PITTSBURGH — The best souvenirs at last weekend’s opening of the Andy Warhol Museum might have been the T-shirts that said “ANDY VOLUNTEER.” Smacking of vintage superstar monickers, they also suggested some kind of military deployment. as though half the city of Pittsburgh had suddenly enlisted in the Warhol Reserves. And, if the A-list celebrity onslaught forecast for the three-day extravaganza never really materialized, what of it? The anonymous Warhol militia turned out in force.
For days in advance, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had rumored a glut of boldface people; crisis was even reported in the limousine sector, since the museum opening was scheduled for the same weekend as the Schenley High School prom. Would Diana Ross, said to be jetting in on her own plane, settle for a Pittsburgh Yellow Cab? What about Mick Jagger, Liza Minelli, and Madonna? How were they going to get around? Outside Rosa Villa Dinning (sic) Hall, a Family- (that family) style linguini palace across from the museum on the city’s north side, a couple of fans braced themselves for a Cindy Crawford sighting. “When Cindy comes, I’m going to run in and kneel and beg,” said Greg Bukowski. “She’ll probably just spit on you,” predicted Bukowski’s buddy John Handal. “Then you can take a picture of her spitting, and I’ll save the spit, Bukowski replied.
In the end Cindy Crawford joined most of the big star invitees in sitting out the Warhol party: loyalty in some circles is apparently billable by the hour. Still, the hundreds of folks who lined Sundusky and General Robinson streets to watch guests arrive for Friday’s $300-a-plate benefit dinner seemed ecstatic with even low-level celebrity astronomy.
“If a thousand people come, obviously 900 are not going to be brand names,” observed one paparazzo. In truth there were plenty of heavy hitters from society and the art world: Doris Ammann flew in from Zurich, Anthony d’Offay from London, and entire US Air flights were sardine-tight with dealers and curators from New York. Among the painters on hand for Friday’s black-tie dinner were Roy Lichtenstein, Francisco Clemente, Brice Marden, and Ross Bleckner, who dressed down in blue jeans and spent the evening jockeying to get cute boys moved to his table.
Although Pittsburgh is the nation’s 18th most populous city, its probably closer to the third or fourth in terms of wealth, and the city’s society ladies seemed to use the occasion as an opportunity to crack the vaults for high-wattage gems. “Normally, people would never wear jewelry to go to the North Side,” said an estate lawyer for a Forbes 400 family, as one saurian dowager staggers into the museum under the weight of a diamond-and-ruby parure. “The invitation said valet parking, though, so I guess they thought it was safe.” Better still, the society ladies may have felt it was fitting to honor Warhol by sporting their finest. It isn’t every painter, after all, who dies with 25 Cartier bracelet tucked in a drawer.
The museum, housed in a renovated 1911 beaux arts building, opened on a cool, lovely evening in the former steel town, now known as a city of bridges and one of America’s most amenable places to live. Things were a bit different in Andy Warhol’s childhood, when the mills along the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers blacked the skies with soot, and furnaces along Second Avenue spewed tongues of fire. Over the course of the weekend, visitors would have a chance to take the Warhol Tour and visit the house-next-to-the-house on 73 Orr Street where Andy and his two brothers were born (asphalt shingles, two floors, single water closet in the basement, wretched poverties that probably looked good to Andrei and Julia Warhola at the time), the neighborhood where he was reared (set in a dreary valley know as “the Rut”), the church where his family worshipped (St. John Chrysostom, Byzantine rite Catholic), the high school where he was a star art student (Schenley High) and the department store (Joseph Horne Co.) where, as a window dresser, he launched himself into the world. What they wouldn’t get is any clear sense of how a talented Ruthenian-American kid with jug ears and a bulbous nose charted a trajectory that could carry him out of his class, out of Pittsburgh (he always claimed it was McKeesport), away from the ghetto of sexual stereotype (let’s do him the favor of remembering he was gay) and onto the face of pop (not Pop) culture, which was always Andy’s natural milieu.
They would see parts of a compendious collection that includes almost 900 paintings, 77 sculptures and collaborative works, 1500 drawings, 400 black-and-white photographs, Poloroids, photobooth strips, illustrations, 608 time capsules, the full run of Interview magazine, 2500 audiotapes and videotapes and scripts, as well as his diaries, datebooks, correspondence, and films. “It’s a relief to have so much of the work in one place so it can be properly preserved,” said Soho dealer Holly Solomon, as project architect David Mayner attempted to explain the difficulties of conserving a collection that includes fragile gold-leaf drawings, 3-D Xography, and Warhol’s nearly animate wigs.
Although many of Warhol’s early films haven’t been out of the vault in years, his Empire and Kiss played continuously throughout the weekend. “When are they going to play my films?” Warhol perennial Taylor Meade bleated, adding slyly that “twelve hours of the Empire State is a bore, my dear: I mean, one bird flies by every two hours.” Meade was one of the few Factory stalwarts to appear in Pittsburgh.
True, Ultra Violet was on hand, as was socialite Jane Holzer (she lopped the superstar prefix Baby from her name some 25 years ago). But some fans were disappointed not to see (and hear; it’s an audiovisual experience) Viva or Joe Dallesandro or Jane Forth or Donna Jordan or Brigid “Polk” Berlin or any of the surviving superstars whose infamous speed rants and pneumatic egos went a long way toward defining Warhol’s skewed worldview.
“They probably thought they’d be turned into puppets,” said Billy Name, the Factory denizen who legendarily spent two years in a closet at Warhol’s loft on Union Square. (Actually, it was a darkroom, Name’s a photographer, and everyone knows how long it can take to develop pictures when you’re shooting methamphetamine.) Name and Ultra Violet were the weekend’s stars by default, turning up incessantly on local television, compulsively presenting themselves for interviews. “Any museum is better than no museum,” declared UV, née Isabelle Dufresne, on opening night. Taking no chances on anonymity, she’d pinned a half-dozen rhinestone pins spelling ULTRA to her pleated purple dress. “Warhol is the imperialist artist of America,” said Ms. Violet. “As long as America will stand, Warhol will stand. If America will fall, Warhol will fall.”
You could just as smartly invert the formulation; either way, both Warhol and the Warhol have the feel of permanence. “Recycling old buildings to show art is very important,” Agnes Gund, chairwoman of the Museum of Modem Art, told the Times, in a near paraphrase of Jane Jacobs’s famous remark that “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings; new ideas must use old buildings.” The single-artist museum, common enough in Europe, is still a novelty here. And any museum of the Warhol’s scope is rare. “Here we are with Andy in his tomb,” said Taylor Mead. “His temple, his heaven.” As a monument to social transformation, the Warhol Museum is an unexpectedly stirring place. For decades, Andy Warhol’s father was a laborer at the Jones & Loughlin steel mill, source of the wealth behind the great Philips Collection in Washington, D.C. Andrei Warhola was so poor that he resoled his children’s shoes with rubber tires during the Depression and left instructions at his death that his $1400 life savings were to buy Andy two years at art school. Now the “bohunk” millworker’s son from “the Rut” has his own museum in the city of Scaifes and Mellons.
“Can you believe all this?” asked George Warhola, a nephew of Andy’s who runs a North Side scrap yard. Warhola had just finished touring the building with Richard Gluckman, the architect charged with converting the old Frick & Lindsay building. “It puts chills in my body,” said Warhola. To a large extent the people of Pittsburgh seemed to share the feeling. By late Sunday evening, over 8000 visitors had stood in line for hours to enter the handsome terracotta museum. Some may have even stopped at the fourth floor vitrine in which a clipping from an ancient edition of Art Direction magazine presents Andy Warhola as a “young man on his way up.”
“Rich folks coming through,” quipped a policeman on Friday night as Palm Beach multimillionairess Molly Wilmot teetered past on Betty Page spike heels and a Schiaparelli-pink Chanel. “I love it,” said Wilmot, fluttering her three-inch nails. “It’s a real fest.”
Close behind Wilmot was Dennis Hopper, whose arrival elicited almost as much excitement from the curbside crowd as that greeting Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey. Hopper’s film ouevre may have reached a special plateau when he played Taylor Mead’s stand-in during the filming of the Warhol’s 1963 Tarzan and Jane Regained, Sort Of (much of which was set in the “shark infested lagoon” of the Beverly Hills Hotel). In Pittsburgh, Hopper modestly edged his way through the crowd wearing an Armani dinner jacket that set off his mottled parchment complexion. “Isn’t that what’s his name, the guy from Easy Rider?” gasped Karen Huebner. “He looks pretty good,” said her date, “for someone who almost died.”
Hopper was followed into dinner by Peewee Herman, Debi Mazar, Ann-Bass, John Richardson, Michael Chow, and John Waters, each receiving a commemorative Andy Warhol Museum watch from a volunteer who murmured, “Here’s your 15 minutes.” Rolling back a cuff to strap on her timepiece, Fran Lebowitz told one pesky reporter that she’d never really liked Warhol, the artist, and hadn’t much cared for Warhol, the man. Aside from professional sour-pusses, the crowd seemed unusually giddy. “This is a room of 1000 egomaniacs,” shrilled the museum’s director Tom Armstrong, surveying a huge rectangular tent illuminated by neon centerpieces of Warhol’s profile, each bearing a little card that read: ANDY FOR SALE ($400 plus tax). Suddenly the Duquesne Club waitresses broke from the wings in flights carrying dessert plates laden with lemon mousse and chocolate cookies, Andy’s name written on each in fudge.
“Timing, that’s the way to become a great artist,” said Taylor Mead. “Andy didn’t care what he did, as long as it was the right time.”
Chatting merrily, guests at Mead’s table speculated about Warhol’s notorious “Oxidation” pictures, painted with urine on treated canvas. “Some are Mick Jagger, I think,” one guest opined. “Some are Bianca. Some are Halston, too.”
“How can you tell whose piss is whose?” asked Barbara Allen de Kwiatkowski, the phenomenally wealthy socialite who started her career as the back-issues clerk at Interview.
“Get up close and sniff,” a tablemate replied.
Just then someone remarked that Mary McFadden had wandered into the men’s room, Fortuny-style tunic, Elizabethan hairline and all. “She spent quite a bit of time in there,” the man said. “It was accidental, I think.”
At a service bar across the room sat a garish floral centerpiece featuring lilies, some bleary carnations, and a can of Campbell’s soup. Hardly anyone remembers that Cambell’s soup is owned by the Dorrance family of … Philadelphia, “Bitter rivals” as the Post-Gazette later put it, “who get the last laugh in the land of Heinz.” Such industrial trivialities didn’t faze Teresa Heinz, the late senator’s wife, though. “Enjoy your evening,” Heinz, a Carnegie Institute trustee, instructed a crowd so boisterous that the mayor of Pittsburgh and the governor of the state both failed to silence them. “And remember that tonight we are all works of art.”
“Just don’t tell artists to suffer,” muttered Taylor Mead. “Don’t ever suffer for your art.” Suffering was transcended as Andy Warhol was apotheosized in Pittsburgh to the sound of drunken laughter and the electronic chittering of a register hauling in cash. As party defectors drifted toward the Andyland exit, many stopped first at the gift shop to stock up on Warhol postcards, Warhol catalogues, Warhol posters, Warhol bios, Warhol notepads, and specially boxed $24.95 Warhol T-shirts. While art collector Paul Walter wrote a check for his haul of Warholiana, I asked shop manager Jim Spitznagel what was the biggest seller so far. It was a T-shirt, he said, the one with an image of Marilyn Monroe’s lips repeated four times, in four colors, lips parted and full of desire. “Love Your Kiss Forever Forever,” it’s called. ❖
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 19, 2020