Berlin, who died last year, was a great artist in her own right, and her New York apartment, which is being sold, is a window into a bygone era in the city’s history.
A circa 1970 Polaroid of Brigid Berlin, who was a pioneer of the selfie. Credit... Brigid Berlin, "Untitled (Bridget with Flowers)" (circa 1970), © Vincent Fremont/Vincent Fremont Enterprises, rights reserved
In 2001, soon after he moved into the small prewar doorman building on East 28th Street where he still lives, Rob Vaczy met a 60-year-old Brigid Berlin as he was waiting for the elevator. His new neighbors had warned the multimedia producer about the nutty lady on the ninth floor — every building has one, they joked — with her querulous duo of pug dogs toted in a baby carriage, and nonstop pronouncements issued in an archaic highbrow accent straight out of “The Philadelphia Story.” Vaczy, then 36, was instantly enchanted. Growing up in a working-class Long Island family, he had been involved in the early 1980s punk scene and was familiar with Berlin’s lore of the Pop movement, though it took him a while to connect the dots, to figure out that the woman who lived four floors above him had starred in Andy Warhol’s films and was in his inner circle for more than 20 years. Vaczy knew her as the society girl manquée who got fat expressly to spite a controlling mother, and who earned the nickname Brigid Polk at the Factory, Warhol’s studio, because she loved to “poke” herself — and anyone in the vicinity — with a hypodermic needle of amphetamines. She had always scoffed at the idea that she was an artist, but friends like Robert Rauschenberg and the sculptor John Chamberlain regarded her as an equal. John Waters once described her as “big, often naked and ornery as hell.” That afternoon at the elevator she asked Vaczy if he wanted to come up to her apartment for five minutes. “But with Brigid, there was no five minutes,” he says. “We wound up drinking all night and watching ‘Dr. Zhivago.’”
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