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I think kids today see more—they see floating silver pillows, they see films, they see Interview magazine, the superstars, the quotes, the look. Even if you’re not a Warhol fan, his work today seems very fresh and new.”
Jerry Saltz, art critic, the
Village Voice


































































Expanding Warhol’s World

Andy Warhol, The Star, ©1981

As they mulled over what a new museum dedicated to Andy Warhol would achieve, those at the helm of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh in 1994 probably weren’t talking about how such a museum could lift Andy Warhol out of the pigeonhole he had sunk into over the years. Nor is it likely they were thinking about how a single artist museum on Pittsburgh’s North Shore could push the very definition of what a museum can be.

Milton Fine was a member of Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh’s Board of Trustees when the opportunity arose to bring The Andy Warhol Museum to Pittsburgh. He says the board had many tough issues to consider, including whether Andy Warhol was an artist who would have lasting value. They also wondered if Carnegie Museums could make a single-artist museum more than just a memorial. “Warhol was a very popular artist in his day, but we needed to decide if his work would have an impact well into the future,” says Fine. “His work is really a time capsule of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and we saw it as a tremendous teaching tool; but without strong programming to complement the collection, we weren’t sure it would ever really live and breathe. Now that 10 years have passed, we clearly know we made the right decision.”

Fine and others credit The Warhol’s strong leadership and adventurous staff for
garnering the museum’s success and Warhol’s ongoing role in the contemporary art world. “More people around the world appreciate and understand the greatness of Andy Warhol now,” says Joel Wachs, president of The Andy Warhol Foundation “I think the museum has been a real catalyst for that.”

Jerry Saltz, art critic at the Village Voice, a Manhattan weekly, says it’s hard for him to pinpoint exactly how The Andy Warhol Museum has contributed to the growing appreciation of Warhol’s complete works, but says that appreciation is definitely present now.

“By the time Warhol died, we were sick of him,” Saltz says. “He would pop up everywhere—Johnny Carson, The Love Boat, you’d see him at night clubs. But I think kids today see more—they see floating silver pillows, they see films, they see Interview magazine, the superstars, the quotes, the look. Even if you’re not a Warhol fan, his work today seems very fresh and new.”

More Than Just Soup
In the 1960s and the ‘70s, Warhol was becoming a household name (well, at least in Manhattan brownstones and Brooklyn studios). But his name was being made primarily by the silk-screens we know and love today—the Campbell’s soup cans, the Marilyn Monroes, the Jackie Kennedys, and the other celebrity portraits that now hang in the museum’s foyer.

Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, Collaboration, © 1984

Warhol’s extraordinary output, however, included much more. With an extensive and comprehensive collection of work that reflects Warhol’s forays as a graphic artist, painter, sculptor, printmaker, film-maker, publisher, businessman, and celebrity, The Warhol has made it a point to showcase Warhol’s lesser-known works, such as Daisy Waterfall/Rain Machine (a series of daisy prints shrouded by falling water from the ceiling), his films, and the time capsules he assembled over the years.

Andy Warhol, Be Somebody with a Body, © 1984

It’s safe to say, for example, that were it not for The Warhol, Japanese visitors to the 1996 traveling show Andy Warhol 1956-1986: Mirror of His Time would never have seen the little-known sketchbooks that Warhol drew in during his eye-opening 1956 trip to Japan. That exhibition was the first large Warhol retrospective shown in Japan, and the sketchbooks’ presence in the show demonstrates how The Andy Warhol Museum—because of its extensive collection—is able to deepen perceptions of Warhol outside the U.S., as well as within.

Andy Warhol, Still Life (Hammer and Sickle), © 1976

“ The connections between Pop art in the U.S. and Japan are profound, but 10 years ago that statement probably couldn’t have been made,” says Frank Ellsworth, president of the Japan Society in New York City. “I credit Tom Sokolowski, his vision, and The Warhol’s exhibitions for having extraordinary impact on our understanding today.”

Likewise, shows created by The Warhol that traveled to Croatia, Turkey, and Slovenia over the past few years have proved to international audiences that there’s “more than Campbell’s Soup” when it comes to Warhol’s work. In fact, when Andy Warhol: A Retrospective made a 12-country tour through Eastern Europe in 2000 and 2001, it opened people’s eyes to much more than Andy Warhol. “This exhibit gave me a whole new perspective, not just on Warhol but on Western art,” said an artist in Kazakhstan.

More Than a Museum
The museum’s success in expanding people’s perceptions of Warhol’s work has not gone unnoticed by those in the art world, including Kathy Halbreich, director of the Walker Art Center, a contemporary art museum in Minneapolis. She says the museum has managed to highlight Warhol’s interest in blurring different forms of media and crossing traditional artistic boundaries.

“ The Warhol has made visible Warhol’s extraordinary achievements by reflecting the genuinely multidisciplinary nature of the artist’s own explorations in painting, printmaking, film, photography, fashion, music, pop culture, and the media, as well as his interests in heroes and villains,” Halbreich says. “Tom [Sokolowski] isn’t afraid of demonstrating the remarkable ways in which Warhol toppled the canons of art-making and taste; he knows how to develop programs that are intellectually engaging, artistically significant, and tailored to a diverse audience.”

Over the years, The Warhol has presented everything from drag cabaret act Kiki & Herb (left), to avant garde dance, cutting-edge music, and hands-on, art-making workshops that invite visitors to use Warhol’s silkscreening technique to create their own celebrity portraits.

“ Diverse” and “intellectually engaging” are terms that can also be applied to the museum itself, as demonstrated by its embrace of unusual and controversial exhibitions and performances that you wouldn’t expect to see at a museum dedicated to a single Pop artist. Each year, the museum stages a performance art series called Off the Wall, courageously funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation, which brings cutting-edge performance artists such as Penny Arcade and Sarah Skaggs to Pittsburgh. And the Good Fridays series of Friday evening happy hours and performances also has brought contemporary musicians and filmmakers into the mix of artists who appear at The Warhol.

Even though there’s a practical reason for the museum to present such a wide array of offerings—attendance revenue—there’s also the fact that Warhol himself
was influenced by many disciplines outside visual art, and he in turn influenced them. “The Warhol is an exciting place and it has helped the museum world move beyond its traditional roles,” says Frank Ellsworth, adding that the museum’s education and outreach programs are envied by many in museum circles.

Through a variety of programs, The Warhol’s education staff involve Pittsburgh’s youth in activities that they hope will encourage teens to develop and pursue an interest in art. Probably the most innovative of all The Warhol’s outreach programs, Youth Invasion allows students to take over the entire museum to stage a variety of activities, including a fashion show and a juried art exhibition with student works chosen by a museum curator.

These departures from simply organizing and presenting traditional art exhibitions have pushed the meaning of what a museum can be. The word “museum” is defined as “a place where works of artistic, historic, or scientific value are cared for and displayed.” But The Andy Warhol Museum staff and board have made no secret of the fact that they want the former warehouse to be a place where people come together to mull over and discuss the most important issues of our time.

For his part, Sokolowski says he’s glad the museum is now a vital part of contemporary life and dialogue. “People now look to us for commentary on issues outside of Warhol,” he says, “and that’s great, because people in the arts are rightful participants in civil discourse that goes well beyond art.” n

Caroline Abels covered The Andy Warhol Museum when she was the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s cultural arts reporter from 1998 to 2003.

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