The Andy Warhol Museum is located on the North Shore of Pittsburgh, the place of Warhol’s birth and my home town.Although the museum opened in 1996, my husband and I had never been there until a couple of weeks ago.
I’m not sure if we should have gone sooner, or the time was just right, but we really enjoyed our visit. It was informative, interesting and not at all what I expected. A most pleasant afternoon.
Andy Warhol was an American artist, director and producer, and leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. The Warhol claims to be one of the most comprehensive single-artist museums in the world. It features paintings, works on paper, published prints, sculptures, photographs, films and videotape.
Located in nearly 90,000 square feet of what was once an industrial building, the museum spans seven floors of gallery and exhibition space. Come along for highlights of our Warhol visit.
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Membership Has Its Privileges
For Christmas this year, hubby and I decided rather than buying things, we would give each other experiences. That is what prompted our pre-holiday trip to French Canada, featured in Christmas Card from Old Quebec City. My husband also surprised me with a membership to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where we enjoyed the Magical Phipps Winter Flower & Light Show.
During the first few weeks of this month, many museums and attractions around Pittsburgh offered free admission days to their members. I assume it was to thank supporters, but also to encourage cross-traffic. Well it worked. Hubby suggested we give The Warhol a go, and I was game.
Finding Out What the Buzz Was All About
Turned off by some of what we knew of Andy Warhol’s art and lifestyle, we previously never had an inclination to visit an entire museum dedicated to his works. During the late 70’s and early ’80’s, I associated him with a wild crowd and rampant drug use at Studio 54. However, I was also shocked and saddened by his untimely death, and surprised to find he was from Pittsburgh.
This past fall, eldest son nd four close friends came in from NYC for a Steelers game. To show off his hometown, R put together a whirlwind, three-day weekend itinerary of sites to see and places to eat.
He wanted to validate all the recent buzz in the media about Pittsburgh’s attractions, quality of life, and food scene. There have been a lot of articles, rankings and accolades, and now Pittsburgh is one of 20 finalists for Amazon’s second headquarter sites. Woo who!
Well, the millennials loved The Warhol! A couple of years ago, my husband’s brother and his wife were visiting and they raved about it too. And, my British friend has been to the museum multiple times with company from England wanting to see it.
It was time to find out for ourselves.
The Warhol Museum is in a 1911 era building that has been converted into a really neat space that is also well laid out.
Upon entering, visitors take the elevator to the top floor of the building. To explore the museum you work your way down. Exhibits are organized chronologically, with interesting photos and tidbits about Warhol’s life, family and friends along the way.
Fascination with Celebrity
Andy Warhol’s obsession with celebrity Icons was on display with his infamous Mick Jagger series of screen prints.
Warhol’s pop icon works incorporated his interest in photography, collage, and drawing into a new artistic approach and technique. He would take his own photographs of subjects and apply collage elements.
Jagger was a celebrity friend and part of the New York club scene when this series was created. Warhol had previously designed a Rolling Stones album cover in the 1960’s.
Bigger Than Life
In the early 1960s, Andy Warhol turned to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor as artistic subject matter. He also produced several life-sized portraits of Elvis Presley. The Elvis work at The Warhol was one of my favorite exhibits for its sheer size and silver film finish.
Warhol created a strobe effect by overlapping images of the singer that were likely sourced from a publicity still for the Western film, Flaming Star.
Lights! Camera! Action!
According to the museum, Warhol created nearly 500 screen tests of famous and anonymous visitors to his studio, The Factory. The three-minute, black and white films were projected in slow motion.
In a museum galley meant to mimic Warhol’s Silver Factory studio, visitors can create their own screen test. Within minutes, the digitized screen test is emailed to the visitor, where it can be shared on social media, including Facebook.
Yours truly took the screen test, only to discover she is not Hollywood material! It’s a long, painful three-minutes to watch, LOL!
Screens throughout the museum are available to view Warhol’s film art, movies and a short-lived MTV show. There was also a big screen showing five and a half hours of a man’s bare bottom in black and white. Weird! But did I watch for a minute or so, well yes…
Floating on Air
The Silver Cloud installation was my favorite interactive installation. There’s something relaxing and soothing about standing in the middle of a room with silver clouds floating around and bumping into you. Here Mr Buzz trying to read the exhibit information while maneuvering between clouds.
Birth of Venus Warhol Style
I also really liked the room dedicated to Warhol’s interpretation of Botticelli’s famous painting, Birth of Venus. We were fortunate to have seen the original Botticelli work of art the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy.
With Venus, Warhol took a classical art piece and redefined her as a modern American celebrity idol using a computer. Like Marilyn Monroe, Warhol created four different versions of Venus using his signature techniques of producing prints in a variety of pop color combinations.
Give Me Liberty Revisited
The Warhol Museum Statue of Liberty painting is one of ten “Optical Paintings” created in 1962.
Apparently, Warhol did a number of different interpretations and techniques in his Statue of Liberty art, including a camouflage series.
Andy’s Last Supper
I hope it’s not sacrilegious to think so, but I really liked Warhol’s series of artworks reimagining Leonardo’s Last Supper.
God Save the Queens
The Warhol Museum also has a floor dedicated to special exhibits. When we visited, there was an exhibit of Warhol’s works of four different modern day queens. The picture below only captures one section of works that covered an entire wall.
So Many Boxes
The Time Capsules are the heart of the museum’s archives. Warhol filled 569 cardboard boxes, 40 filing cabinet drawers, and a large trunk with materials from the 1950s until his death in 1987.
Stashed into these boxes, Warhol packed a bewildering quantity and mixture of materials. He saved just about anything that came across his desk. I remember reading how it took years for the archive to catalog the contents of all those boxes.
And hubby thought I was a pack rat!
15 Minutes of Fame
Back on the ground floor is a continuous showing of Fifteen Minutes Eternal, a twenty-minute film. We liked seeing it after viewing the exhibits, as it provided some background and answered a few questions. Seeing it first, I think would have taken away from the level of surprise of seeing the artworks for the first time.
Most of Warhol’s pop art translates well to posters, many of which are available in the excellent ground-floor gift shop. I could see many of the items being popular to decorate college dorm rooms or millennial apartments.
Make Your Own
Be sure to head down to the basement level where there are education rooms, an old style photo booth and the opportunity to make your own screen art. The hands-on room was crowded with people of all ages. When R and friends were here, V came home with a cool silk screened bag.
By the time we left The Warhol, I felt motivated to pursue what little artistic talent I have. Later this year, I plan to signup for an art course.
Rest in Peace Andy
On the ground floor of the museum is a nice café and bar area to enjoy before or after touring The Warhol.
There’s also something really bizarre displayed on a small screen. It’s Andy Warhol’s grave. I already knew there is a 24-7 live feed available online, but didn’t expect to see it. It’s always creeped me out that Warhol’s grave is a tourist attraction of sorts. People come all the time and leave things like Campbell’s soup cans, flowers, balloons and candles — particularly on Warhol’s birthday. Strange.
How do I know this? Well, Andy is buried in a nondescript cemetery just a couple miles away from my house. Seriously, I could easily walk there if I wanted.
I am very glad I visited the Warhol Museum and recommend it if you’re ever in my neck of the woods. But the gravesite, not doing that. I can see it from the road in my car and that’s close enough. His self portrait, late in life, is frightening enough…
Have you ever visited Warhol? Are you a Warhol fan? What’s your favorite piece of his art?
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