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The Anthropologist and the Time Capsules

By Jordan Weeks

"You should try to keep track of it, but if you can’t and you lose it, that’s fine, because it’s one less thing to think about, another load off your mind."
-Andy Warhol
You can see the toes here. It’s probably Egyptian. It’s been bobbed, too; it’s been wrapped, that’s why it’s not very large. This part comes up to the bottom of the ankle, where it’s attached to the ankle. It’d be interesting to X-ray it—you could tell a lot more about it."

What has Jim Richardson, curator of anthropology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, so rapt with attention? Well, among the 600-odd boxes of Warhol’s personally stored belongings at The Andy Warhol Museum, a mummified foot was found. Yes, Warhol did have a foot fetish, but…isn’t this extreme?

"Not really," says head Warhol archivist John Smith. "Andy went to a lot of yard sales and flea markets in New York; we believe it was something he just picked up there."

Ah…New York…a flea market. It all begins to come together. 

You see, whenever Warhol cleared off his desk, or felt like organizing a bit, he pretty much put everything into an open box he kept by his desk. On a regular basis, he would tape the box up, label it with dates for reference, file it away, and put a new, empty box in its place, ready for the next month’s sundry accumulations. So far about 100 of the boxes have been opened and examined. As the archivists at The Warhol have discovered, nearly everything was fair game for inclusion in these boxes, which Andy dubbed "Time Capsules"…even the odd, mummified foot.

Richardson and Smith recently examined one of Warhol’s Time Capsules (or, "TCs" as Warhol called them), and exchanged ideas on the anthropological, archaeological, and art historical significance of these all-inclusive boxes.

"We never know what we’re going to find," attests Smith, who oversees and maintains the entire archival collection at The Warhol, and, when time permits, joins assistant archivist Matt Wribican in going through the next Time Capsule with a fine-toothed comb. "Warhol started putting this stuff together in the 1940s," Smith continues, "and we have no idea where a lot of it came from. He was saving everything from day one, but then in 1974, when he was moving from one apartment to another, he and his associates went out and bought these boxes to accomplish the move. So several hundred boxes really are a mixture of things, representing different dates and periods." Smith adds that after Warhol was audited by the Internal Revenue Service, he became more methodical about keeping his correspondence and records. At times he would ask an associate to use the boxes for research. It was a loose filing system for everything in Warhol’s past. 

Warhol’s TCs are unlike official "Time Capsules" says Richardson, which usually conform to several basic rules. Official Time Capsules have pre-determined "expiration" or "opening" dates, and the items placed in them are chosen for special historical significance which the capsule assemblers consider important. The contents of Warhol’s TCs were unplanned, and their future use was uncertain. "It seemed as if he’d come in and empty his pockets directly into a Time Capsule," assessed Richardson. 

Warhol seemed to place the same significance (or insignificance) on everything, from articles clipped from newspapers, to checks for $2,000 (a few checks were found uncashed in TCs). He boxed everything from daily receipts, tickets and letters to the handwritten lyrics for Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground tune "Heroin," and the used paintbrushes that Salvador Dali gave him as a present in the late 1970s.

Anthropologists like Richardson focus on "material culture" – the found artifacts and objects used to assess a society in the absence of a written history that explains a culture’s politics, religion, or the daily uses of objects. Richardson says there is no historic precedent for Warhol’s Time Capsule habit, especially since after the early 1970s it was accompanied by tape-recorded (and later transcribed and published) diaries, sometimes explaining in great detail objects that were found later in the Capsules. It was a tape that identified the paintbrushes as a gift from Dali.

The assemblage of Warhol’s Time Capsules, says Richardson, "is different because it’s a wide variety of items which are somewhat systematic in their inclusion, but they are drawn from everywhere, from every venue of Warhol’s life. In contrast, royal tombs collections reveal that everything has been prepared and the placed in the tombs." Warhol’s intentions (if indeed he had any) concerning the preservation of these items is unclear. But today they fascinate researchers interested in Warhol and the art and popular culture of the 1940s through 1987—the year the artist died. 

Warhol has been described as his own greatest creation. Anthropologist Jim Richardson’s agrees: "Basically, he collected himself."

The Archives at The Andy Warhol Museum will be closed to researchers through March 2000 in order to devote time to cataloguing additional archival material

Fame After Photography 

January 8 Lecture: Museum Theater, 7pm

In a special program at The Warhol, guest lecturers Marvin Heiferman and Carole Kismaric, curators of the Museum of Modern Art’s recent Fame After Photography exhibit, will discuss fame, photography, and the inevitable intermingling of the two in our culture.

The Warhol’s two current photography shows, Nadar/Warhol: Paris/New York, and Andy Warhol: Photography, are full of the crosscurrents of these subjects. 

Heiferman says, "Our understanding of fame has been changed since the invention of photography." He argues that more widespread use of photography has changed the public perceptions about people and their accomplishments. "What looks good in pictures begins to define what is good in culture and society at large."

Warhol and Nadar each emerged from the Bohemia of his day, and both used photography to create and consecrate a circle of famous people. In the 1960s-1980s, Warhol, like the famous showman P. T. Barnum, "understood fame and photography in a broad context, and how the two work together in a world larger than just the world of images or the world of art." In addition to portraying people in graphic design, painting and filmmaking, Warhol used photography to popularize the modern celebrity culture. Nadar, active in Paris in the 1850s-1860s, added photography to earlier pursuits as a journalist and caricaturist. He captured in unforgettable portraits the famous people of his day, such as actress Sarah Berhardt, artists Gustave Doré and Jean Francois Millet, and writers like Alexandre Dumas and George Sand.


Symposium Yields "Do-It-Yourself" Urban Ideas

Last September’s "When You Wish Upon a Star: Themed Worlds" symposium at The Warhol challenged those who criticize artificially imposed urban themes and "generic cities" to produce their own creative, feasible, and fantasy alternatives to the homogenization, and the future "theming" of Pittsburgh. A basic concern was that the city would try to revitalize itself by destroying historically significant landmarks that individualize the city, and replace them with cookie-cutter department and chain stores and theme restaurants--cheap labor-driven cultural vacuums--that could destroy the uniqueness of Pittsburgh.

The Edge Architects, and Barry Hannegan, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s Director for Historic Landscape Preservation, looked at the city’s past dependence on the rivers, and the current river uses for commerce and transportation, and conceived of a Venice-like downtown with water replacing streets in designated areas. Pittsburgh would have water taxis and buses, floating garages, and floating gardens.

Installation artist Bob Bingham and Quantum Theater founder and producing director Karla Boos’s proposal focused on the city’s capacity for flora and fauna, and a desire to "restore the ecosystem with creative reuse of all buildings and resources." Chatham College electronic art professor Steffi Domike and video artist Curtis Reaves proposed changing the city’s infrastructure by adding new inclines, steps, and stairways, repairing the old ones, and organizing walking and bicycle tours, and photo surveys.

"A place where smokestacks become poems

and poetry is a game."

Laurie Graham, author of Singing the City, and Christina Springer, director of Sun Crumbs artists’ organization, proposed a "writing on steel bones" by means of "The Great Pittsburgh Poem Chase." Lines from a poem about Pittsburgh, or that incorporate a Pittsburgh theme, would be scattered about the city at different locations such as the Bayer Clock, billboards, theater marquees, the trusses of bridges, or the sides of buses. 

Poems would be solicited from Pittsburgh poets, and artwork from Pittsburgh artists.

Each line of the poem would be numbered and participants would assemble them in an order to "solve" the problem. A reconstructed poem would be logged onto a website, and if the input provided the right answer, the person would be eligible for a prize. The Greater Pittsburgh Poem Chase would celebrate Pittsburgh’s working artists, and would unify life and art in the city. There would be a new contest each month, and eventually an anthology would be published. Both Graham and Springer are now hard at work to realize this project.

The Warhol Community Project, a collaboration between teenagers, architects, and neighborhood residents, worked with a playful Disney theme and redesigned the Golden Triangle as a giant theme ride with an Egg Public Transport system, an egg-shaped, multi-terrain elevator/boat/gondola/submarine. Included were a Demolition Park where everyone could blow stuff up, and a community "food court," featuring different ethnic cuisine from the area’s churches and places of worship.

Andy Does the Olympics

Celebrate the Olympics with a rare poster designed by Andy Warhol for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. The International Olympic Committee commissioned the poster, which captures the energy of a speed skater in Warhol’s inimitable style. The poster plates were destroyed after a limited edition printing; only 44 posters remain. Purchase yours for $60 in The Andy Warhol Museum Store or online at www.warhol.org.


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