Big City Tales

The Wild and Wacky Warhol Museum

September 6, 2018
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Located in the quiet and conservative North Shore district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there is certainly nothing quiet and conservative about the wild and wacky Andy Warhol Museum.

Indeed, the pink bannered building and pink pylon outlined parking lot that fittingly features a specially themed Brillo Box attendant booth are the first clues that this is not your regular museum. The next clues come inside with exhibits chronicling the artist’s life story beginning on the top floor and winding down into an underground conservation lab.

From his early successes with Campbell’s Soup and other brand name product paintings to his later triumphs with celebrity portraits and experimental films, all aspects of Warhol’s eccentric and exceptional career are on display making for an entertaining and enlightening viewing experience.

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Off to the BIG City

Before he took the New York City art scene by storm in the 1950s and 60s, Andy Warhol was a clean-cut, fresh-faced kid from Pittsburgh who discovered a penchant for drawing during his teenage years. While he originally wanted to study Art Education in university and become a teacher, he ended up changing his mind and pursued training as a commercial artist at the Carnegie Institute of Technology where his first published works appeared in Cano, the student art magazine. After earning his Fine Arts degree, Warhol moved to the Big Apple in 1949 where he found work with magazines and advertising firms.

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Before and After Campbell’s Soup

Along with being a talented illustrator, Warhol was adept with silk-screening techniques and enjoyed making fruit and floral prints that evolved into the more abstract ‘Pop Art’ works that he is famous for such as soup cans and celebrity portraits. Early on, he was known for ink blotting and the use of tracing paper to replicate images and produce variations on the same themes. He also liked to project photographs and transform them using shading and contouring to bring out shadows and other subtleties.

Consumerism and Cult of Celebrity

Warhol started showing his work in the 1950s with some initial success in local galleries but his career really took off in the 1960s when his focus turned to iconic American objects and the cult of celebrity. At the time of his first solo exhibition in the fall of 1962, he was a creative genius to be reckoned with and was now garnering attention across the United States and beyond for his signature pop art pieces such as 100 Soup Cans, 100 Coke Bottles, 100 Dollar Bills and the Marilyn Diptych, which was created following the death of Marilyn Monroe.

Jackie Kennedy 

Along with Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy was one of Warhol’s favorite celebrity muses in the 1960s. The unfortunate assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy in 1963 provided fodder for the series of Jackie silk-screen portraits he produced using a selection of newspaper images of the grieving widow.

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Crazy for Cardboard and Flower Power

Not one to shy away from quirky and bold exhibits, Warhol’s other early pieces included a series of supermarket boxes and and a grouping of hibiscus blooms in a range of bright colors and varying textures.

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Pop Art Portraits

In the 1970s, Warhol’s work was mostly focused on portraits of celebrities and politicians, many of whom he sought out as patrons to support the growth of his artistic enterprise. Warhol was known to frequent the Studio 54 nightclub where he hob-knobbed with the likes of Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross and other superstar entertainers of the day.

As much as Warhol loved celebrities, he was also a devoted son and occasionally painted his mother’s portrait. The 5th Floor gallery in the museum shows his mother in good company between British actress Joan Collins and 1970s super-model Cheryl Tiegs.

Warhol’s circle of high-profile acquaintances also included controversial international political figures such as the deposed Shah of Iran and his family, and he famously created a series of Mao Tse-tung images to mark President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972.

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Dazzling Digital Design

With new technological advances in the 1980s, Warhol experimented with creating digital art on an early version of the Commodore computer. He used The Birth of Venus by Botticelli as inspiration and succeeded in turning an Early Renaissance masterpiece into a stunning stylized modern design.

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Collector or Pack Rat?

Anyone who had the privilege of visiting Warhol’s townhouse can attest to the fact that Warhol liked to collect eclectic things and display them throughout the four floors of his home. Referred to by Warhol’s friends as “Andy’s Stuff,” his collection of knickknacks was so extensive that overflow items ended up in a nearby storage unit. After his death, the museum took in an astonishing 641 boxes of personal effects that contained items ranging from cookie jars and jugs to airplane menus and supermarket flyers.

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Wild, Wacky…and WONDERFUL!

True to Warhol’s iconic and indelible image, the Andy Warhol Museum showcases all that was wild, wacky and wonderful about him. When in Pittsburgh, be sure to include a visit and check out its glorious oddities.

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