Monday, May 23, 2011

Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh

Every now and then, the trivia comes up that I once worked in the same square footage as the infamous Andy Warhol. For some reason, the next question seems to be did I ever pass him the hallways or work on a display together. Either I need a better wrinkle cream or the person in question needs to brush up on their art history.  No and no, he was long gone from the warehouse before I struck my first mannequin.  Actually I was more likely to trip over a prop from the horror movie filmed in the same location on a year or so before I stepped foot in the display shop. But proof that both did truly take place was found this past weekend on a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.

Pittsburgh is now a wonderful city to visit having gone through a renaissance these past 25 years. Well, wonderful if two of the main bridges across the Monongahela River aren’t shut down…or if the huge “bike the ‘burg” event is not going on (don’t ever count how many people should not be wearing biker shorts)…or if you think that the lines in the road are supposed to mean something and that red lights and green lights aren’t just for Christmas decorations….but besides all of that, the city holds many places to re-explore.  They city even has street signs now. Used to be that if you did not know where you were or where you were going, you did not belong there. 

25 years is a long time on the calendar but a heartbeat if raising kids so it is no surprise that trees got a whole lot taller while no one was looking. The third floor biology classroom can no longer see in our apartment window thanks to Mother Nature.  The bus stop is not so far away anymore but at the other end, an insurance company occupies my old store.  Yes, the one where Andy ( I can use his first name because we are like almost buddies having used the same elevator and all….) once wore a bow tie to work.

I knew about as much about Andy Warhol the artist as any other art major that passed basic art history or contemporary art class. His works are iconic and his image/reputation is one formed by the media and the historians, much like any celebrity, who has one persona we see and one that resides away from the public eye.  Celebrities are people too, and that is what makes this museum so interesting for those who think they know Warhol. Yes, it has some of his works on display, but even more so, it has his life laid out in a matter of fact way. However, this is also not a museum in which to take the grandkids for a day as I witnessed this past weekend. Try explaining to a 6 year old why a girl looks like a boy or a boy looks like a girl, why the boy lady doesn’t just eat the banana, and why the grandpa man is dancing in a belly dancer costume and wearing makeup like mommy.  Good thing there is a stuffed dog and a stuffed lion, an old photo booth, and a hands-on “art room” to keep the kiddies away from such things.

I knew that Andy Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, but how he got to New York and became Andy Warhol, survived a shooting, developed “photoshop” before it existed, manipulated his own image and was essentially a hoarder, never figured into my art education. Of course I was not much of a fan of his work to begin with, like so many of us, it consisted of soup cans and brillo boxes, silk screened Liz Taylors and Mohammad Ali. I did not equate the label “artist” with his name and having now experienced the full realm of his career, I still don’t. He was a gifted “designer” and a marketing genius; he was a writer, an illustrator, a publisher, a promoter, a friend, a pied piper and a devoted son.  Yes, he made art so that makes him an artist, but that label short changes his contribution to the development of pop art in America.  He was a Peter Max before there was one and an avid student of new technology which today seems so old fashioned and outdated if not downright ancient. Makes one wonder what he would do with a computer had there been one. 

While his art is dissected to an extent, it is his personal world that is much more fascinating. Did you know he had a nose job? I didn’t.  Did you know he collected taxidermy? I didn’t. Did you know he was deeply religious? I didn’t. What I would liked to have seen was his early sketchbooks, life drawing samples (mentioned but not on display) and more developmental stages of his iconic works, but alas, the general public is more interested in who he knew (lots of celebrity pictures) and his lifestyle (no closet doors here), what he wore and how he died. I guess being located only yards from two major sports stadiums, a casino and a science center does not pack the deck with art enthusiasts. On a good note, the museum has its own dedicated and guarded parking lot to keep out the fans trying to park for the Pirates.  This city is smart; both its major teams use the same colors so it is easy to spot a violator.

If you go there from here, definitely take the back road route if not in a hurry. Keep in mind that some bureaucrat decided to rename the exit numbers and highways which do not match current navigational systems so the former exit 1 is now exit 64. (6 +4 +10 and 0 is “nothing” so that means it is a 1 so now it can be justified as 64!...seems logical to me) If Warhol is not your thing, there is a lot of Carnegie, Heinz, Phipps and Frick to go around…..or should I say to go up and down.  We used to joke that “level lot” was a big selling point in the real estate ads…my calf muscles remember why we found that funny, now they just ache. I guess I need both wrinkle cream AND muscle cream!

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