I was reminiscing with John Waters at Brigid Berlin’s show at John McWhinnie and Glenn Horowitz’s space on East 64th Street, a selection of historical memorabilia as well as a series of new pillows decorated with needlepoint versions of front pages of the New York Post and other tabloid publications.
"In 1966," I remarked, "we gaped in awe at the Buckley School when the Berlin family shipped Brigid’s brother, our classmate, to Mexico for liposuction during spring vacation. When he came back skinny, it was like science fiction!" Waters replied, "I’ll never forget when Brigid chartered a plane to ship poppers to Fire Island."
It was time to discuss money with Vincent Fremont. We gazed at a vitrine containing a 1962 letter from Brigid to her father, chairman of the Hearst Corporation. The child Brigid owed her Dad $9,000 and requested that he dun her debt from a relative’s estate. "That was a lot of money then," Fremont observed, "especially for a kid."
"$100 grand in today’s money," I replied, "the average salary in 1962 was $2,500 a year."
Brigid’s show is divided into two parts: fascinating historical items entice on the first floor, such as a 1969 review in The New York Review of Sex and Politics of Brigid’s legendary Cock Book, and needlepoint pillows from her childhood describing Brigid’s compulsions: "It’s All About the Weight" by her mother and "Phone Queen," stitched by her sister.
Upstairs, a Berlin Wall of the Beautiful People by way of Madame Tussaud’s greeted the artist at the openly, seated primly on a divan in blazing scarlet red -- Fran Lebowitz, Peter Brant, Bob Colacello, Sam Green, Clarissa Dalrymple and Steven M. L. Aronson. Deborah Kass, also in red, but leather, was too shy to meet Brigid for the first time. Her manager Vincent Fremont introduced the femme titans.
The second floor is Brigid’s own "Death and Disasters" done in needlepoint: the passings of Tim Russert, William F. Buckley Jr. and Anna Nicole Smith, the outing of Governor Jim McGreevey, the struggle over Brooke Astor’s estate.
"Her best rendition," a fan observed, "is Brooke Astor’s son, Mr. Marshall." Of course, Brigid identifies with him the most. Her family saw her as a poor little rich girl, but Brigid became, and remains, so much more: the last of the Superstars!
"Brigid Berlin; Needlepoint," Oct. 21-Nov. 22, 2008, at John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, 50½ East 64th Street, New York, N.Y. 10065
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).