It takes all seven floors of this largest American museum dedicated to a single artist to begin to put Warhol’s ego and eccentricity on display. This is a man who saved every student sketch, cocktail napkin and claim check of his life, shoveling it all into cardboard boxes, ordering his lackeys to tape them up, date, label and store them as “Time Capsules”--610 in all.
The “biography boxes” on the walls of his namesake museum, bulging as they are, barely skim the surface of this nonstop graphic artist, painter, film director, writer, magazine publisher, record promoter and one of the busiest social butterflies ever to spread his wings in Manhattan.
“I used to think there were three Warhols, you saw him so much,” said one New York habitue who lived there during Warhol’s reign, the 1960s-’80s. “The old line was he’d go to the opening of an envelope.”
A life told in trinkets and treasures
Today, 26 years after his death, The Andy Warhol Museum can show only a third of the vast collection he left behind. Some are personal items: his baptism certificate, before he dropped the “a” in Warhola between Pittsburgh and Manhattan; his high school diploma; and a self-portrait pencil sketch from 1942. Plus the detritus of Big Apple high life--Warhol gave parties, attended parties, crashed parties, and his keepsake clutter overflows with engraved invitations and party favors.
He kept his invitation to Truman Capote’s notorious Black and White Ball, as did anyone lucky enough to get a ticket to one of the great fetes of the half-century. But Warhol just as conscientiously saved his printed invitation from Christopher Reeve to a midnight party for the opening of “Superman III.”
A recent “biography box” display combines Warhol’s Reeboks, jeans, a white wig from the ’50s and a lilac corset, which he wore after he was shot in the abdomen by Valerie Solanas in 1968.
‘People just want stars’
When, you wonder as you stroll the ephemera of his life, did this manic man ever have time to silk-screen one, let alone 11, Elvises? Yet there they all hang, snaring an entire corridor for themselves, a young, gun-totin’ Elvis from a cheesy Western.
“More than anything,” Warhol said, “people just want stars.”
But there are always the snapshots, autographs and party favors calling you back. Go ahead and enjoy Warhol’s kitsch and keepsakes, but don’t forget you’re looking at the accumulated work of the foremost American artist of the second half of the 20th century.
Smirk if you must at the oversized Brillo boxes, Campbell’s Soup cans and Coco-Cola bottles, but their very intrusion into the art gallery smashed centuries of painterly convention.
Pop Art, Warhol said, was something “anyone walking down Broadway could recognize in a split second.”
He started out in shoes
The youngest son of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants Julia and Andrej Warhola, Warhol scooped up his sheepskin from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie-Mellon University, and headed for Manhattan. He quickly snatched up commissions from Glamour magazine and Tiffany & Co. His long association with the I. Miller Shoe Company helped make his graphic-design mark and early fortune.
And sure enough, there are Warhol’s Big Apple photos from 1949 on the wall, before his spiky platinum wig and nose job.
His widowed mother soon joined him in Manhattan, running his household and even inscribing the text for some of Warhol’s early illustrations. By 1957, he was winning drawing competitions—and saving the certificates.
‘Painting…the things I know best’
Soon he was rich enough to travel around the world with a friend—yes, postcards, souvenirs and even his travel agent’s typed itinerary rotate on and off the walls of the Warhol.
By 1962, he was silk-screening giant Listerine bottles and S&H Green Stamps for museum walls.
“I feel I represent the U.S. in my art, but I’m not a social critic,” he said. “I just paint those objects in my paintings because those are the things I know best.”
He moved his growing empire of art, film and attitude to The Factory, a Pop Art landmark covered in aluminum foil and silver paint. “Silver was the future, it was spacey,” Warhol said. “Silver was also the past—the Silver Screen.”
Trading one factory for another
When it came time to immortalize one of Pittsburgh’s most famous sons, after Warhol’s death in 1987, museum architects insisted on transforming a factory of their own. The 1911 Frick & Lindsay Building, with its white glazed terra-cotta facade, wide industrial corridors and impossibly high ceilings, has become a perfect match for Warhol’s oversized canvases and creative vision.
In addition to the Elvii, there are the overpowering celebrity portraits of Mick Jagger and Liza Minnelli.
But along with Elvis, perhaps his most famous icon is the Marilyn portrait. “For Warhol,” the curators have printed on the wall, “Marilyn Monroe was as mysterious and ambiguous as Mona Lisa...”
Indeed, Warhol released a small version of the Mona Lisa in 1979, but she never took off like Marilyn and Elvis. Or, in a totally Pop way, like Warhol himself.
When you go
The Andy Warhol Museum, one of four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is located at 117 Sandusky St., just across the 7th Street Bridge from downtown. Phone 412-237-8300. For more information about Pittsburgh, 800-359-0758.
More to marvel at in The Warhol
It takes a couple of hours to do justice to The Warhol. Treasures change as archivists continue to open Warhol’s’ 610 time capsules and rotate the snapshots, sales receipts and spiky wigs in and out of display cases.
o A giant silk-screen portrait he did of his mother in 1975.
o Andy’s sketch of a girl from the 1940s, held together with yellowing Scotch tape.
o Movie posters from his films “Trash,” “Bad,” and “Frankenstein in 3-D.”
o Andy Warhol’s Party Book.
o Shoes he decorated during his I. Miller graphic-design period.
o Warhol’s 1964 datebook stuffed with notes and silk-screen invoices.
o Photos of Warhol with Pope John Paul, Nancy Reagan, Dolly Parton and Janis Joplin.
o Georgia O’Keefe’s autograph.
o Warhol’s black Halston cashmere scarf; Warhol was very close to the fashion designer.
o Covers from Interview magazine, which he founded in 1969.
o The Silver Clouds gallery, a hands-on room made for lying on the floor and gently bouncing silver Mylar pillows into the air.
o Records from the Velvet Underground, a band he promoted.
o Cecil, a stuffed great Dane, who stood guard at the entrance to Warhol’s studio for 20 years. Legend says the dog originally belonged to film director Cecil B. DeMille.