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PittsburghAndy Warhol Talks about Donald Trump throughout the Mid-1980s

The cover of the book The Andy Warhol Diaries.

Does the Internet need another blog post about Donald Trump? Probably not. But Andy Warhol always followed the headlines and depicted the trending topics of the time in his artwork. Warhol would take a famous face from newspapers and magazine covers that you were about to get sick of, and reproduce it dozens—if not hundreds—of times on his silkscreened canvases. So at The Warhol it seems fitting to offer insight on The Donald, a man who has been rich and famous since Warhol’s time.

Andy Warhol met Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana, on multiple occasions. The first mention of Trump in The Andy Warhol Diaries is from February 22, 1981, when they attended the birthday party of infamous McCarthy-era attorney Roy Cohn. Two months later, on April 24, 1981, Trump visited Warhol’s Factory. They had a business meeting arranged by Marc Balet, the art director of Interview magazine for eleven years. Thus, the saga begins:

“Had to meet Donald Trump at the office. Marc Balet had set up this meeting. I keep forgetting that Marc gave up architecture to become an art director, but he still builds models at home, he told me. He’s designing a catalogue for all the stores in the atrium at the Trump Tower and he told Donald Trump that I should do a portrait of the building that would hang over the entrance to the residential part. […] It was so strange, these people are so rich. They talked about buying a building yesterday for $500 million or something. […] He’s a butch guy. Nothing was settled, but I’m going to do some paintings anyway, and show them to them.” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 375–376)

A few weeks after that, Warhol and his assistant Christopher Makos met with Balet at Trump Tower, which was still under construction. Makos photographed the architectural models of the building; his photos were used as the source images for Warhol’s portrait of the tower. Warhol also created line drawings from tracing the photographs and burned them onto separate silkscreens. The result was a beautiful series of multilayered paintings in black, silver, and gold; some with a sprinkling of Warhol’s glittering diamond dust. Although the commission had not been officially settled, as the Trumps had not paid for any work, Warhol felt confident:

“Monday, June 1st, 1981
Marc’s arranged it so that the catalogue cover he’s designing will be my painting and then the Trumps would wind up with this painting of their building. It’s a great idea, isn’t it?” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 386)

When the Trumps returned to the Factory on August 5, the deal didn’t go as expected:

“The Trumps came down. […] I showed them the paintings of the Trump Tower that I’d done. I don’t know why I did so many, I did eight. In black and grey and silver which I thought would be so chic for the lobby. But it was a mistake to do so many, I think it confused them. Mr. Trump was very upset that it wasn’t color-coordinated. They have Angelo Donghia doing the decorating so they’re going to come down with swatches of material so I can do the paintings to match the pinks and oranges. I think Trump’s sort of cheap, though, I get that feeling. And Marc Balet who set up the whole thing was sort of shocked. But maybe Mrs. Trump will think about a portrait because I let them see the portraits of Lynn Wyatt behind the building paintings, so maybe they’ll get the idea….” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 398)


A black and white image of Trump Tower. It is the single white building, surrounded by the black silhouettes of other buildings against a pale sky.
Andy Warhol, Trump Tower, 1981, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.


Warhol never did satisfy the Trumps. After this failed commission, Warhol expressed seeming resentment of the Trumps in his diaries for the next few years. The next Trump-related diary entry is from another birthday party for Roy Cohn on February 26, 1983:

“[…] And Ivana Trump was there and she came over and when she saw me she was embarrassed and she said, “Oh, whatever happened to those pictures?” and I had this speech in my mind of telling her off, and I was undecided whether to let her have it or not, and she was trying to get away and she did….” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 487–488)

On November 30, 1983, Trump Tower opened to the public. The mixed-use skyscraper—comprised of apartments, offices, an atrium, and stores on the ground levels—has hosted an eclectic variety of events over the years. When Warhol was invited to judge cheerleading tryouts at Trump Tower on January 15, 1984, he complied:

“It was the first tryout, and I was supposed to be there at 12:00 but I took my time and went to church and finally moseyed over there around 2:00. This is because I still hate the Trumps because they never bought the paintings I did of the Trump Tower.” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 549)

To make room for Trump Tower, a location of great significance in Warhol’s Pop art exhibition history—and also his pre-Pop work—had to be torn down: the Bonwit Teller Department Store. Warhol did many of the store’s huge window displays from the 1950s up to 1968. The most significant of these was that of April 1961, which included his earliest Pop paintings, reproducing popular culture images such as comics, a crossword, and advertisements.

On one occasion, driving by another Trump-owned skyscraper aroused this diary entry from May 2, 1984:

“And I just hate the Trumps because they never bought my Trump Tower portraits. And I also hate them because the cabs on the upper level of their ugly Hyatt Hotel just back up traffic so badly around Grand Central now and it takes me so long to get home.” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 571)

Interestingly, Donald Trump has not publicly expressed any ill will toward Warhol. In fact he has quoted Warhol in two of his books. It’s actually the same quote; the line “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.” from Warhol’s 1975 book, THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol, appears in the introduction to Trump’s Think Like a Billionaire and is referenced three separate times in his Think Like a Champion:

“There’s a certain amount of bravado in what I do these days, and part of that bravado is to make it look easy. That’s why I’ve often referred to business as being an art. I’ve always liked Andy Warhol’s statement that, ‘making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.’ I agree.” (Think Like a Champion, 57)

“We are all businessmen and women, whether you see it that way yet or not. If you like art and can’t make money at it, you eventually realize that everything is business, even your art. That’s why I like Warhol’s statement about good business being the best art. It’s a fact. That’s also another reason I see my business as an art and so I work at it passionately.” (Think Like a Champion, 86)

Perhaps Warhol would have written differently about Trump if the painting commission had worked out. Two of the Trump Tower portraits are now in The Warhol’s permanent collection. The rest of the paintings and drawings are scattered in galleries across the globe. Will Trump’s presidential campaign result in a new level of importance for these paintings?

Works Cited
Warhol, Andy and Pat Hackett. The Andy Warhol Diaries. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2009.
Trump, Donald and Meredith McIver. Trump: Think Like a Billionaire: Everything You Need to Know About Success, Real Estate, and Life. Random House Publishing Group: 2004.
Trump, Donald. Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education In Business and Life. Vanguard Press, 2009.