Why are we always referring to quarter of an hour? And not ten or twenty minutes? Because all the many expressions in our language around this fraction of time aren’t actually referring to a specific length of time. Instead they describe a short parenthesis in a continuum, a one-off change that breaks with habit, with the day-to-day, with customs and the usual ways.
And so there is the Parisian quarter of an hour, which can just as well be referred to as the Toulouse quarter of an hour, or Burgundian, or Lyonnais for that matter ... It’s quite simply the French quarter of an hour that all of us who originate from France will arrive late. “Exactitude is politeness for kings and a duty for all good people” was, however, uttered by King Louis XVIII, who was assiduous about timeliness. In the world of international business, arriving for an appointment more than 5 minutes late is considered to demonstrate a lack of respect. And conversely, in the private sphere, arriving between 15 and 30 minutes after the time specified on the invitation demonstrates consideration towards one’s hosts who may have experienced difficulties in their preparations.
In a completely different register, there is also the American quarter of an hour, a tradition that is becoming outdated now. It first made its appearance at the beginning of the 1970s, following the Woodstock festival that would give resonance to the women’s liberation movement. For 15 minutes, girls on the other side of the Atlantic where allowed to invite boys to dance. Fifty years later, this role reversal in the name of sexual equality appears grotesque, outdated and yet, at the same time, isn’t the bulk of the work still to be done in terms of achieving true parity?
Finally, the quarter of an hour promised by celebrity Andy Warhol, more or less at the same point in time, became a reality in a more spectacular manner. “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” he predicted, on the fringes of an exhibition of his work at the Moderna Musset in Stockholm in 1968. At the peak of his career as an artist, the New Yorker was clearly not referring to himself. He was already on first name terms with all of Manhattan, whose portraits he was creating using a photo booth. When he wasn’t jostling side by side with them until sunrise in the underground clubs of the city that never sleeps.
With his “15 minutes of fame”, Warhol was instead referring to the increasing appetite and greed of the tabloids whenever anybody made the headlines. And their similarly quick disinterest when things were going well for another individual. It should be remembered that there wasn’t a television set in each household at this time. Neither was there internet, nor smartphones, nor social media, which have all considerably distorted the notion of “celebrity”. But there was already an appetite for the limelight which could be felt everywhere. The year after his prophecy, the American artist launched “Interview” magazine with a focus on the happy few, interviews with whom were illustrated with his portraits. Works which were often created on the spot, as if in less than 15 minutes, a large number of which are being exhibited between 02 March and 10 April 2021 at the Galerie Italienne at 15 rue du Louvre in Paris as part of the Andy Warhol: Instantanés exhibition.
Text: Frédéric Martin-Bernard
Photo: ©2015 Mirfaces