Edie Sedgwick, seen by her sister – Aumag The Talks Today

Driving home in his Stutz Blackhawk in 1985, painter Andrew Wyeth approached Betsy, his manager and wife of 45 years, and told her he was keeping a secret. In the attic of a watermill on their property in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, he had hidden about two hundred and forty drawings and paintings of another woman, a broad-faced, blond neighbor named Helga Testorf. At home, Betsy climbed into the attic and looked around. “I almost dropped dead because of the quality of the work and how much it was,” she told a reporter a year later when news broke of a quarter of a thousand new, unknown works produced by one of the Americans in the past fifteen years reigning kings of realism, created for duels time and news week covers.

Testorf – a housekeeper, nurse and cook whom Wyeth is said to have met through her sister – captivated the audience. Journalists sought her out (and were turned away by her teenage son, who kept watch at her home). Betsy, the smooth talker in the partnership, spoke for her husband: “He said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never had a model like that.’ He mentioned how quiet she was, how she never spoke. She was a great model when it came to posing.” Testorf reportedly held his poses for hours, pausing only to worry aloud that Wyeth hadn’t taken breaks to eat or stretch.

The devotion of the mouse! A creature who is rewarded for her (it’s often, but not always, a “she”) discomfort, her boredom, her occasional submission with the promise of eternal attention. She can also enjoy the work of creation, but her enjoyment is never seen as the point. The Testorf carnival was not about her, but about what she gave to Wyeth and those who loved his work. If we learned enough about her, could we find out what charmed an American art legend? Can we understand the electric current that destroys great art? Who wouldn’t want to interview the Mona Lisa?

Twenty years before the Wyeth family’s ill-fated voyage, party-hopper and style-setter Edie Sedgwick appeared to be the Mona Lisa come to life – a muse with enough brains to emerge from behind her own image. She and Andy Warhol continued to swarm after meeting at a birthday party for Tennessee Williams in March 1965 (“Oh, she’s bee-you-ti-ful,” Warhol had declared), making their duo a one-of-a-kind sensation. One of them was an observation, the two together an event. At Warhol’s first American retrospective in Philadelphia, curators removed paintings from the walls, fearing (rightly) that a mob of fans would destroy them – the crowd was so upset they screamed and pinned the couple against a wall. Sedgwick, one curator remarked, “became an exhibition”. More than any of Warhol’s other “superstars” (the name given to his clique of artists and acolytes), the charming and personable Sedgwick gave the star-starved artist a boost to popular culture. “Edie brought Andy out,” said poet and Warholian circulator Rene Ricard. “She introduced him to the real world.”

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Their partnership is the subject of As It Turns Out, a new book by Alice Sedgwick Wohl, Sedgwick’s sister, who is 12 years older. The book separates how Andy created Edie, how Edie created Andy and the infinity mirror of their shared identity. One of the great joys of Sedgwick Wohl’s writing is that it’s sisterly in every sense of the word: annoyed but protective, stained with jealousy. (More than sixty years later, she still resents the uptight Sedgwicks having her made after Edie designed a series of “ugly” heart-shaped furniture for her bedroom). (She “never paid her bills” and was too much of a threat, even for the staff of a psychiatric facility), but she also cements her legacy as an artistic partner with as much agency as – albeit far less cunning than – Warhol.

Sedgwick Wohl leaps through her family’s frigid Brahmin ancestry in New England, their isolated move to a ranch outside of Santa Barbara, and the “despotic” Wasphood that followed them across the country. Life in her family was strange, even punitive: in the hierarchy of her household, the eight Sedgwick children (Edie was seventh) were at the bottom of the ladder, below employed help; some of the children even slept in a hut some distance from the main house. One of the siblings died by suicide and the other in an ambiguous motorcycle accident prior to Sedgwick’s overdose aged twenty-eight. Sedgwick Wohl mildly denies some of the well-known abuse allegations against her father (who went by the bizarre name Fuzzy), but acknowledges that a psychiatrist once advised her parents not to have children.

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At times, Sedgwick Wohl (family nickname: Saucie) strides into familiar territory from Jean Stein’s comprehensive 1982 biography of Sedgwick. But she’s also determined to explain where Stein (a friend of hers from boarding school) didn’t quite get it right. Sedgwick Wohl admits she and her sister haven’t spoken in years. Still, the distance to her subject — she told Stein she didn’t like her “with all my heart” — makes for an even better view. Sedgwick Wohl has family entitlements, and she expresses them with enthusiasm, but her best insight relates to the time when she barely knew her sister – that famous year, the time of Edie and Andy.

The couple became distinctive representatives of downtown New York’s burgeoning pop art scene after morphing into ink-smeared reproductions of each other. Within a month of their first meeting, Sedgwick cut off her long, dark, beehive-like hair, bleached the color directly from it, and styled, or rather unleashed it, into a messy halo like Warhol’s; he turned silver after seeing her squirt gray. “Edie’s hair was dyed silver,” he said in an interview, “so I copied my hair because I wanted to look like Edie, because I’ve always wanted to look like a girl.” Both ranged from thin to extreme. On Warhol, the effect was frightening—a willful madness—while Sedgwick became one Fashion Model and style icon. “Imagine how liberating it must have been,” Sedgwick Wohl writes, “for Andy, shy and socially insecure as he was, to be hanging out with a beautiful, sought-after girl who looked like a glamorous version of himself.”

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Warhol understood the power of repetition; He knew that a Campbell’s soup can could be reproduced endlessly. In Sedgwick he created a replica of himself, a doppelganger who could take him out into the world to perform as part of his artist-as-art schtick. One could argue that their relationship was part of his job. But instead of drawing a clear line between the two, Sedgwick Wohl argues, Warhol embraced the idea of ​​their symbiosis. He knew that this sexier, less stilted version of Andrew Warhola — a bumbling, working-class son of Eastern European immigrants, a sickly misfit, and “the loneliest, friendless person” Truman Capote said he had ever seen — was himself would more than double its presence in the art world. Warhol wanted to emulate Sedgwick’s effortless beauty, her noble lineage, and most importantly, her ability to be “completely calm and poised”.

Naturalness is the great gift of the mouse. Like Helga Testorf, who only had to stand still for Andrew Wyeth to translate his spirit, Sedgwick only had to walk and speak for Warhol to follow her movements on film. “Andy always chooses people because they have a big kind of essential flame, and he brings them to his films,” curator Henry Geldzahlener once said. “He never takes someone who has nothing and turns them into something. What he did was realize that Edie was this fantastic being and he could make her more Edie so that when he put it in front of the camera it was available to all.” Warhol’s film captured that Sedgwick was simply herself : putting on makeup, lying in bed, sitting on the armrest of a couch and looking around the room. She has appeared in more than a dozen films, including Face, a seventy-minute close-up, and Afternoon, a “chamber opera” in which Sedgwick and her friends stream through their apartment high on amphetamines. Sedgwick Wohl, who has watched her sister on film for decades, watches her as though through a powerful telescope. “What they saw in her was not talent, but simply as transcribed on screen,” writes Sedgwick Wohl.