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From Sandusky Street to St. Petersburg

As The Andy Warhol Museum’s triumphant, three-city Russian tour reaches its final destination, staff recount the experience of working across the globe.













Jessica Gogan, The Warhol’s assistant director for education and interpretation, in front of Red Square in Moscow.

Putting together a major traveling exhibition—with an educational program and a companion catalog—is both challenging and rewarding for all involved. When the exhibition is being designed for display in a foreign country, the unique challenges make the experience all the more worthwhile.

The Andy Warhol Museum’s John Smith and Jessica Gogan both admit they felt a bit of culture shock while working and traveling in Russia to organize the exhibition Andy Warhol: Artist of Modern Life and companion educational programs for a three-city tour. But they also agree it was a learning experience and a rare opportunity to bring Warhol’s art to new audiences.

Sponsored by the Alcoa Foundation and Alcoa, which has two fabricating plants in Russia, Andy Warhol: Artist of Modern Life featured more than 300 of Warhol’s paintings, drawings, photographs, films, and archival material, and helped establish a connection between Pittsburgh—where Alcoa was founded—and communities in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Samara, Russia, which are now home to many new Alcoa employees.

There were dozens of people involved in organizing the exhibition and making it a success, including a diverse group of staff from each of The Warhol’s departments. Over the course of 13 months, Smith, Gogan and several other staff members traveled to Russia to meet their Russian counterparts, explore the venues selected to house the show, and develop public programming around the exhibition.

According to Smith, the museum’s assistant director for collections and research, language was a big challenge in coordinating the exhibition. “It was exhausting always having to speak through translators,” he says. “The language barrier inevitably forces you to slow down and really think about what you want to say.

“ We also found that our Russian colleagues don’t rely heavily on email the same way that we do. So, there was certainly a learning curve when it came to communication, but once we better understood the way our colleagues worked, we were able to adapt our normal modes a bit.”

Gogan, The Warhol’s assistant director for education and interpretation, was intrigued by what she saw of Russia’s education system, both in the schools and in the museums. “I was impressed by the sophistication of some of the education programs I saw. I visited one institution in Moscow that was an art, architecture, and design school that elementary to high school-age children could attend.”

Both Smith and Gogan found the cosmopolitan cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Samara to be very different than the Russia of bygone stereotypes. Yet the sheer number of trendy, expensive shops, luxury car ads, and similar signs of consumerism fueled by the country’s recent and rapid growth still surprised them.

“ In Samara, a primarily industrial city on the Volga River, I wandered around and found stores selling Max Mara fashions and Cacharel fragrances from France,” says Gogan. “When I learned that the average income is only $5,000 a year, I didn’t expect to see such a market for foreign luxury goods, but clearly, there is a demand.”

The Pop of Perestroika
Apparently, there is also a demand for Pop and contemporary art. Andy Warhol: Artist of Modern Life has been drawing record crowds in Russia. Smith reports that more than 100,000 people saw the exhibition in Moscow, though it was there less than two months, and about 20,000 people attended during the opening weekend in St. Petersburg.

“ The show has been unbelievably successful. It’s exceeded everyone’s wildest dreams,” Smith notes, adding, “The press coverage was just a madhouse.”

In Moscow, the exhibition opened in conjunction with a Russian Pop Art show. During a youth workshop she led, Gogan discovered the students identified more with the Warhol exhibition than they did the Russian one. “For them, Warhol was very fresh and very much about the everyday. I think the simplicity of Warhol’s work was the real appeal,” she says.

“ It’s going to be really interesting to see how the next 10 years evolve in Moscow. There’s a very entrepreneurial spirit, but the levels of bureaucracy are still there. One minute, you feel like you’re in the 21st century, and the next you’re back in the ‘70s.”

“ It really is a city in enormous flux,” says Smith. “You’d look out your hotel window and all you would see were cranes and construction.”

The highlight of the experience for Smith was not Moscow, but St. Petersburg—a beautiful city, with a slower, more enjoyable pace than Moscow. While there, he explored one of the city’s cultural treasures —the Hermitage Museum. Considered to be one of the world’s most magnificent museums, it is an opulent palace dating to the 1700s filled with masterpieces from throughout history.

Says Smith: “I remember thinking to myself while I was there that whatever challenges I may have had pulling this together, it was all worth it. And to be able to bring Warhol’s art to audiences that were really hungry for it was an honor.”

Andy Warhol: Artist of Modern Life will be on view in Samara, Russia, March 6 through April 24.

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