Candy Darling’s “Newspaper” Centerfold

Encountering the infamous collage of a downtown legend

Lucy Sante

Image Content Callouts

Richard Bernstein, Candy Darling for Newspaper, October 1969. Courtesy Primary Information © The Estate of Richard Bernstein

In A Closer Look we invite a writer to annotate a piece of art or an archival object.

Until today I had never seen this resplendent image, by Richard Bernstein, of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol’s transgender muse and a star of such films as Flesh and Women in Revolt. That’s because while the color version, a lithograph in an edition of 250, hung for a while in the downstairs restaurant at Max’s Kansas City, I never ventured there, despite attending music shows upstairs for nearly a decade. And its black-and-white print version ran as a wraparound cover to the October 1969 issue of Newspaper, the radical image tabloid put out from 1968 to 1971 by Steve Lawrence and Peter Hujar, copies of which are extremely perishable and vanishingly rare. The papers were sent out to New York City’s downtown artistic tribes, but I was in high school at the time (it did fall within my price range: fifty cents). I may have seen pages from it at the Information show at the Museum of Modern Art the following year, remixed by the curator, Kynaston McShine—I hung around that show for days, admitted free thanks to a high school friend whose grandmother had a desk job upstairs. But if I had seen that picture of Candy Darling it would have shaken me to my roots—unless, of course, I instantly blanked it from memory.

Anyway it might not have been possible to display such an image in a museum then (it wouldn’t be until five years later that I first remember seeing an image of a woman with a penis). But that extraordinary barroom odalisque was a collage: Candy from the navel up, unspecified legs below, and a pasted-on dick. (Bernstein was to shape the look of Warhol’s Interview with his jazzy multicolor covers.) The black-and-white version was apparently wheatpasted all over downtown at the time. Candy’s friends were horrified—why would she agree to such a thing when she had invested so much in recreating herself as a glamorous bombshell with zero gender ambiguity? A friend who confronted her about it later told Candy’s biographer, Cynthia Carr, “She was just completely silent. She just looked down and would not answer me.” But later that same month she posed in the nude, showing her actual penis, for Richard Avedon’s group portrait of the Factory crowd, which shocked her intimates when they finally saw the photo years after her death. Candy was mercurial, self-contradictory, and seldom articulate about her motives, as detailed in Carr’s extraordinarily comprehensive life: “She wanted to be seen but not perceived. . . . She used camouflage, embellishment, evasion, and outright lies to keep people from seeing who she really was.” Maybe for her, displaying the evidence of her assigned gender was temptingly transgressive, or maybe it was the deepest drag.

Lucy Sante is the author, most recently, of I Heard Her Call My Name (Penguin, 2024), a memoir of gender transition.
Lucy Sante
Originally published:
March 18, 2024


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