By Habib, John Philip
The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
After 30 years on the Los Angeles city council and three runs for mayor--most recently as an openly gay candidate in 2001--you'd think Joel Wachs might be ready to slow down. Hardly. "I don't want to sleep until 11 and go to the gym and go out to bars," the 62-year-old Wachs says from his office in New York's East Village. "I wouldn't mind that one day a week, but I have more to offer."
Which is why, in October, Wachs left Los Angeles to become president of the New York-based Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. "I wasn't ready for retirement," he says. "I was quite blessed that this opportunity came along at what seemed a logical point to [bring my political career] to closure. Art is something I've always been very passionate about. I'm doing what I love!"
Passion will come in handy in Wachs's new position. Established in 1987 amid a swirl of controversy over funding and ownership of the late Andy Warhol's art, the foundation today is a $131 million endowment that licenses his work, bestows grants on art institutions nationwide, and crusades for freedom of expression and artists' rights.
When necessary, the foundation has clashed publicly with the likes of former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani over issues such as censorship and standards of decency.
As Wachs observes, an experienced politician is a natural choice to lead the organization. "Artists need a spokesperson," he says. "Advocacy comes naturally to a politician. There needs to be a broader appreciation of why it's in the interest of the taxpayers to support their art and artists."
Eric Gibson, a former art critic and deputy editor of leisure and arts at The Wall Street Journal, sees Wachs as the right man at the right time. "His appeal to the Warhol Foundation was his political background," Gibson observes, "but you wonder what elected officials will be like in the real world. He's lucky he's coming in now. [The foundation is] not fighting over funding like it was 10 years ago. …