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15 minutes not enough to get lost in Andy Warhol Museum

M. Taufiqurrahman

The Jakarta Post

Pittsburgh, United States  /  Tue, January 28, 2020  /  12:15 pm
15 minutes not enough to get lost in Andy Warhol Museum

The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, United States, houses an extensive permanent collection of art and archives from the pop icon. (The Jakarta Post/M. Taufiqurrahman)

Pop art icon Andy Warhol, born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh in 1928, has a little bit of everything for everyone.

For music fans with a voracious appetite for rock history, he was considered the grandfather of punk and glam rock, having masterminded the creation of the seminal New York band Velvet Underground, which many credited as an inspiration for rock's biggest stars, from David Bowie to Sonic Youth.

The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, holds the largest collection of arts and archives from the pop-art icon. The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, holds the largest collection of arts and archives from the pop-art icon. (The Jakarta Post/M. Taufiqurrahman)

In 1971, Bowie wrote “Andy Warhol” as a tribute to the artist and included it as one of the tracks on his critically acclaimed record Hunky Dory. Warhol despised the song, though.

Prior to his death in 1987, Warhol also left an indelible mark in popular music with some of his visual work adorning some of the biggest selling records in pop, from the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers to jazz guitar maestro Kenny Burrell's Vol. 2.

For movie fans, Warhol will be best remembered for his difficult outputs the likes of experimental underground film Chelsea Girls, as well as the groundbreaking Screen Test, which turns the basic idea of film-making on its head.

The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, holds the largest collection of arts and archives from the pop-art icon.The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, holds the largest collection of arts and archives from the pop-art icon. (The Jakarta Post/M. Taufiqurrahman)

Some fans of Warhol's cinematic releases went on to make their own films and won critical acclaim themselves. British director Steve McQueen said that he was most influenced by Warhol's 1964 release Couch, in which one actor lies on a couch while another lies along the top of the backrest, just staring at him.

It is also difficult not to judge the merit of Hollywood director Gus Van Sant's movies without taking into account Warhol's influence.

And then of course Warhol's looming presence in visual art, where he played a key role in melding the high- and the lowbrow, the sacred and the profane, while successfully predicting the social media era, when anyone can be famous for 15 minutes and when instant photography becomes the primary means of communication.

If the sight of a Campbell soup can can immediately evoke Warhol's most famous work of art, then the artist reputation as the world's most famous visual artist is secure, no questions asked.

So even for the most casual art fans, it would be a mistake not to visit the Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh if they make the trip to this industrial town.

Not only does the Andy Warhol Museum hold the largest collection of the pop artist's artworks and archival materials, it is also one of the most comprehensive single artist museum in the world and the largest in America.

And despite its reputation as the largest single artist museum in North America, given Warhol's voracious appetite for hoarding, some of the archival materials, especially the serial work Time Capsules, are only partially displayed to visitors.

The Time Capsules, displayed on the museum's third floor, consists of 610 containers filled with ephemera documenting Warhol's life, ranging from taxidermy, copies of invitations to high-society parties to hundreds of cassettes and videotapes documenting his life and the lives of his entourage.

Some of items in the Time Capsules collection could certainly give evidence to some of the quirkiest aspects in Warhol's life; the fact that he was a fan of taxidermy or that he always wanted all his celebrity friends to sign whatever gift they intended to give him.

But those who are interested in wanting to know more about a more personal side of Warhol should head to the second floor, where an exhibition titled Andy Warhol: Revelation is currently ongoing. Running through Feb. 16, it is the first exhibition of its kind to examine Warhol's complex relationship with the faith of his youth, Catholicism.

Being a gay man in New York and exploring the theme of sexuality for his art, Warhol had a conflicted relationship with the faith of his parents, yet religious imagery continued to feature prominently in his art.

Born to a devout Byzantine Catholic family, Warhol grew up attending weekly church services at his local church with his mother Julia Warhola and throughout his life the pop art icon retained some his Catholic practices while his peers tried to distance themselves from their religious background.

Besides paintings and one multimedia exhibition featuring a video of sunset over Los Angeles and sound tracked by a haunting recitation of haiku by his muse Christa Päffgen, known by her stage name Nico, is Warhol's sincere love letter to what he deemed to be a comforting myth that had shaped his childhood memories.

Some of Catholicism's most well-known imagery, the scene from the Last Supper, Raphael's Madonna and Mona Lisa, are all given pop-art treatment, being reproduced, copied and splashed with a typical Warhol hue, the only tribute he knew how to do.

The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, holds the largest collection of arts and archives from the pop-art icon. The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, holds the largest collection of arts and archives from the pop-art icon. (The Jakarta Post/M. Taufiqurrahman)

Catholicism is not the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Warhol, but soon after exiting the second floor of the museum, everyone will certainly gain a new perspective on the artist's life. "The exhibition will present a fresh perspective on the artist," chief curator Jose Carlos Diaz said.

The most fascinating collection, however, is hundreds of photographs taken by Warhol throughout his lifetime, a treasure trove that could remind everyone that Warhol was indeed the prophet of our post-modern era, one who could predict our image-saturated age.

Warhol took his camera everywhere he went, desperately trying to document everything and everyone around him and in the end produced nearly 130,000 images with his much-loved 35-milimeter Minox compact camera. Many others were shot on his Polaroid camera, resulting in a slightly wistful and discolored palette.

Most of the photos on display at the Andy Warhol Museum are documentation of ordinary moments in the pop-art icon's life, including snapshots of members of his famous entourage in the nude. Others are photos of regular objects; bananas, eggs, coke bottles, neon signs and building facades that would not be out of place in the Instagram feeds of the social media personality of today.

Yet, it was also these photos that Warhol in later years used as a foundation for his silk-screen portraits and colored ink canvases.

The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, holds the largest collection of arts and archives from the pop-art icon. The Andy Warhol Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, holds the largest collection of arts and archives from the pop-art icon. (The Jakarta Post/M. Taufiqurrahman)

Now we can certainly believe Warhol when he said: "I didn't believe in art; I believed in photography."

 

 

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