“Pop art is liking things”
Try and imagine the biggest museum in the US dedicated to one single artist, and with artist I mean one of the greatest of America’s twentieth century.
Try and imagine a huge ex warehouse in a (ex) working class district transformed into an impressive multi-floor open space, which tells the story right from the beginning and with abundance of details of this man, personality and artist.
Insert all this in one of the most interesting cities in Pennsylvania (regarding both culture and modernity), all you have to do is go inside and enjoy this unusual and captivating exhibition.
Whether you are passionate or not of Pop Art, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh surely deserves a stop, better if a long stop. In my opinion, it is something unique, surely in the “things to see” list of the US.
The museum is located in the North Shore, the district that stretches along the north bank of the Allegheny (the river that separtes the district from downtown), and here are the majority of museums and the most famous sport bowls. It is easily reachable on foot across the pedestrian section of the Andy Warhol Bridge (the exact adress is 117, Sandusky Street).
The grey and dull exterior of the building, an early 1900 warehouse, reveals to one’s surprise a wide and bright interior, in proper Warhol style.
The entrance hosts the ticket office, a reception hall with bar service, and a large exhibition area, almost an introduction of what you are about to visit, enriched by extravagant and unpublished photographs and a workshop for school trips and university students.
The whole exhibition develops on more levels. You start from the last one and slowly you walk through private life moments and Andy Warhol’s different artistic periods.
It’s like a time capsule that travels through old family relics, faded photographs, famous objects and artworks, recontructions of ateliers and places in New York made with original items; all this enables visitors, passionate or not, to understand the inspiration and restless vision of an artist who has written one of the most important pages in Pop Art.
You start with a very young Andrew Warhola Jr, born in Pittsburgh in 1928 from Slovakian immigrants, and with his precocious passion for art and its most diverse forms of expression. Then, a degree in commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and his transfer to New York.
It is here that Andrew Warhola Jr. becomes Andy Warhol and he starts to build his name in advertising thanks to his early jobs for Vogue and Glamour. The exhibition continues through all the differents phases of his life (and his art) and visitors can experience real moments of his life, his anxiety, his craziness, his sense of dissatisfaction that probably will never leave him.
Then, the brillian idea. The one that art should be “used” by and for everyone like any other commercial product. This is the beginning of Pop Art and of a series of famous artworks and many of these, almost impossible to photograph, are displayed on the central floors of the exhibition.
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition
where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.
You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke,
Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too.”
Coca Cola bottles, Campbell’s Soup cans and portraits of celebrities, in different colours and painted in series, the incredible silk-screen paintings (a new technique experimented by Warhol, a series of photograph reproduction) of Jackie Kennedy, Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara, Liz Taylor. Moreover, real film clips taken from New York Police Department with deathly accidents and creepy images, and experiments with full-lenght films made by emerging artists and famous rock bands, like Velvet Underground.
The final part of the exhibition is dedicated to Warhol’s “private”, to this things, his passions and his notes which are jealously kept in a secret catalog. This catalog can be consulted in the basement of the museum.
It is an unknown collection, rich and extravagant which, together with the accurate recontruction of his work environment, gives you a more detailed outline and more elements to understand at best his thoughts.
However, it isn’t that easy to get a clear and exhaustive idea of Warhol’s figure, whose life is made of creative flairs and naughtyness and of an alternative and disrespectful way of reading and interpreting art.
I think that the Andy Warhol Museum, with its 17 galleries, its 900 painting, its 2000 paper works, its 1000 unique prints, its 4000 photographs and its 4350 film and recordings goes exactly in this direction: to be able to tell and explain the complexity of the work of an artist whose ideas have shaped history and set the way for many artists.
“I wanted something stronger, which communicated better the effect of a serial product. With screen printing you take a photo, it develops, it moves on silk by glue and then is inked, so the colors penetrate through the plot except that the points where there is glue. This allows to obtain several times the same picture, but always with slight differences.
All so simple, fast, random: I was excited. Marilyn died later that same month, and I had the idea to draw from that screen prints her beautiful face, my first Marilyn.”