Comparisons of Warhol’s Factory to the Garage Antique Flea Market
The flea markets in New York City were a great place to meet and greet the famous and those famous for just 15 minutes. Photographer and documentarian Larry Baumhor had his share of close encounters with the famous kind at the Garage, where he sold vintage photographs for 15 years.
“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist” – Oscar Wilde
“I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive” – Man Ray
“The idea of wandering around a flea market in search of a bargain may fit with the era of austerity being felt in France and elsewhere but, according to historian Andrew Hussey, it was a pastime that was actually invented by the surrealists in the 1930s.” ‘The whole surrealist aesthetic came from flea market flânerie (strolling),” he says. “André Breton, the leader of the surrealists, was fascinated by pieces that were regarded as being of no use any more. He would go to the flea markets and pick up old ear trumpets and elephants’ feet and lots of African pieces too.’ – By Kate Watson-Smyth
“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art” – Andy Warhol
I started selling at the Garage Antique Flea Market in 1999, mostly on Saturdays, and stopped selling there on June 29, 2014 when it closed because the property was bought by a real estate developer who’s now putting up a luxury hotel on that spot. The Garage, as it was affectionately known by sellers and buyers, was located at 112 West 25th Street, at the corner of 25th & 6th Avenue. Several other flea markets were located on 6th Avenue, between 25th & 26th streets. All of them opened in the 1960s and then closed before the Garage due to real estate development in the early 2000’s. These markets were internationally known and a lot of celebrities shopped there and at the Garage. A piece of city history was lost when they disappeared into the mists of gentrification.
Now, only one of the flea markets still exists, an outdoor venue called Chelsea Flea Market, on 25th Street, between 6th & 5th avenues. Some of the former Garage dealers now sell there. I do not.
I sold vintage photography at the Garage, specializing in 20th century vernacular, press photos, and snapshots. When I first started selling at the Garage, I would buy photo albums and refuse to sell the snapshots separately, emphatically telling customers, “I’m not breaking up this family.” I stood firm and was deeply entrenched in guilt. It was difficult to sell the entire album. It didn’t take me long to change my mind, though, when I learned that antique dealers were making money breaking up the albums.
I came to the Garage to be part of an art community, to be free and uninhibited, to be part of the carnival. I was the carnival barker, performing extemporaneously, singing songs out of tune like “Where or When”, “My Way”, and “New York, New York” with other dealers like Sharon Baluta and Michel Nadeau. Or I stood in the aisle huckstering, “Ladies and gentlemen, step right into my booth and transport yourself into a bygone era. I challenge you to take something for free, call it stealing if you like. At least something will move.”
Throughout the day my inhibitions miraculously disappeared. I metamorphosed into a free spirit as my subconscious took over. Bells rang of freedom to be whoever you desired to be, knowing that encouragement and acceptance was the norm, knowing that you didn’t have to answer to a boss, knowing that this toxic, harshly lit, nearly 100-year-old concrete Garage transcended the buying and selling of antiques and collectibles. It was entertaining theatre, a community of artistic and creative people sharing a common bond, a cultural phenomenon. It’s where eccentricities were nurtured, cherished, and admired. At the heart of the matter it was the friendships developed and the camaraderie enjoyed of both dealers and collectors week after week. For me, the Garage developed into a commune, and a family of artistic inspiration, collaboration and friendships that I cherish way beyond the closing of the Garage. Long live the Garage!
SOME CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
Like Warhol’s Factory, celebrity sightings at the Garage were a common occurrence. For years Alan Dershowitz patronized my booth and purchased sports and Judaica photos. Photographer, Martin Parr, was a customer who purchased photos of movie stars that were heavily painted for enhancement and cropping for newspaper publications. Michael Imperioli was in my booth, but I wasn’t a fan of the Sopranos, so I didn’t recognize him until he left and a dealer informed me who he was. Marisa Tomei often patronized the Garage. I was informed that she bought a painting that looked like Angela Davis, and she liked edgy interesting prints. She loved to bargain.
Catherine Deneuve always came to the Garage and bought linens, quilts, prints, and vintage clothing. And she too liked to bargain. Annie Leibovitz bought books and prints. Michael Jackson came through the Garage wearing a mask surrounded by his entourage. He purchased photos. Bette Midler looked for vintage clothes. Gloria Vanderbilt would buy parts of dolls like legs, heads, and torsos. European Vogue editor, Hamish Bowels, purchased books. Penny Marshall bought a vintage tablecloth. Winona Ryder purchased an evening bag at the Garage. Monica Lewinsky bought and sold at the Garage. She was selling handbags. Michael Feinstein looked for records. I always saw Nate Berkus walking around. Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell patronized the Garage. Nicole Kidman, Ali MacGraw, and Heath Ledger have shopped in Alan Miller’s booth. Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, Claire Danes, and Frances McDormand, have walked through the Garage. My customer saw Daryl Hannah walking her dog at the Garage. Musicians Fred Schneider, Sheryl Crow, Ashford & Simpson, and Paul Shaffer were seen at the Garage. ZZ Top star Billy Gibbons and singer/songwriter Ryan Adams were customers at the Garage. Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated actress Sarah Miles was seen milling around at the Garage.
Interior designer, Carleton Varney, bought two plaster busts, Edwardian style, of a boy and girl at the Garage. Interior designer, Charlotte Moss was inspired by items at the Garage. Artists, John Derian, Hunt Slonem, and Jane Hammond shopped at the Garage. Author, Susan Sontag, was seen engaging in conversation with dealers. Fashion designers Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Anna Sui, and Vivienne Tam have shopped at the Garage for inspiration and purchases.
A dealer sold Daniel Day Lewis a small abstract sculpture outside on the 6th Ave lot. Lewis was demure, but recognizable. The dealer was starstruck and tongue-tied but tried to not show his feelings. Lewis smiled and winked. He was gone in a flash. The dealer will savor that moment forever.
It was always fun to spot celebrities. There would be a buzz among the dealers when they appeared. Rich celebrities would sometimes bargain, including Joe Franklin who was a hard-nosed haggler. Some dealers did not like that, but I’m the opposite. It’s a flea market, after all; the celebrities wanted to have fun and save a buck like anyone else. I was happy to make a sale.
My 15 Minutes With Paul Morrissey
“I prefer the past to the present. It’s fun to look at stuff from the past. I buy vintage movie photos at the Garage.” — Paul Morrissey, filmmaker
At the Garage, I often had conversations with Paul Morrissey about his experiences at the Silver Factory with Andy Warhol. Paul created many of the films that appeared under Warhol’s name, just as other Factory people often made the art that was sold under Warhol’s name. I remarked to Paul that there were similarities between the Garage and the Silver Factory, in that both were creative environments in which people share ideas about art. He did not agree.
I persisted in my view, though, telling him how people affiliated with the Garage had read some of my manuscripts, offered suggestions, and collaborated in producing my books. Some of the photographs in my book about the Garage have been taken by the patrons. Like Billy Name at the Factory, I was the photographer documenting the Garage’s history, interviewing its collectors, dealers and patrons.
The Garage, like the Silver Factory, was a well-defined space, an art installation, in which objects and people change, but the creative environment remained palpable, visible, and powerful.
The surrealists of the 1920s and 1930s shopped the Paris flea markets, where they found unique objects that inspired them. Similarly, Warhol found inspiration at the New York flea market across the street from the Garage. Just as the Garage does, the Silver Factory depended on a group of people to perpetuate the creative process. There were dealers with backgrounds in art and interior design. They had the ability to design their booths with some ordinary objects that come alive like a painting or a photo that emotionally grabs hold of you. The dealers were knowledgeable about the art objects they sell, and conversations were sometimes a source of creative motivation and inspiration. Some patrons at the Garage, like the Silver Factory, expressed themselves through the exotic array of clothes they wear.
The filmmakers Lorca Shepperd and Cabot Philbrick produced a movie about snapshot collecting at the Garage. The film, titled Other People’s Pictures, won three film festival prizes for best documentary. I spent many hours with Lorca and Cabot giving them information about the Garage, snapshots, collectors, and dealers.
Paul Morrissey did not, to say the least, agree with my comparison between the Silver Factory and the Garage. He came to the Garage to buy movie photos and sometimes he’d sit in my booth for a couple of hours. He was a movie aficionado and a friendly guy. But when we spoke about Andy Warhol, the anger rose out of him and he began talking fast with wolf-like reactions, as though he were growling at me. Once I asked him if I could interview him about the Factory. He went off on a rambling tangent.
Over and over again, Paul would tell me the same thing about Andy: “Andy had other people do the work for him. He didn’t have many original ideas. He couldn’t express himself and could not read well, write or speak. He was dyslexic and he had Asperger’s. I was his manager and I made sure his name was in the paper so the gallery owners could charge more for his art. I did the films and often Andy took credit. He was not a bright person.”
When we engaged in conversation about Barack Obama, Paul would freak out; his voice became higher and angry. He began to quiver. I was scared. He was a staunch Republican and despised the Democrats with open contempt. I tried to stay off the subject of politics. His attitude shocked the shit out of me. With the avant-garde films and the artists at the Factory you’d think he would be a liberal.
Getting Musty with Joe Maynard
Joe Maynard had been selling at the Garage for 13 years, mostly rare books, ephemera and posters. He is also a gifted musician and songwriter, who fronts the band Maynard & the Musties (the name derives from the old books he sells). His music has been described as “surrealist country”. He grew up in Nashville and moved to New York City to go to art school.
PKM: What do you find interesting about the personalities at the Garage?
Joe Maynard: It’s a freak show. You have conversations during the day about philosophy, religion and art. Sometimes it’s sort of like a church. A diversity of people shop at the Garage, everyone from museum curators to bums, to supermodels, to hideously disfigured old men, like us. A lot of creative people at the Garage. You’re in Chelsea and near FIT.
PKM: Any wild experiences? Anything you can specifically recall that happened at the Garage?
Joe Maynard: There was a funny thing. I don’t recognize celebrities. Dustin Hoffman came into my booth and I didn’t know who he was. This happened downstairs about ten years ago. He had eye makeup on and acted like a queen with a southern accent. He was talking like a southern girl. He said, ‘I’m gone to a picnic at Lady Bird Johnson’s house. I gotta bring somethin’ for Lady Bird Johnson.’ He was in character the whole time, like playing a part. It was after Tootsie. He’s a funny guy. I had no idea who he was. After he left, other dealers told me who he was. I was just trying to sell him a book. He bought a D.H. Lawrence book. That same day a transvestite came into my booth and wanted to give me a couch dance.
PKM: You have a band Maynard & the Musties (playing original country-folk-rock-Americana). Is there any collaboration and correlation between your band and the Garage?
Joe Maynard: Yes, a very specific correlation regarding the first time I recorded. Grammy Award-winning producer Russ Titelman, who shops here, hooked me up with a recording studio two blocks from here. It’s a great studio and I was able to record. One time he came to the Garage with David Crosby.
And then Ryan Adams came to the Garage often. He used to have a band called Whiskeytown. I said,’ Ryan I’m making a new demo’.‘Demo, fuck the demo,’ Ryan said. ‘I’ll play with you, just make an album.’ He came over and played with us on a couple of songs. We used his steel guitar and piano. If Ryan didn’t put it in my head to make an album, I probably would have made a five-song demo. I may not have made another album. Ryan set me on a course.
PKM: Doesn’t this go to the point I was making about the analogy and collaborations of the Garage and Factory?
Joe Maynard: Exactly.
Patrick McMullan, The Night Owl
Patrick McMullan purchased movie photos from me at the Garage for his own private collection. He’s a photographer whose subjects are the New York nightlife and celebrities. It was during my last two years of selling at the Garage, 2013 and 2014, that I met McMullan. He walked into my booth at about 4 p.m. while I was packing to go home to Philadelphia. Luckily for me, I worked late that day. I arrived at the Garage at 4 a.m. and most of my business was with customers whom I called and arrived early. Thus, I often left by 2 p.m.
I had no idea about Patrick’s livelihood, nor had I ever met him before. He purchased movie photos from me. He was cocky, knowledgeable and friendly.
“You don’t want to do business with me,” Patrick said.
“No, no, I always pack up early. I’m here at 4 a.m. and live in Philly. Take your time.”
Patrick began picking out photos like he was buying penny candies and baseball cards, about one hundred photos on our first meeting. I thought to myself, who is this guy and there is no way he’s buying all of these photos.
“Hold the photos for me, I have to get money,” he said.
By this time, it was five o’clock and the Garage was closing; he’s not coming back, I thought. Within fifteen minutes Patrick returned with about $500.00.
He was a tough negotiator, but this didn’t bother me. I was familiar with this ridiculous bargaining. Patrick wanted the photos at my cost. But in the end, we worked it out and I earned some money and Patrick was happy.
He did mention he photographed celebrities at events for a living. He informed me that he was friendly with Warhol. Yeah, right, I thought. Everyone was friendly with Warhol.
I asked Patrick for his phone number and I began calling him when I had a collection of movie photos. Most of the time, he arrived at the Garage shortly before closing. I didn’t care; he spent money and seemed to be an interesting guy. On one occasion, he picked out over 200 photos and had no money. Oy vey, I thought, here we go again. We’re talking $1,200.00. I packed up the car and I drove him to his apartment in the West Village. I waited in the car and Patrick came out with the money. And this is how I met Patrick McMullan.
I later learned of his prominence as a documenter of New York’s nightly social scene. And that he caught the bug for buzz from an early association with Warhol and his own lifelong obsession with the work of the photographer Weegee.
In an interview with McMullan for Artspace magazine, Andrew M. Goldstein wrote, “If you don’t know Patrick McMullan, you ought to get out more.”
Further, he wrote, “McMullan is the preeminent chronicler of New York’s media-saturated society—and, as such, it’s only fitting that he got his start from that other celebrity—besotted shutterbug, Andy Warhol.
He quotes McMullan: “Andy was always encouraging. When I would go to the Factory I had a big camera, and he said, ‘You really need to have a pocket camera, because they make such good pocket cameras now and they don’t really like you to go to Studio 54 and take pictures unless you’re really big.’ So Andy had an Olympus XA camera, and he got my friend John Reinhold to buy me one. I always took Andy’s picture and put it in things, so he thought I was pretty cool…You have to remember that Warhol was not just Andy, it was all the people around Andy. Andy was like the kingpin, and you could have a friendship with him but it was always a little arm’s length. I remember Andy said something that I always loved and laughed at because I knew what he meant. He said that, ‘Art is what you can get away with. If somebody thinks it’s art, if they like the way it looks and want to hang it on their wall, then I guess it’s art’.”
“London has the Portobello market and Paris the Saint-Quen flea market at Clignancourt, but the Garage in New York has more eccentricities and excitement in the way people dress, act, and the merchandise” – Jaime Vallejo, dealer
“I’ve bought and sold at flea markets throughout this country and the world, and the Garage has the most fascinating images of people I’ve ever seen” – Susan Goldsweig, dealer
The Garage is a place of common interests where dreams come alive. For 25 years, I was rejected as a writer, frustrated and hopelessly crushed. When I showed a few of my manuscripts to dealers and collectors at the Garage, however, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Many people read my manuscripts and offered comments and suggestions. One friend had a group ensemble act out one of my short stories. Ken Brown, an artist who works in a variety of media, produced my book covers. Joel Rotenberg, a writer, helped me with the editing. I’ve produced four books while selling at the Garage: two short story collections, a memoir, and a work of fiction. This would not have been possible without the help of my friends from the Garage. My voice became alive and I became an artist. I also got involved with photography, collage art, and performance art.
After years of searching, my formidable years filled with shyness, rebelliousness, and being an outcast, I finally found a home.