When most Americans hear the name Andy
Warhol, they think of Campbell’s Soup cans. Those Campbell’s
Soup Cans paintings may be his most recognizable work but it is
far from the entirety that was Andy Warhol.
A recent visit to the Andy Warhol Museum in
his home town of Pittsburgh refreshed my interest and increased
my knowledge of this artist. Because his artwork spanned my
coming-of-age years, much of his art and subject matter was
familiar. His Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacky Kennedy and Nixon
chronicled America’s larger than life figures of the mid 20th
The lobby begins to enlighten you about
Andy. There is a live camcorder of his grave here in Pittsburgh.
Fans still bring some strange objects to his grave. Most notable
are the Campbell’s Soup cans.
The museum is arranged from top to bottom.
All but the second floor, which is a changing exhibit with
different Special Exhibitions shown throughout the year, is
about Andy Warhol, the artist and more important the person.
your introduction to Andy Warhol on the ground floor, you begin
your visit on the seventh floor, 1920s–1960s eras. There you
find the young Andy Warhol, images of his mother, childhood
pictures of him, and memorabilia depicting life for a sickly shy
boy in steel mill era Pittsburgh.
A scrapbook of his
beloved movie stars. One Shirley temple autographed picture is
so indicative of the era both of these very different stars were
born into. Andy was born
on August 6, 1928 in the midst of the Great Depression. Perhaps
accounting for his tremendous work ethic, drive to succeed and
love of money and commercial success.
This floor showcases his
college work and his beginnings doing commercial art. This was
probably a big influence leading Andy into his pre-Pop Art for
which he is most famous.
The sixth floor brings us to the 1960s, the
era to which Andy Warhol is most often placed.
I admired the well know
pictures of Elvis 11
Times showing Elvis Presley looking as if he had just
stepped off the set of
Here too were the Marilyn’s, the Jackie’s,
and the other celebrities that so impressed Warhol. Naturally
the Campbell’s Soup cans were prominent. The silk-screening work
which Andy used extensively in this stage of his work is found
here as well.
The part of Andy Warhol I hadn’t realized
is here too. He created
Exploding Plastic Inevitable>. This was the preview of
today’s rock shows with their light and sound effects. He
dabbled heavily in screen and video projects. He produced
The Velvet Underground
and Nico’s first album which garnered little to no notice at
the time but has since become one of the most influential and
critically acclaimed rock albums in history, foreshadowing the
rise of Punk Rock. It is named “number 13” on
Rolling Stone Magazine's
list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
more than 60 films between
1963 and 1968. The
museum has an interactive Screen Test Machine where you
can do your own screen test on this floor.
An incident that occurred on June 3, 1968
had a profound effect on Andy Warhol and his work. A mentally ill, feminist
writer, Valerie Solanas, shot him. Solanas was the author of a
work called the SCUM
Manifesto, which urged women to "overthrow the government,
eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and
eliminate the male sex." Based on this premise she had authored
a play called Up Your Ass
and approached Andy at his “Factory” as he called all of his
studios, in regard to his producing the film. Many of Andy’s
previous films had been seized by the police as “obscene” and he
believed this one was a police trap as he found it so
Instead, he offered her a small part in two of his own films. He
misplaced her script and when he could not return it she became
paranoid. She then
shot him stating “He had too much control in my life."
Andy barely survived the assassination
attempt and it had a profound effect on his ongoing focus. Much
of his work became more commercially driven rather than
artistic. He summed up his goals with this statement, "Making
money is art, and working is art and good business is the best
As you travel downward the fifth floor is
devoted to 1970s. The floor is filled with portraits and
photographs. There is the Silver Clouds Room where you wend your
way through floating silver balloons.
Again there are more
insights into Andy Warhol the person. Both Andy and his mother
were cat lovers. He is said to have owned 20 cats at one time,
all Siamese. Hester was his original cat and when he feared she
was lonely for feline companionship he brought in a second cat
named Sam. The two must have taken to one another as they began
named all the offspring Sam and gave them away to his friends.
He apparently loved dogs as well as since
in one of his self portraits he is pictured with a dog snuggled
close to his face. There is a stuffed Great Dane named Cecil on
the fifth floor along with a majestic lion. Warhol is quoted as
saying “I never met an animal I didn’t like.”/p>
The fourth floor is devoted to the 1980s.
You find many of his later works and works of other artists
influenced by Andy Warhol. When I visited there were works by
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
The Andy Warhol Museum is the most
comprehensive single artist museum in the world. Andy’s packrat
tendencies helped provide so much material that there is a
section in the museum on the third floor in the archives section
where curators comb through the cardboard boxes where he stored
what he considered “Time Capsules.” He kept almost every piece
of paper and other items he got his hands on from receipts to
used postage stamps and junk mail. Not only paper went into the
boxes. They included such unlikely objects as unopened soup
cans, Campbell’s of course, to Fiestaware, a popular colorful
dinnerware popular in that time frame. If Andy Warhol had not
been a famous and rich artist, he would have been considered a
Andy Worhol was in one way, a man of his
time and in another far ahead of his time. He was openly
homosexual way before Gay Pride. At the same time he was a
devout Catholic. His art was a comment on much of the world as
he saw it, but on the two most vital political issues of the
time, the Cold War and the Vietnam War, he was strangely silent.
He was Pop Art’s Bad Boy and a devoted son
who created a book with his mother,
25 Cats Name Sam and One
Blue Pussy . His mother who did the calligraphy for the book
inadvertently left out the “d” after “name” Andy insisted it
remain that way. In one of his later books, he commented, "When
you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something."
Everything in the museum’s floors devoted
to Andy Warhol is a small glimpse into the life of one of
America’s most iconic and controversial artists.
I asked an artist and collector friend,
Ronald Ruble who has also collected and studied art for over 50
years, about his take on Andy Warhol and he replied, “I didn't
know him, but I wish that I had. I don't even own any of his
work, though I (again) wish that I did. He was undoubtedly the
leading artist in the Pop Movement in art. He changed the art
world in such a way that it will never be the same. His
influence was gargantuan, not only in America, but throughout
the world. His art spawned almost all segments of modernism in
art that is being done today. He is still not appreciated by the
non-art public, but with knowledge, will come the acceptance
that he deserves.”