What do you get when you cross Vanity Fair, Switzerland and Richard Branson (the British founder of the Virgin Group)? Something like Warholian.com, explains the site’s editor-in-chief Michael Cuffe, who stands 6’5″, looking dapper in a pinstripe-collared shirt with black slacks (more Branson than Warhol).
“Everybody says, ‘I really wish I was alive when Andy Warhol was alive.’” They want to go the Factory, take in the scene. “Well, I want to show that the scene is more alive than it’s ever been — it’s a hundredfold more alive than in the ’60s or ’70s.”
“People are going to think that’s bullshit,” he adds.
So, how does he prove them wrong? “I’m on the ground, going to all these shows.” There are shows all the time and everywhere, he adds, noting that he can easily go door to door to three or four galleries in the Mission. Cellspace, Art Explosion Gallery and Southern Exposure Art Gallery are all within a few blocks of each other.
To capture all these shows, Cuffe created Warholian.com in January 2010. The site tackles the San Francisco art scene by publishing accounts of the exhibits and interviewing artists.
The site has even curated its first-ever art show, aptly titled “Warhol Reimagined: The New Factory,” which opens today. A mix of 59 well-known and up-and-coming artists worked on the pieces. They re-created Warhol’s famed “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans,” as well as 28 of his most celebrated images, like the multicolored Marilyn Monroe portrait. Cuffe and a few others, including his girlfriend, Lyrica Glory (also the site’s assistant director), put the show together in just a month and a half. Prices for pieces hit the $300 mark as well as the $1,800 mark.
Despite the recession, Cuffe sees more art being sold now than ever before. “Thanks to the web, artists can now make a living on the Internet,” he says. That’s helped the art market. People may not be jumping on the $1,000 paintings, “but they will buy $30 art prints.”
Indeed, he’s become a purveyor of the art world, typically covering one or two shows during the week, three or four on a given weekend. What’s more, readership is growing.
“We’ve gone from 50 to 100 people [visiting the site each day] to 8,000.” The site has now expanded to a volunteer-based, 10-person staff.
With so many exhibits going on throughout the city, the former Hollywood film developer and current documentary fanatic sensibly picks and chooses which ones to attend. Many artists contact him to attend their shows, but he covers only those he thinks are important to the art world. Or he sticks to working with certain galleries, like White Walls in downtown San Francisco, whose owner only works with avant-garde styles.
Cuffe’s articles on the shows are typically soft — he’ll mention his favorite pieces and conclude that the show was “nice.”
“I tell people I’m Switzerland,” he says. “Some people are fans of some work, some are not, but it’s not important.
“I’m not an art critic; I’m all about positivity. Who are we to say what’s good or bad? I’m just happy people are making art and are interested in it.”
Content aside, Cuffe says readers are attracted to the site’s sleek appearance (he takes great photos and the site is cleanly organized). Funding mostly comes from advertisers. “It’s a high-class site,” he says. “We have Armani advertising on the side, bringing in the money.”
All of this adds to the image of Warholian.
“When you walk in the door, you want them to say, ‘Oh, the Warholian is here.’ Just as with Vanity Fair or the New York Times, it’s a prestigious thing to have people come in to your show,” he says. For a photographer to come in and take similar photos would cost the artists around $1,500, he adds. His service is free, and he’s giving them publicity.
After these statements, he retracts a bit, humbled.
“But we are by no means established; we’re hustling.”
Hustling to give others a vision of Warhol.
“Warhol was all about taking from culture and creating art. Most of the new art we see in galleries, like street art, is all directly relatable to Warhol.
“But even if the art we review is conceptual, like abstract minimalism, Warhol was all about exposing art in general — we’re still exposing that scene.”
From covering small shows at artist studios on Alabama Street to those in better-known galleries like White Walls, Cuffe’s agenda is to present people with the different art available and let them decide what they want to see.
His other ambition, though, is more grandiose.
“My goal is to be the Richard Branson of the art world — to run an organization like Warholian, we’re respectable, socially conscious. But Armani’s on our site.”
In other words, “We’re grassroots with a little bit of polish.”
The site will be going through a major overhaul, Cuffe says, and the Warholian brand is also planning to launch a publication soon — a magazine much like the website.
For now, though, “I’m documenting history, and what’s not fun about that? Twenty, thirty years from now, this is going to be crazy shit,” Cuffe says, referring to San Francisco’s art culture.
“And I’m the only one that’s consistently going there.”