Andy Warhol Talks about Donald Trump throughout the Mid-1980s

Does the Internet need another blog post about Donald Trump? Probably not. But Andy Warhol always followed the headlines and depicted the trending topics of the time in his artwork. Warhol would take a famous face from newspapers and magazine covers that you were about to get sick of, and reproduce it dozens—if not hundreds—of times on his silkscreened canvases. So at The Warhol it seems fitting to offer insight on The Donald, a man who has been rich and famous since Warhol’s time.

Andy Warhol met Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana, on multiple occasions. The first mention of Trump in The Andy Warhol Diaries is from February 22, 1981, when they attended the birthday party of infamous McCarthy-era attorney Roy Cohn. Two months later, on April 24, 1981, Trump visited Warhol’s Factory. They had a business meeting arranged by Marc Balet, the art director of Interview magazine for eleven years. Thus, the saga begins:

“Had to meet Donald Trump at the office. Marc Balet had set up this meeting. I keep forgetting that Marc gave up architecture to become an art director, but he still builds models at home, he told me. He’s designing a catalogue for all the stores in the atrium at the Trump Tower and he told Donald Trump that I should do a portrait of the building that would hang over the entrance to the residential part. […] It was so strange, these people are so rich. They talked about buying a building yesterday for $500 million or something. […] He’s a butch guy. Nothing was settled, but I’m going to do some paintings anyway, and show them to them.” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 375–376)

A few weeks after that, Warhol and his assistant Christopher Makos met with Balet at Trump Tower, which was still under construction. Makos photographed the architectural models of the building; his photos were used as the source images for Warhol’s portrait of the tower. Warhol also created line drawings from tracing the photographs and burned them onto separate silkscreens. The result was a beautiful series of multilayered paintings in black, silver, and gold; some with a sprinkling of Warhol’s glittering diamond dust. Although the commission had not been officially settled, as the Trumps had not paid for any work, Warhol felt confident:

“Monday, June 1st, 1981
Marc’s arranged it so that the catalogue cover he’s designing will be my painting and then the Trumps would wind up with this painting of their building. It’s a great idea, isn’t it?” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 386)

When the Trumps returned to the Factory on August 5, the deal didn’t go as expected:

“The Trumps came down. […] I showed them the paintings of the Trump Tower that I’d done. I don’t know why I did so many, I did eight. In black and grey and silver which I thought would be so chic for the lobby. But it was a mistake to do so many, I think it confused them. Mr. Trump was very upset that it wasn’t color-coordinated. They have Angelo Donghia doing the decorating so they’re going to come down with swatches of material so I can do the paintings to match the pinks and oranges. I think Trump’s sort of cheap, though, I get that feeling. And Marc Balet who set up the whole thing was sort of shocked. But maybe Mrs. Trump will think about a portrait because I let them see the portraits of Lynn Wyatt behind the building paintings, so maybe they’ll get the idea….” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 398)


A black and white image of Trump Tower. It is the single white building, surrounded by the black silhouettes of other buildings against a pale sky.

Andy Warhol, Trump Tower, 1981, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.


Warhol never did satisfy the Trumps. After this failed commission, Warhol expressed seeming resentment of the Trumps in his diaries for the next few years. The next Trump-related diary entry is from another birthday party for Roy Cohn on February 26, 1983:

“[…] And Ivana Trump was there and she came over and when she saw me she was embarrassed and she said, “Oh, whatever happened to those pictures?” and I had this speech in my mind of telling her off, and I was undecided whether to let her have it or not, and she was trying to get away and she did….” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 487–488)

On November 30, 1983, Trump Tower opened to the public. The mixed-use skyscraper—comprised of apartments, offices, an atrium, and stores on the ground levels—has hosted an eclectic variety of events over the years. When Warhol was invited to judge cheerleading tryouts at Trump Tower on January 15, 1984, he complied:

“It was the first tryout, and I was supposed to be there at 12:00 but I took my time and went to church and finally moseyed over there around 2:00. This is because I still hate the Trumps because they never bought the paintings I did of the Trump Tower.” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 549)

To make room for Trump Tower, a location of great significance in Warhol’s Pop art exhibition history—and also his pre-Pop work—had to be torn down: the Bonwit Teller Department Store. Warhol did many of the store’s huge window displays from the 1950s up to 1968. The most significant of these was that of April 1961, which included his earliest Pop paintings, reproducing popular culture images such as comics, a crossword, and advertisements.

On one occasion, driving by another Trump-owned skyscraper aroused this diary entry from May 2, 1984:

“And I just hate the Trumps because they never bought my Trump Tower portraits. And I also hate them because the cabs on the upper level of their ugly Hyatt Hotel just back up traffic so badly around Grand Central now and it takes me so long to get home.” (The Andy Warhol Diaries, 571)

Interestingly, Donald Trump has not publicly expressed any ill will toward Warhol. In fact he has quoted Warhol in two of his books. It’s actually the same quote; the line “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” from Warhol’s 1975 book, THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol, appears in the introduction to Trump’s Think Like a Billionaire and is referenced three separate times in his Think Like a Champion:

“There’s a certain amount of bravado in what I do these days, and part of that bravado is to make it look easy. That’s why I’ve often referred to business as being an art. I’ve always liked Andy Warhol’s statement that, ‘making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.’ I agree.” (Think Like a Champion, 57)

“We are all businessmen and women, whether you see it that way yet or not. If you like art and can’t make money at it, you eventually realize that everything is business, even your art. That’s why I like Warhol’s statement about good business being the best art. It’s a fact. That’s also another reason I see my business as an art and so I work at it passionately.” (Think Like a Champion, 86)

Perhaps Warhol would have written differently about Trump if the painting commission had worked out. Two of the Trump Tower portraits are now in The Warhol’s permanent collection. The rest of the paintings and drawings are scattered in galleries across the globe. Will Trump’s presidential campaign result in a new level of importance for these paintings?

Works Cited
Warhol, Andy and Pat Hackett. The Andy Warhol Diaries. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2009.
Trump, Donald and Meredith McIver. Trump: Think Like a Billionaire: Everything You Need to Know About Success, Real Estate, and Life. Random House Publishing Group: 2004.
Trump, Donald. Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education In Business and Life. Vanguard Press, 2009.

Grace Marston

Grace Marston is an educator and gallery attendant at The Warhol.

  • Donald Warhol

    Donald Trump is the Warholian Candidate. Trump is to politics what Warhol is to art.

  • For Bleep Sake

    I’m very happy Andy Warhol disliked Donald Trump in the end.

  • francoismarie

    Trump is the Kardaschians of so call election 2016,Andy would have fun with guimic

    • Steve Hoge

      No, more like the American Berlusconi, 2017 edition.

  • Mark Hoggan™

    Andy Warhol knew a fraud when he saw one, Trump is not real, he is just a construct of media and money.

  • Jason J. Carlton

    You have to be brilliant to turn 1 million into 8 billion. Most people couldn’t turn a buck into one hundred dollars. #Trump2016

    • Steve Hoge

      Where’d you get that “8 billion” number? Oh, from Donald, of course!

    • M Bach

      Brilliant, lucky or a skilled criminal.

  • Philip Fabrizio,DPT

    Andy Warhol was ahead of his time and such a good judge of character or in Trump’s case “lack of character”.

    • Katherine McChesney

      Warhol was a hack artist.

      • Cut Flowers

        Your opinion, which no one cares about anyway.

        • Katherine McChesney

          Many people agree with me.

          • M Bach

            Stating that people agree with YOU doesn’t add credibility to YOUR opinion, it only negatively affects the credibility of those people!

      • M Bach

        Undoubtedly based on your “wealth” of knowledge regarding art in general and Mr. Warhol in specific! (sic=sarcasm is intended)

    • Steve Hoge

      Its interesting that Warhol doesn’t seem to resent Trump for his garish taste or abrasive personality – just that he didn’t follow through on the sale and inconvenienced him on a personal level. I’ve ordered the Diaries book to read more about Andy’s thinking as expressed in the first person – I guess given his self-centered amoralism that he’d be likely to have assessed Trump on a purely transactional level. We’ll see!

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  • Nigel McPhearson

    Um people. He disliked him because he didn’t buy his paintings. That’s it.
    If his wife had liked them he’d be singing trumps praises. So relax

  • Mark Hoggan™

    Don’t forget kids, if you can’t get into a real State University or State College, you can go to the ‘Otis School of Art’ near the LAX Airport just like famous art students all over Montana and Kansas, or perhaps ‘Trump University’ may still have some diplomas laying around on the copy machine.

  • William

    Trump was a fool not to have bought those paintings but I don’t think Trump understands art. His penthouse and other homes are void of any notable works of art (notable that a museum would be interested to have).

    • Chris Malmberg

      “JUST COVER IT ALL IN GOLD.” Donald Trump speaking to his designer (probably)

      • William

        Gold radiator paint!

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  • twoHusbandsSince1976

    Life follows art, alas LOL.

  • Cut Flowers

    Nice article. I don’t think Andy would have EVER liked the Trumps. He may have tolerated them but he still the truth–that they are tacky and cheap.

    • Jason J. Carlton

      Didn’t Andy enshrine tacky and cheap? Why would he recoil at Trump?

  • HB

    Andy should be president and Trump should’ve died in the 80’s

  • bryanfarley

    Grace, You wrote this ONE YEAR before the inauguration!