Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
As Fran Lebowitz said of the artist, screenwriter, director, writer, publisher, collector, media darling, and Carnegie Institute of Technology graduate, Andy Warhol made fame more famous.
Andy Warhol was born on August 6, 1928, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was an American painter, printmaker, filmmaker, and the leading figure of the Pop Art Movement. He was known for his use of the silk screening print process on the extravagant prints he made, depicting celebrities and commonplace items. He is also known for being the founder of Interview Magazine. Warhol lived a lavish lifestyle with sex, drugs, and rock 'n’ roll at the center. Andy Warhol died on February 22, 1987 at the age of 58. The Andy Warhol Museum was built in his honor in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” was artist Andy Warhol’s most famous line, and throughout his career, he certainly earned those fifteen minutes. Rising from a small town outside of Pittsburgh, the sickly Warhol rose to fame through taking unusual printed materials: nose-job ads, dance diagrams, and tabloid photographs and turned them into glamorous museum pieces. For the avant-garde painter who made “business art” and hardly ever touched a brush, his “fifteen minutes of fame” are still ticking away. He was a man who changed American culture more than he changed the art world, and in doing so became one of the most controversial and talked about people of the 20th century.
Andrew Warhola was born on August 6, 1928, to Ondrej and Ulja Warhola at 73 Orr Street in Soho, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Andy had two older brothers, Jan and Pavol, who were both born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, in what is now the nation of Slovakia. Ulja Warhola raised the children while Ondrej labored as a construction worker for a few months before he began to mine coal. Andy Warhola had health problems growing up, and one, in particular, would set him on his path in life. In third grade, young Andy was diagnosed with chorea, a nervous system disease that causes involuntary movements of the extremities, and which is believed to be a complication of scarlet fever and causes skin pigmentation blotchiness. Being so sick and constantly in and out of hospitals caused Andy to fear them—not to mention his illness kept him bedridden for the majority of his childhood. While bedridden, Warhol took to drawing, something he saw his mother doing quite often according to their neighbor, Angela Caldwell: “During the years when Andy was sick he always had around him pictures of his favorite musicians and actors, he was obsessed with celebrities before we were.”
In August 1949, Andy Warhola graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology where he studied commercial art (pictorial design). Warhola attributed his aspirations to be an artist to his many years stuck in bed: “Art came naturally to me, my mother was a good artist, but what really helped me find my calling was being alone in my room day-dreaming, drawing, and discovering.” With his degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Warhola packed up and moved to New York City, where he had recently received an offer to be an illustrator for Glamour magazine. His first task was to illustrate a pair of shoes for the magazine, and when the job was printed, the credits mistakenly read: “Drawings by Warhol.” Andy decided to credit himself as Warhol from that point on. Warhol continued making a name for himself through his ink illustrations and advertisements.
With some of the success Warhol was experiencing, he began to find new work opportunities in different mediums. The 1950s saw a boom in the record industry, and record companies needed a creative way to distinguish between their artist’s albums in the marketplace. In 1952, Warhol met Robert M. Jones, the lead art director at RCA records, and asked for some work because he needed money. Although Jones claims to have not kept the drawings, Warhol did because “it wasn’t exactly what they were looking for.” Jones did see his talent as an illustrator and eventually offered him a contract to do album art for RCA records. Warhol’s impact on American culture began here, in the music industry.
Warhol’s early covers were not full illustrations. Instead, he invented a blotted line ink technique, which was said to be invented when Warhol accidentally spilled ink onto a sheet of paper and created a stain motif by applying a second sheet of paper on top. “Warhol particularly liked the mechanical aspect of this technique, which distanced the artist from his creation,” according to Jan Greenburg, a close friend and biographer. He used the technique often in his early covers. The most famous of these came in 1955 when Warhol blotted a portrait of Count Basie. The portrait, which appeared on the album cover, heralded the cult of celebrity that would characterize his later works. A common theme began to show in his work—his weakness for celebrity.
Marilyn Diptych was a silkscreen printed by Warhol in 1962, which was to be included in his first New York solo exhibit at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery. The print was of Marilyn Monroe and was completed during the few weeks following her death in August 1962. The iconic image consisted of two large canvases hung next to each other; each containing 25 headshots of Marilyn Monroe taken from her film Niagara. One of the sides of the diptych was in full color, while the other was in a blotchy-faded, black and white. Although this image was well received, and according to Professor Alissa Mazow of the Pennsylvania State University: “One of the most important and influential works in the history of art,” the entirety of Warhol’s first exhibit was not. This may sound like a shocking revelation, considering many of his most famous works were on display: 100 soup cans, 100 coke bottles, and 100 dollar bills. Many critics such as Jonathan Russel Taylor, didn’t like what Warhol had to offer:
The essence of Warhol’s art—and by extension that of the Factory he heads—is the straight look at things as they are, and acceptance of appearances as an important part, perhaps the most important part, of the truth. Everything is the same whether the object is a Campbell’s Soup can or the Empire State Building or some people just living, just talking, just being in front of the camera.
Taylor saw Warhol’s art as having no meaning and telling the viewers that everything seen, including people in the outside world, should just be taken at face value. Other critics, even the ones who praised some of his works, were still a little skeptical about certain aspects of his work. A New York Times reporter at the show claimed: “The ‘Pop Art’ Exhibition on display at the Eleanor Ward gallery was a spectacle to say the least, the French showed a lot of enthusiasm…However, Mr. Warhol displays little to no artistic talent other than finding what already exists and placing it elsewhere. These pieces could have been made in a factory overseas for all we know.”
“The Factory” was the name of Warhol’s infamous New York City studio from 1962-1968. John Cale, one of Warhol’s close friends and a member of the Velvet Underground said of the factory: “It wasn’t called the Factory for nothing. It was where the assembly line for the silkscreens happened. While one person was making a silkscreen, somebody else would be filming a screen test. Every day it’s something new.” The Factory not only became known for the artwork it was mass producing (which commented on capitalist corporations and consumer goods); instead, The Factory became more known for the people and the atmosphere. The many workers who made the silkscreens for Warhol became known as the Warhol Superstars. The Superstars were a menagerie of adult film stars, drag stars, socialites, drug-addicts, musicians, and free-thinkers who not only helped with his silkscreens but starred in many of Warhol’s films; Billy Name, Ultra Violet, Mary Woronov, and The Velvet Underground are the most notable of Warhol’s Superstars. Many critics were scandalized by Warhol’s embrace of market culture:
Warhol’s Superstars, as they were called, were talentless outcasts that helped print meaningless art that was made to serve an affluent consumerist society. Even his films suffered, lacking composition and traditional quality—that’s what happens when your art is mass produced.
Warhol had a preference for recreation over creation and it showed in many of his films as well. In 1964, when Warhol began making films his theory was: “Movies are easier to do than pictures. All you have to do is turn on the camera.” Some of Warhol’s earliest films such as Sleep (1963)and Empire (1964) survey motionless objects for the entirety of the film; Warhol claimed that he “wanted the Empire State Building to be a star.” Many of his film’s subjects revolve around people and sexuality, with his Superstars being cast in the leads in most of the films. Lonesome Cowboy (1968), his best-received film, was a play off the American Western genre and dealt with the gay underground culture. To Warhol, the quality of the film mattered little. He would often let the camera wander and refused to edit any of his films, because it wouldn’t be a pure representation of life. The films were actor-centric; therefore Warhol gave all of the film credits to his stars and not himself. In 1968, Warhol made his last film, Blue Movie, which filmed two of his Superstars having sex for thirty-three minutes, and then doing mundane tasks for the rest of the film. After the film wrapped, he turned over the filmmaking chores to his protégé Paul Morrissey, who had previously been co-writer on all of Warhol’s films.
The year 1968 also brought the end to what was known as “the Factory of the 60s.” Warhol feared for his life, security became tight, and the excessive amounts of sex and drug usage at the Factory became non-existent, all because Valerie Solanas tried to assassinate Warhol and his curator Mario Amaya. Solanas was a marginal figure in The Factory scene and a member of Warhol’s Superstars. Before the attack, Solanas had been escorted out of The Factory, after attempting to retrieve a script she had given to Warhol, and which he claimed to have misplaced. Mario Amaya received minor injuries, while Andy was seriously wounded by the shooting and barely survived. Warhol had this to say about the attack:
Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there–I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television--you don’t feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it’s all television.
Warhol suffered physical effects from the shooting for the rest of his life, but the shooting also profoundly affected his art. He stopped making films and even stopped attempting to make controversial art as he used to. Instead, Warhol used the late 1960s and 70s to become a quiet entrepreneur.
Warhol spent a lot of his time after the shootings doing portraits for wealthy patrons--a list that includes: Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, John Lennon, and Michael Jackson. However, this creation of portraiture solely for profit vastly departed from who Warhol was as an artist. Many critics who bashed his early works seem to praise them as compared to his portraits. John Russel Taylor, a Warhol critic, claimed “Warhol no longer cared about compositional prowess, but instead relinquished his devotion to free the human mind and create controversy amongst the art community—asking the question ‘what is art?’ Is it only to make a quick penny?” Even Professor Mazow, a Warhol fanatic, believed this period was one of his weakest artistically: “The only good to come out of Warhol’s portrait era was that it launched Warhol from Pop Artist to celebrity, which as you know, he wanted to be his whole life.” Many more critics labeled his portraits as superficial, facile and commercial, having no depth or indication of the significance of the subjects depicted. When looking back on this period, some scholars and critics claim that “Warhol captured something irresistible about the zeitgeist of American culture in the 1970s.”
The portraits Warhol completed in the 70s didn’t find the same success as his magazine did. Interview magazine was founded in the fall of 1969 by Warhol and his friend, British journalist, John Wilcock. (Some sources credit Gerald Manalga with being the third co-founder.) The magazine was dedicated to the cult status of celebrity which fascinated Warhol. Interview was known for its cutting-edge graphics and raw-uncut celebrity interviews. Warhol used to give complimentary copies of the magazine to his “in-crowd” around town in hopes they would contribute to his magazine, but it was also an attempt to attract new advertisers. Warhol eventually withdrew from everyday oversight of his magazine and turned it over to one of his editors, Bob Colacello, and the magazine began to shift focus. However, Warhol still served as ambassador to the magazine and would pass out copies to passerby in the streets of Manhattan.
Manhattan served as Warhol’s nighttime playground after the collapse of The Factory’s party scene. He was known to be a frequenter of clubs like Max’s Kansas City and Serendipity 3. However, Warhol spent the most time in the infamous Studio 54. The studio opened April 26, 1977, and was owned by Steven Rubell and his partner Ian Schrager. The night before opening, Rubell and Schrager had a pre-opening dinner with Andy Warhol, Halston, and Calvin Klein. During dinner, they discussed what each wanted to see out of the nightclub, and Warhol simply said, “Everything he was missing out on.” Studio 54 was a celebrity hot spot, featuring some of the biggest names in modeling, acting, music, and art. The Studio became known, much like The Factory was, for the hedonism that occurred within: the balconies were known for their sexual encounters and rampant drug use while the dance floor was decorated with pictures of the Moon and cocaine. Sundays at Studio 54 catered specifically to the homosexual crowd on Sundays, nights on which Warhol was known to frequent the club. During Warhol’s visits to the Studio, he was known to be quiet, shy, and a meticulous observer to all of the events going on around him. He even earned the nickname “The White Mole of Union Square.” On February 4, 1980, the nightclub threw its last party and was sold to new owners to be reopened as a ‘cleaner place’ that wouldn’t hide money and cocaine behind the drywall.
Warhol continued going to Studio 54 through the 1980s but he also got back to work—inspired by some of the younger artists who had begun to dominate the market in his absence. Warhol gave up doing the portraits or “business art” and began to work on paintings that showed a side of him that very few people knew about. Andy Warhol was a practicing Byzantine Catholic and produced two religious-themed works: Details of Renaissance Painting in 1984 and The Last Supper in 1986. This shocked much of the art world. Very few people knew that Warhol was a man of faith. Pavol Warhola described his brother as “really religious, but he didn’t want people to know because that was private.” What is most interesting about the religious works of Andy Warhol is the time frame in which they appeared. Until 1984, few knew how devoutly Christian Warhol was, then after seeing Details of Renaissance Painting, many critics started to see the correlation between the style these works and the iconographic images evident in places of worship. Many more religious works were found throughout his home after his death in 1987.
Andy Warhol died in New York City at 6:32 a.m. on February 22, 1987, at 58 years old, after a “routine” gallbladder surgery. According to news reports by the Washington Post, Warhol was stable post-operative and his death was clearly unexpected. In recent years, new light has been shed on the subject. He was reportedly receiving neglectful care at the Cornell Medical Center. Supposedly, his nurse was reading the Bible instead of watching over her famous patient: “She didn’t realize who he was.” Pavol and Jan came to collect their brother’s body and return it to Pittsburgh. Warhol was buried next to his mother and father at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic cemetery. A few weeks later a memorial service was held in New York City.
During his life, Andy Warhol impacted American culture and still affects it today. In his will, Warhol asked that his entire estate be used to create a foundation that would be based on the advancement of the visual arts. In 1987, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was founded. This is a prominent foundation in the art world, and is one of the three largest grant-giving organizations for the visual arts in the U.S. With this foundation, Warhol was able to help artists who were following in the tradition of “Pop Art” (or any other form of artistic expression), like artist Jim Dine. A museum was erected on the North Shore of Pittsburgh in his honor. The Andy Warhol Museum is a member of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to a single artist, displaying over $80 million worth of original artwork.
When looking back on Warhol’s art, many critics see new meaning in what was highly misunderstood and controversial art. 100 Soup Cans which received mixed reviews upon its release is now cherished as one of his best works, depicting “an affluent consumerist society”—instead of just hundreds of soup cans. Modern filmmakers attribute many of Warhol’s films as the beginning of minimalist expressionism in film. Warhol predicted, “Everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” This is easily seen with the creation of reality TV, giving ordinary people their shot at “fifteen minutes of fame.” Andy Warhol lived for 58 years and created a legacy so expansive that his “fifteen minutes of fame” will continue for years to come.