. I apparently hadn’t read Gerard’s bio note on the Vallejo book!

We sat together during dinner that evening and enjoyed good conversation. I recall that Interview magazine came up somehow, and I mentioned that one of my teachers in the MFA Design program at SVA (Tibor Kalman) had once been its creative director. Gerard politely smiled and shared the fact that he was one of the founders of Interview, a decade or two before Kalman’s tenure.

Over the last five years I’ve enjoyed getting to know Gerard, and he’s become a good friend. During the pandemic he was one of the only people I spent time with, outside of my family.

Through many coffee dates and upstate road trips, we’ve discovered a common interest in many things, including design, vernacular photography, archives, cats and poetry. (I grew up in a family of poets, and also write.) We also share a number of friends and acquaintances through literary and art connections.

Salisbury and Malanga. 2023. Photo: Franco Götte.

How were the images selected to exhibit Malanga’s work?
Gerard’s career in photography began formally in 1969, when George Plimpton commissioned him to photograph the poet Charles Olson for an interview in The Paris Review. Shortly thereafter, he began carrying a camera everywhere he went, taking photographs of his many friends, associates and acquaintances. He has photographed some of the most illustrious artists, musicians, literary figures and cultural icons of the last six decades, and he’s still going strong.

Earlier this year I created a 200-image slideshow of Gerard’s portraits for an event at the Poetry Project in NYC, in celebration of his 80th birthday. I was thus very familiar with his photographs, and knew immediately some of the images I wanted to feature when invited to curate this exhibition.

Limited by wall space, we could only include 60 or so photos, most of which are 16 x 20″ prints from Gerard’s personal collection. I wanted to show photographs from each decade, starting with the earliest images, color film stills of Bob Dylan at the Factory (1965), leading up to Gerard’s most recent portrait of composer Gabriella Magnani (2023).

I included a wide variety of subjects, some quite famous and others not widely known, and worked closely with Gerard to refine the selection. There were many images I would love to include in a larger exhibition.

Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer, poets from NYC.

He captured the Warhol factory with era-defining images. What did you feel as you saw the pictures for the first time?
It’s sometimes a bit surreal to see the photos, films and other work Gerard created during his years at the Factory. I’ve mostly seen these since getting to know Gerard, however, and have heard him talk about his experiences, so it also feels quite normal. It’s a bit like seeing a friend’s home movies and childhood photo albums.

Patti Smith, 1971.

Did you experience any of this history firsthand?
I was born in 1971 and moved to NYC at the end of the century, so I missed out on much of the history reflected in the exhibition. That said, I’ve also lived in the art and literary worlds for decades and we have a number of people in common, so our histories overlap a bit.

Some of the photographs of our shared connections are in the exhibition, including a 1970 portrait of poets Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer. Anne is a dear friend (we’re also distantly related), and I had the great fortune of knowing Bernadette through workshops I attended in her home before the pandemic. Gerard knew both of them starting in the 1960s.

The portrait of poet Robert Lowell also holds special significance, as he was Gerard’s teacher in the early 1960s, and was also my father Ralph Salisbury’s mentor at the Iowa Writers Workshop a decade or so prior. I never met Lowell, but grew up knowing that he was very important to my dad, so it made me happy to learn that Gerard had also studied with him. 

And there are others. Mostly poets. Too many to list.

Robert Lowell, 1970.

Is there a chronological or thematic organization?
The photographs are not organized chronologically or thematically within the exhibition. The opposite is true, actually. I liked the idea of placing older images next to recent ones, and mixing up the writers, artists, musicians, models, etc., to create new contexts through their juxtaposition. There are even a few of Gerard’s beloved cats in the show.

As a designer, I sought visual balance in the installation and avoided placing images that were similar compositionally next to each other. I also wanted to [make] people I knew were close (e.g., Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards) neighbors on the walls. Deciding which portraits to place next to each other was fun, like a parlor game.

After we finished installing the show, Gerard came by to take a look and was suddenly overcome with emotion. Gazing around the room at the faces on the walls, he said it was as if they were all speaking to him. As he said this, the significance of the title Gerard suggested for the show became clear. The exhibit is a collection of moments that Gerard shared with those he cared for. Each image full of memories. That, I would say, is the overall theme of the show. 

Anita Pallenberg, 1970.

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