Who was the key figure in bringing
Warhol’s collection to Pittsburgh?
I don’t think there was any one key figure,
and I don’t think the collection came to Pittsburgh
just because it was Warhol’s hometown. I do
think it was a strategic moment when all things came
It was the fact that Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
had a system that could much more easily absorb a
new entity, and that Senator Heinz, who was a visionary,
really wanted it here. He felt somebody with an international
reputation would help raise the stakes of the depleted
steel city of the past.
The sub rosa catalyst may have been that there was
a very famous collection of abstract expressionist
pictures by G. David Thompson that came to Pittsburgh,
and people didn’t take to him. Those pictures
are now in major museums throughout the world, and
I think that some of the more discerning natives
decided that they couldn’t make the same mistake
Which of Warhol’s values do you think
The Andy Warhol Museum has been able to keep alive?
Warhol was totally entrepreneurial, exploited the
media, and created art of every sort. We do the same.
The idea of democratizing the art-viewing experience
is Warhol’s, and so is the idea of hanging
pictures differently. Warhol once made the comment
that “museums should be more like department
stores,” and we’ve taken that approach—offering
more in-depth experiences juxtaposed with fast thrills!
What do you think Warhol would have thought about
Warhol wouldn’t have liked that the museum
is in Pittsburgh. He would have wanted it to be a
penthouse at the Met, because then it could be the
biggest and the best right there on Fifth Avenue.
However, the idea of a working-class kid who reached
high was very much a part of his cast and I think
there are some things he would have liked about the
place. He would have loved our website (but he would
have done a more brilliant one because he was Andy
Warhol). I think he would have liked
some of the easy, more commercial things we’ve
done. And in a funny kind of way, even though he
wasn’t overtly political, he would have liked
the idea of using art as a fulcrum to leverage
change in society—that was what he was all
Do you think The Warhol has evolved the way its
founders thought it would, or is this evolution largely
I don’t think anybody was necessarily thinking
about how the museum would evolve when it first opened.
I think they just wanted a Warhol Museum—kerplunk!
However, even before my time, the museum realized
there wasn’t going to be enough to engage our
local audiences, to make our earned income goals,
etc. I think what I may have contributed to The Warhol’s
evolution is the notion of the “Museum-Plus”—looking
at museums in a less grand but more modern and directed
Do you think the audience in Pittsburgh is a good
audience for The Warhol?
I think it is. When we did our strategic plan, one
of the things we recognized is that we were this
specific museum in this specific city. The museum
would work on a whole different level if it were
in a different city. If we were in New York we would
probably have 750,000 visitors a year without doing
anything, simply because of tourism, Warhol’s
fame, and the art-going public. We’re never
going to get that here.
If The Warhol were just about
getting the most people in the world to see Warhol’s
work, we shouldn’t
be here. But seeing Andy Warhol’s works in
the notion of a city that has transformed itself,
just as Warhol did, is very interesting.
look at everything Warhol did, it was all about
transformation. It was about making Campbell’s
soup into art, about making going out at night
to Studio 54 an artwork. And I think that was
who came from working class roots in a working
I hope and expect that we’re
playing the same role that Warhol played on a
wider scale back in
the 1960s. We’ve been transformative in
the way that we deal with TV, and government,
and social issues, and communities. I think that’s
where museums of all sorts should be going.
Do you find the word “museum” restricting?
Jessica Gogan, our assistant director for education,
told me, “Tom, you’re right and you’re
wrong . . . museums can be vital and exciting—it’s
just that most museums are not. We don’t
need to change the word, but redefine what it means.”
think of museums as places where the Muses reside,
not places where you just hang up their old tutus
and worry if the lace is going stale. But I don’t
think that’s the way that a lot of museums
around the world view themselves. People largely
look at museums today in 19th-century Germanic
I think we really break the boundaries that
way, unabashedly. At The Warhol we’re willing
to do something like Without Sanctuary or the
Kennedy exhibition, both of which are about American
world culture, which is now very much at the
heart of what art making is all about.
see our Good Fridays programs and
the political things we do as our meat and
people would say all we do is throw parties.
is that while we might have a party and use
it to make money, at the same time, we’re
doing the stuff that’s really important
to us. We just don’t do it in the same
old, boring, 19th-century way.
if you say you’re going to do
a wonderful exhibition on Etruscan Funerary
urns and then give a party with whores wearing
where everyone dances the Mambo, that’s
cheesy, and it’s not what we do. But
if you say, sex played a seminal role in the
way the Etruscans dealt
with their culture that was very different
from what the Greeks and Romans did, and you
message in an archaeologically sound way into
the exhibition, then you’re really getting
a holistic look at the culture. That’s
what we do that’s
Why was it important for you to build a culture
around The Warhol?
I think it was important because, quite frankly,
we needed more people to come and see the museum.
If you’re selling steroids at the Olympics
it’s a no-brainer. But if you’re selling
steroids at a conference of philosophers, they better
appeal to brain cells as well as to muscles.
It’s 2004 and Warhol died 17 years
ago. Is his work getting to be old-fashioned at
Not in the least. Because Warhol really understood
how people thought, the role the media played in
those thoughts, and had such a sense of style, his
work is still very easy to absorb.
His early years
were all about Pop to be sure, but when you get
into the car crashes and the electric
chair paintings, it was a whole different sensibility.
Many of the Pop artists of the day—Jasper Johns
and Lichtenstein—had a fun-fun-fun mentality.
Warhol took a more sober, investigatory approach
into everyday things that still appeals to audiences
What do you like most about your role?
I work with a smart, young staff that isn’t
afraid of change. I love the chance to be able to
spin on a dime; and I love to engage people who have
never come here before.I would love to crack the
religious community and show that we can engage
in religion in a serious
way, and still get away from the boring stereotypes.
also enjoy interfacing with the city. I’m
proud of the fact that one of the trustees said
to me that I was probably one of the most visible
in the city who was not a politician or a sports
figure. That’s important—not because
it’s about Tom Sokolowski—but because
it means an arts leader is thought of as being
worthy to comment on issues such as the failure
of the school
system for example.
What are The Warhol’s plans for the
next 10 years?
We’ve done surveys and the analysis tells us
we’re doing some things well. I would like
us to set up a curriculum for educators to instruct
them how to teach art using Warhol as a model—but
not the only model. We’re interested in selling
the curriculum—philosophically and educationally—because
the school systems aren’t doing it well. It’s
about extending the museum outwards, and also about
bringing people into the museum to do things in a
We would like to turn the museum into
a complete media-savvy center. Maybe we should
merge with Filmmakers?
I would also like to open a for-profit arm of the
museum where we could design and market our products,
whether literary or decorative. And, I’ll
leave you with the idea that perhaps we should
merge with Target. Andy really would have thought
was a great idea!
Is there any message about The Warhol that you want
people to think about on this important 10th anniversary?
Keep on watching. You never know what we’ll
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