Infatuated collector shares his treasures in Santa Monica

By Christina Campodonico

Serial entrepreneur Ron Rivlin can blame his love affair with Andy Warhol on Mick Jagger.

A veteran music industry promoter, agent and manager, Rivlin was at a friend’s house in Toronto four years ago when he spotted a Warhol rendering of the Rolling Stones frontman.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so cool!’” recounts Rivlin. “So I went looking for one.”

He eventually got his Jagger — actually, a set of 10 Jagger silkscreens signed both by Warhol and the rock icon. And then Rivlin’s initial attraction to Warhol’s work developed into full-blown infatuation.

The Jagger silkscreens and more than 100 other Warhols that Rivlin has collected now hang inside Revolver Gallery at Bergamot Station as part of a retrospective exhibit titled “Andy Warhol: Revisited,” which opens, appropriately enough, on Valentine’s Day.

“I just fell in love, for lack of better words. I fell in love with everything Warhol — his artwork, his story, how he came from rags to riches, how he was shot, he died and then he came back to life on the operating table and then died again in a hospital,” says Rivlin, who maintains an inventory of about 250 Warhols. “This is a celebration of his life through his work.”

Arriving nearly 30 years to the day of the artists’ death, “Andy Warhol: Revisited” features a complete signed portfolio of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans, a silkscreen of Martha Graham signed by the artist and the pioneer of modern dance, a Stable Gallery plywood Campbell’s Juice Box formerly owned by the designer Halston, complete signed portfolio sets of Marilyn Monroe, Mao Zedong and Muhammad Ali — and even a 1974 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow that belonged to Warhol.

Each piece has its own unique history, information Rivlin seeks to record and preserve.

“That’s the thing. Most people don’t know the whole story behind these pieces,” says Rivlin. “What I love to do is I fly out to New York, I fly out to Florida, and I get the stories that aren’t in the books.”

One particularly colorful yarn relates to “The Wizard of Oz”-inspired “Wicked Witch of the West” silkscreen, part of Warhol’s 1981 “Myths” series. In the portrait, the witch is throwing back her head and cackling.

“At Andy’s local grocery store, he would see the lady who played the witch in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ [Margaret Hamilton] and asked her to be a model for it,” recounts Rivlin of a story told
to him by the work’s publisher, Ronald Feldman.

As it goes, Hamilton told Warhol to call her agent, but Feldman advised him to simply find another model. But Warhol later saw Hamilton again at the same store, and that second time she agreed to pose for a photoshoot.

“She showed up in character and she stayed in character, so this was her going, ‘Ha ha ha’ and they caught it,” says Rivlin.

Seeing his pleasure in sharing this story, you can tell Rivlin is not your ordinary art dealer — even if he admits to admiring Warhol for his business savvy and commercial success.

“I like the Dollar Sign [paintings] because Andy said, ‘Why have money in the bank when you can have it on your wall?’” says Rivlin, paraphrasing Warhol’s famous quote, “I like money on the wall.”

Even so, “I hate selling, in fact. I hate it!” Rivlin confesses. “I have a relationship with every piece. Some pieces I don’t like that much, and my relationship lasts only a day. Some pieces last years. But the more iconic ones that speak to me last a lifetime.”