Understanding Andy Warhol

Actually, I don’t think it’s entirely possible to understand Andy Warhol, but you can certainly enhance and enlarge your appreciation of this iconic American 20th century artist’s work by visiting a museum dedicated to his artwork in Pittsburgh.

Nosepicker 1: Why Pick on Me (originally titled The Lord Gave Me My Face but
I Can Pick My Own Nose), 1948. tempora and ink on Masonite

When Warhol’s name is mentioned, immediately his iconic pop-culture paintings come to mind: Campbell’s Soup Cans and his celebrity paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. It’s wonderful to see them in person. But exploring the museum’s collection of some 900 paintings reveals additional aspects of Warhol’s career and voice, making a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum, which mission is simply to be “the global keeper of Andy Warhol’s legacy” an all-but-obligatory stop during any visit to Pittsburgh –and quite possibly reason enough to visit Pittsburgh, although the city and region have many other day trip destinations well worth exploring.

Statue of Liberty, 1962. Silkscreen ink and spray paint.

In addition to his paintings and prints, the collection features wallpaper and books by Warhol, covering the entire range of his work from all periods, and includes student work from the 1940s; 1950s drawings, commercial illustrations and sketchbooks; 1960s pop paintings of consumer products (Campbell’s Soup Cans), celebrities (Liz, Jackie, Marilyn, Elvis), Disasters and Electric Chairs; portrait paintings (Mao), Skull paintings and the abstract Oxidations from the 1970s; and works from the 1980s such as The Last Supper, Raphael I-6.99 and collaborative paintings made with younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente.

Three Coke Bottles, 1962. Silkscreen ink and graphite on linen. Andy Warhol once said,
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest
consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. … A Coke is a Coke, and no
amount of money can get you a better Coke.”

I found the explanation of Warhol’s early printing and coloring method — the blotted line technique — interesting, and particularly enjoyed seeing some of his earliest work. I loved the colorful images — his love and use of color, some of it outrageously bright — continued throughout his career.

High Heel Shoe, ca 1955. Ink and Dr. Martin’s Aniline dye on Strathmore paper.

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928, in a two-room row house apartment in Pittsburgh. Devout Byzantine Catholics, the family attended mass regularly and observed the traditions of their Eastern European heritage. Warhol’s father, a laborer, moved his family to a brick home on Dawson Street in 1934. Warhol attended the nearby Holmes School and took free art classes at Carnegie Institute (now The Carnegie Museum of Art). Warhol later attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) from 1945 to 1949, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Pictorial Design with the goal of becoming a commercial illustrator. Soon after graduating, Warhol moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist.

Flowers, 1970. Screen print on paper.

In the late 1950s, Warhol began to devote more energy to painting. He made his first pop-culture paintings, which he based on comics and ads, in 1961. The following year marked the beginning of Warhol’s celebrity. He debuted his famous Campbell’s Soup Can series, which caused a sensation in the art world. Shortly thereafter he began a sequence of movie star portraits.

Three Marilyns, 1962. Acrylic, silkscreen ink, and graphite on linen.

Throughout the 1970s Warhol frequently socialized with celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Truman Capote, both of whom had been important early subjects in his art. Celebrity portraits developed into a significant aspect of his career and a main source of income.

Ai Weiwei: Neolithic Pottery with Coca-Cola Logo, 2007. Metallic paint, earthenware jar.

There also was an exhibit of another titan of modern art in the same space. The “Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei” exhibit in the Warhol Museum accentuates the ties between these two artists and provides a deeper and more thorough examination of the intimacy they share with pop culture. Weiwei’s work is a natural evolution of the Pop Art movement that Warhol spearheaded in the 60s and 70s. It finds the thread of democratization of art that was the dominating themes of modern art 50 years ago and updates it.

Ai Weiwei: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 2015. Lego blocks (!!)

In all, you emerge from this must-see museum with a greater understanding of Warhol’s genius, beyond his iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans paintings, although you ultimately are left with the question, is it ever really possible to understand Andy Warhol?

Getting there: 117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212-5890

Hours: Closed Mondays. Open Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Check website for holiday schedules.

Website: http://www.warhol.org/

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Elvis 11 Times [Studio Type], 1963. (7 shown here) Silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen.