Pittsburgh's tribute to its native son opens tomorrow DEVOTED TO WARHOL

May 15, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Pittsburgh -- Since Andy Warhol fled his native Pittsburgh for New York at a young age and never looked back, some think he hated the place. He'd have hated the idea of an Andy Warhol Museum located there, they say. Well, he might have hated the idea, but it's a good bet he would have loved the museum, which opens tomorrow.

Housed in an eight-story former warehouse building, the museum is devoted to Warhol from top to bottom. It will open with an installation of 500 of the artist's works, covering his career from the 1950s until his death in 1987. It will also deal in depth with other aspects of Warhol's phenomenal career and fabled life -- from films and publishing ventures to the hundreds of boxes of memorabilia he left behind, still to be sifted by archivists.

The museum strives to capture the spirit of the most celebrated artist of the second half of the 20th century. Nowhere is that more evident than at the entrance.

One enters through the original doors of the industrial-era

building, reminiscent of the New York studios he called the Factory, where he and his assistants turned out his work. The doors lead to a ramp under an aluminum-colored ceiling, a reference to the fact that the Factory was painted silver. An inner pair of doors has mullions in the shape of a cross, a reference to Warhol's Roman Catholicism. Go through the doors and you are in a cube staring at a group of self-portraits, from early drawings to 1986.

Warhol is everywhere.

The references don't end there. Throughout the museum, architect Richard Gluckman has used industrial materials -- concrete floors and pillars -- because that's the milieu in which Warhol worked.

"We have the responsibility here of interpreting the artist," says museum director Tom Armstrong, "and what we don't want to do is in any way reinvent the artist or disturb the integrity of his life and work."

Accordingly, an advisory committee was formed of artists, curators and others who knew the artist and his work. "They were concerned that perhaps there wasn't enough of Andy, and it wasn't as relaxed as it could be," says Armstrong. "They particularly focused on the entrance gallery because it's a big space that you don't have to pay to get into. You can sort of come and be there, hang out, and so we've made these big overstuffed sofas. There will be a coffee bar in that space, and eventually a music system and video."

Of the museum as a whole, Armstrong says, "It's my hope that people will enjoy coming to this place, and that they'll feel good about it."

Extraordinary creation

The Andy Warhol Museum is the extraordinary creation of three separate institutions that collaborated to create the largest one-artist museum in the country.

Since Warhol's death, his estate, including thousands of works of art, has been administered by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York.

Also in New York is the Dia Center for the Arts, which has been devoted to collecting and showing the work of single artists, including Andy Warhol.

"It's a kind of alternative philosophy," says Dia executive director Charles B. Wright. "Most museums present broad swaths of culture with . . . works of many artists. The Dia alternative &L sacrifices multiple views for one in-depth view of a single major artist, . . . a unique and very important experience and insight."

In the late 1980s, both Dia and the Warhol Foundation explored ways to find permanent homes for their Warhols. They separately entered into negotiations with Pittsburgh's Carnegie Institute, an umbrella organization that has charge of several institutions, including the Library of Pittsburgh, a natural history museum, a science center and the Carnegie Museum of Art.

If Warhol didn't pay much attention to Pittsburgh after he left in 1949 at the age of 20, the Carnegie Museum didn't pay much attention to Warhol, either. "It's sad but true," says museum director Philip Johnston, "that the museum did not give Warhol an exhibition in his lifetime."

Its holdings of Warhols are minimal, including a self-portrait and a commissioned portrait of Andrew Carnegie. During Warhol's heyday, says Johnston, "the museum didn't collect the work of pop artists. They were looking for art by Europeans at that time."

More recently, perceptions have changed. "Historically, his position is made," says Johnston.

So when Dia and the Warhol Foundation were looking, Carnegie was interested. The three entered into a joint venture partnership under which the Warhol Foundation and Dia donated the art and the the museum became an entity of the Carnegie Institute. Dia gave about 50 works and has placed on long-term loan the 102-panel composite work "Shadows" of 1978. The Warhol Foundation gave more than 3,000 works including 900 paintings, plus sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and a mass of archival material. It has also given the Warhol Museum more than $2 million.

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