BY Allan Schwartzman in Frieze | 06 MAY 94
Featured in
Issue 16

The Andy Warhol Museum

The opening of the Andy Warhol Museum

BY Allan Schwartzman in Frieze | 06 MAY 94

Maybe it's my own insensitivity to architecture, but at first glance the Frick & Lindsay building (also known as Volkwein Music & Instruments Co.) reminded me of the Book Depository building in Dallas. In truth, the Frick & Lindsay, which is just a block and a bridge away from downtown Pittsburgh, has a more decorative facade than the standard warehouse. But even though the building is sheathed in glazed terracotta, I'll hold on to my first impression of the home of the new Andy Warhol Museum as a more fanciful cousin of the building from which, according to the official story, President Kennedy was killed. The analogy resonates with ironies: of the shooting of the President as the sort of American tragedy that made Warhol famous; of the mourning Jackie Kennedy as one of Warhol's most enduring images; of the artist's own near fatal shooting several years later, one day before Kennedy's brother Robert was himself shot to death; of the likelihood that after Kennedy, Warhol is the most identifiable presence in American history since the 60s; of the thought that Warhol's work, like Kennedy's murder, is not as simple as it may have been made to seem. This last thought could be called the mantra of the new Andy Warhol Museum.

The United States is short on single-artist museums. The studios or homes of several 19th century painters have been converted into museums - Frederick Church and Augustus St. Gaudens come to mind - but as far as I can tell, Warhol is the first American artist of this country to be so honoured other than Norman Rockwell, the master of Hallmark sentimentalia. According to the Warhol museum staff, theirs is the most comprehensive single-artist institution in the world. I imagine if one were searching for such claims, both the Picasso museum in Paris and the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam could produce similarly impressive superlatives, but the point is clear. This new institution is a formidable one. There is no Georgia O'Keeffe museum, no Jackson Pollock museum, no Jasper Johns museum.

The Andy Warhol Museum was begun as an attempt by Charles Wright, director of the Dia Center for the Arts, to find a permanent home for his organisation's extraordinary collection of early hand-painted Warhols from the early 60s, Disasters and Skulls, each of which had been the subject of a separate exhibition at Dia's Wooster Street facility, which now houses Printed Matter, the artists' book store. (When Dia was still being run by its founders Philippa de Menil and Heiner Friedrich, there were plans to open a Warhol museum on Franklin Street, in a building that has since changed hands several times; in a curious twist, that building is now the home of the New York Academy of Art, a school dedicated to a kind of traditional figuration antithetical to Warhol's art.) Wright couldn't get his project funded, but soon he was joined by Fred Hughes, the executor of Warhol's estate, and eventually by the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh to form a comprehensive Warhol institution. Dia and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (the beneficiary of all of Warhol's remaining art, and virtually all of his assets) are providing the art, and the Carnegie the administration. Dia is donating 80 paintings, and loaning Shadows (1978), a 102-panel work. The Warhol Foundation is giving the museum 844 paintings and sculptures, 1,528 drawings, 576 prints, and an initial group of 423 photographs - $75 million worth of art, according to Archibald Gillies, the director of the foundation, about 30%, by value, of the work left to the estate. The museum will fully occupy an 88,000 square-foot building that has been redesigned by Richard Gluckman, Dia's architect. The exhibition space is enormous - roughly equivalent to that of the entire Whitney Museum of American Art, whose former director, Tom Armstrong, is now the director of the Andy Warhol Museum.

I can think of no American artist of this century who has done more to change our very conception of what art is and how it can operate in the world, and certainly none is more famous. Yet Warhol remains one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated art-makers of the postwar era. When I recently told a culturally literate friend of mine that there would soon be an entire museum devoted to Warhol, he was appalled, and his reaction is not unique. Warhol is still generally perceived to be a put-on; even arts professionals tend to deny him his due. When Warhol emerged as a fine artist in the 60s, his peers distanced themselves from him, and our major museums have done little to acknowledge his importance. Yet until the Warhol Foundation recently began making Warhols available to American museums at reduced prices, the Art Institute of Chicago could claim ownership of only one Warhol painting, a monumental Mao so large the museum could never hang it (the painting is now on extended loan to the Warhol museum). The Philadelphia Museum of Art, with its in-depth Duchamp and Brancusi collections, owned just two small Electric Chairs and a Four Jackies. Even the few museums that collected Warhol with greater diligence have done him scant justice. The Museum of Modern Art, for example, owns a somewhat more thorough selection of Warhols, but until it reinstalled its permanent collection last year, represented Warhol with a single painting, Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), certainly an extraordinary work, but one which can hardly begin to suggest the artist's achievement. (Gold Marilyn Monroe was recently joined by Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times (1963), the museum's first disaster painting, a work which didn't enter the collection until 1991, when it was donated by Philip Johnson, who had given MoMA the Marilyn in 1962.)

If our museums have failed to look upon Warhol as a key figure in recent art, the marketplace has proved to be no more enthusiastic. Despite the general perception of Warhol as a commercially-driven artist, even in the best of times prices for his works have been soft. In the mid-80s, when the art market began to heat up and a Jasper Johns painting sold at auction for $3.3 million and a drawing for $800,000, an important Warhol dollar bill painting brought $385,000. And while prices have risen substantially since the artist's death, recent auctions have proven that even choice works of the most desirable series and dates fail to sell if not marketed with a sense of rarity and perfection that is in many ways antithetical to the artist's way of working and to his very conception of works of art. Furthermore, by far the most active purchaser of high-ticket Warhols, Thomas Ammann, died last year.

Casting a longer shadow over Warhol's artistic achievements, and thus far eclipsing the opening of the Andy Warhol Museum, is a messy lawsuit between Edward Hayes (the former attorney for the Estate of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts) and the estate and the foundation. Simply stated, Hayes is suing because he claims to have been short-changed some $11 million for his legal services. He has been paid $4.85 million for his work in overseeing probate of the will and the dispersal of the assets of the estate, based on a mutually agreed-upon fee of 2%. Hayes claims that the foundation has placed indefensibly low values on the 4,100 paintings and sculptures, 5,100 drawings, 19,000 prints, and 66,000 photographs that the estate transferred to the Warhol foundation and that comprise the bulk of the artist's assets. According to Archibald Gillies, director of the foundation, the estate was worth $220 million at time of transfer, based largely on an art appraisal conducted by Christie's, the auction house; according to Hayes it was worth $827 million, based on his own appraisal conducted by the art dealer Jeffrey Hoffeld. At the heart of the debate is the role of a 'blockage discount' of roughly 60% that Christie's applied to its valuation. (A blockage discount is a reduced value commonly applied to estates based on the assumption that if all the art were sold at once the value of each work would drop drastically.) Hayes, in turn, is claiming that the foundation had no intention of selling all the art at once and his fee should be based on the full value of the art, which he contends even without blockage discount to be dramatically greater than the Christie's appraisal maintains.

The trial has been a circus worthy of Tom Wolfe, who is reputed to have based Tom Killian, the lawyer in Bonfire of the Vanities, on his friend Hayes. It has also been a costly venture, leeching millions of dollars from the foundation and upstaging and even discrediting its philanthropic activities. Judge Eve Preminger has on several occasions made clear her impatience with both parties. Whenever she asked the attorneys to approach the bench, what followed was a scene out of a Woody Allen movie, with no fewer than a dozen lawyers filing into place and nearly as many remaining seated. There were lawyers representing the foundation and lawyers representing Hayes, lawyers representing Christie's and lawyers representing the estate, lawyers representing the Attorney General and lawyers representing various individuals. It is another case in which only the lawyers win. In the last half year alone, during preparation for the trial and throughout the trial itself, the foundation was paying its lawyers at Carter Ledyard $300,000 a month. (This follows a $4.15 million settlement the foundation was ordered to pay to Schaiffler Nance, the licensing company that manufactures Cabbage Patch Dolls, for breach of contract in a licensing agreement.)

Perversely, to defend the lower valuations, the foundation has gone so far as to cast doubt on the financial and historical value of the very same art that is intended to produce the bulk of the foundation's income. In the process, it undermines the same museum of which it is a primary benefactor. In order to throw Christie's heavily discounted valuation into a more positive light, the foundation brought to the stand as an expert witness André Emmerich, a dealer who has staked his own eminent reputation on representing artists roughly of Warhol's age whose prices were undercut and whose careers were sideswiped by the success of Pop. Not surprisingly, Emmerich portrayed Warhol as so much a product of his times that the value of his work would likely diminish over the years. So rather than settle out of court, as Judge Preminger had urged the parties to do, the foundation found itself in the ludicrous position of arguing against the importance of the same Andy Warhol it was founded to honour.

In point of truth, if one accepted a higher overall valuation of the art to the amount of even $600 million, as opposed to the $827 million Hayes is pursuing, and if the court ruled that the foundation must pay Hayes 2% of the difference, making a one-time payment of an additional $7.6 million would be the least of Gillies' worries. According to law, charitable foundations are required to disburse 5% of their total value each year, and if the Attorney General chose to act on this increase, the foundation could then be required to give away almost three times as much as it currently does. (If the court were to agree entirely with Hayes' valuations, increase that number to four.) In such a scenario, the wisdom of blockage discount would begin to reveal itself, because in today's art market, to have to produce $30 million mostly from the sale of Warhols - especially the sort of second- and third-rate Warhols the foundation owns in abundance - could prove disastrous.

So it is all the more fortuitous that the Andy Warhol Museum will be opening this month. Not only will the museum, hopefully, shift attention from money to art - an interesting reversal for Warhol, don't you think? - but it could save the foundation from completely destroying the Warhol market if it were required to produce so much extra cash. For instead of selling more art to produce more cash for more grants, and soon putting itself out of business in the process, the foundation could re-evaluate its $75 million art donation to the museum to, say, $300 million, spread out the donation period, and thus fulfil its required annual outlay for years to come - who knows, maybe even until such point as the art market can think of no better investment than Warhol.

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Today, however, the typical art world perception of the artist is as a painter with a brilliant beginning who died artistically around the time he got shot in 1968, and who eventually returned as a hack, producing whatever anyone wanted if willing to pay the price - oh, and who also made some important films. Even the retrospective organised by the Museum of Modern Art in 1989 reinforced this, and based on the overwhelming critical enthusiasm for the show, one must believe this position to be widely shared. According to this pinhole view, after he painted his extraordinary celebrity and disaster paintings in the early 60s, Warhol became a victim of his own success. This is the typical view of the 20th century artist in general - a brilliant early spurt of artistic vision soon broken by the derring-do of the next artistic messiah. The common misunderstanding of the late Warhol was reinforced at MoMA by representing Warhol's late paintings with a smattering of canvasses as if from various 'lines': a Rorschach, a Reversal, a couple of little Oxidations, a Self-Portrait, a Last Supper, a late Ad. Such a view finds no place for Warhol the filmmaker, Warhol the installation artist, Warhol the music producer, Warhol the writer, Warhol the publisher, Warhol the photographer, Warhol the philosopher, Warhol the court jester, Warhol the collector - Warhol the total artist - all of which are central to the artistic vision of the Warhol museum.

Under the curatorial guidance of Mark Francis, the museum promises to be a model of artistic and historical investigation, offering the most considered and complex portrait of Warhol to date. Integrated throughout will be source materials, preparatory drawings, memorabilia, and other materials that place the work both formally and culturally in context. Warhol recorded everything, and he never threw anything away, and the foundation has contributed to the museum most of the artist's archives, including scrapbooks, Interview magazines, and tapes of Velvet Underground recordings, which will be on display both in the galleries and in a reading room open to the public. Behind a glass wall will be a grid of some of Warhol's 608 'time capsules', all of which are in the museum's collection. Films will be on view not only in the museum's auditorium, but in the galleries themselves. In addition to regular screenings in the museum auditorium (with its great apple green folding chairs designed in the late 20s by Marcel Breuer), Francis intends to display a few early films, such as Empire (1964), in a room contiguous to the gallery where the artist's celebrity paintings of the early 60s will be installed. Not only will this juxtaposition underscore the influence of 'the movies' in Warhol's paintings of the time and foreground the importance of the medium in the artist's oeuvre, but the specific films Francis has chosen here - the ones which still movement - are a formal inversion of the paintings, and are characterised by a mood that is the very antithesis of the celebrity displayed by the paintings beside them.

While Francis' installation of Warhol will not exactly be anti-chronological, it is nonetheless designed to look upon Warhol's production less as an evolution than as a conglomeration of thematic lodes. Because of the museum's resources, and Francis' vision of the artist's elasticity, different interpretive lines will be examined in subsequent installations. In one presentation the Camouflage paintings may be cast in terms of self-portraiture, in another as what Robert Rosenblum refers to as 'found abstraction.' This should be especially revealing of the late work, about which there is little consensus. (According to Christie's valuation, there are no fewer than 72 distinct bodies of painting from the last twelve years of the artist's life!) Francis has a keen appreciation of the later work, and from what I can tell it is his intention to present as notable, bodies of work that may have been previously dismissed. (For me the 70s portraits and the collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat come to mind.)

According to the standard view, the Maos of the early 70s marked Warhol's last gasp of greatness. Personally, I think that after these, Warhol started up all over again, producing one of the most important groups of art of the late 70s and 80s. This body of work concerns mortality and its manifestation in painting, and can be considered as on a par with Rothko. The Skulls use one of art history's most enduring images to merge the form of the celebrity paintings with the content of the disaster paintings. The Hammers and Sickles, alongside the Maos and the Dollar Signs, proffer nothing less than an abbreviated history of modern political economies, but in their static monumentality also touch on issues of violence, sexual displacement, psychological control, and domination. Shadows, the 102-panel painting of a single, unidentifiable shadow, is a grand portrait of what appears to be little more than a filmic strip of light and shadow flickering past the viewer. It takes on the medium of painting (the efficacy of which had been in great doubt at the time, in part due to Warhol's own earlier abandonment of the pursuit) and at the same time expresses a yearning for the medium to be epic, like film. The Oxidation, or so-called 'piss paintings', are the ultimate critique on abstraction, the authentic gesture of the artist, and value. In the Retrospective paintings, the artist ripped off his own history and refashioned his most successful icons as elegantly as if they were late Monets. And the large black Rorschach paintings can be seen as the ultimate tabula rasa of meaning and nothingness. Truman Capote may have called Warhol a sphinx with no secret, but it is this enigma that, for me, was the most fruitful subject for his late work. It came into full complexity in his last paintings, the mural-sized Camouflages and Last Suppers, the haunting late Self-Portraits, and especially the Camouflage Self-Portraits, which must be Warhol's ultimate statement of self.

A number of the works the museum has acquired from the foundation are virtually unknown - a series of painted sculptures of punching bags made with Basquiat, for example, each with a member of the Last Supper silk screened on it. These pieces could do much to redefine Warhol, and some raise unanswered questions - the large 82 x 438" Elvis (the singer's image repeated eleven times), for one, insofar as it was made as yardage from which individual paintings were to be cut but will be displayed as a single painting.

It would be foolish to attempt to go much further in interpreting Francis' presentation of Warhol (when I visited the museum there was no art in place; we looked at the installation in model form), but there is one passage I would like to comment on briefly. The visitor moves from a selection of Warhol's Self-Portraits in the entry hall of the museum and late celebrity portraits in another ground-floor gallery to a very different Warhol on the seventh floor. First there are text panels that describe the themes of 'fame', 'fortune,' and 'fashion' and the roles that Diana Vreeland, Fred Hughes, and Halston played in Warhol's life and work. From there the art veers in an entirely different direction. In one room there will be three large paintings: a Torso (a nude male viewed from behind), an Oxidation, and a Camouflage. The seventh floor's other gallery will be installed from edge to edge with 55 panels (in rotation) from Shadows (with its filmic qualities, another inversion of Empire, on screen directly below.) Instead of beginning at the beginning, the story of Warhol goes from the glamour of the ground floor to the ethereal of the top, from the concrete to the abstract, from the face to the body and from the social to the sexual. Whether intentionally or not, the installation of the top floor also lays out the role of latent imagery in Warhol's work in a startling way. The somewhat violently jagged image of Shadows, which recalls the 'action' paintings of Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline, is, according to the artist's diaries, not the shadow of a corner, as is commonly assumed, but the shadow of an erection, the result of one of Warhol's legendary photo-sessions of male hustlers. This work gets to the very core of Warhol's voyeurism: as a definition of the act of making and looking at art, and according to various reports, the artist's sexual activity of choice. (Victor Hugo, Warhol's Studio 54 cohort and volatile best friend of fashion designer Halston, procured the models.) The Torso, also the result of one of these photo sessions, is all butt, and more sexualised than ever by the juxtaposition. In this company, the Oxidation painting takes on a variety of readings, sexual and psychological, and the Camouflage, with its sea of cover-up, an icon of hiding, becomes not only a surrogate self-portrait, but also a coda for the floor's veiled homoerotic narrative and a literal portrayal of what Warhol did best.

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One wonders if Pittsburgh understands what it is getting with the Andy Warhol Museum. I think it is extraordinary in every way that the city, and indeed the state of Pennsylvania, are embracing Warhol as heartily as they are. If so much of the art community has been reluctant to embrace Warhol, it seems surprising that politicians, the Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Pittsburgh would be ready to do so. Yet Ellen Broderick, head of the education program at the Andy Warhol Museum, is working with local schools to incorporate Warhol not only into art courses, but into a variety of other subjects, such as social history. There is so much to be gained by such an enlightened view, but I have difficulty believing that the American public is ready to examine the very societal conditions that produced a figure as brilliant and complex as Andy Warhol, and the nexus of desires and fears, both on the surface and buried, that fuelled him.

To some it might seem ironic that Pittsburgh was chosen as the home for the Warhol museum. Warhol, after all, made little secret of his distaste for the city of his birth, and common wisdom would suggest that New York would draw a larger audience. But New York would never have produced the start-up funds. The state of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, of which Pittsburgh is a part, sees the museum as a central ingredient in revitalising the local economy by shifting its base from steel manufacturing to services. The state has contributed $6 million, and Senator John Heinz, scion to a ketchup and pickle fortune who has since died, arranged for the additional $5 million through various family foundations. The Warhol foundation kicked in $2 million, and Henry Hillman, a local patron, has recently given another million. (Approximately an additional $1 million has been received through smaller donations.) It is the museum's goal to raise an additional $20 million over the next three years for an endowment, which, according to Armstrong, should produce enough income for about half of the institution's annual upkeep. Raising the money will be a formidable task in that Pittsburgh has been pretty much tapped out with the Carnegie's own $120 million fund-raising effort and according to Armstrong, 'collectors are not a reliable source of money.' This leaves the business community and the people associated with the various phases of Warhol's life. But according to various reports, the messy trial that as of this writing has yet to be concluded is hampering fund-raising efforts, though Armstrong denies this.

Eventually, the Hayes dispute will be resolved, but the Foundation faces a more insidious struggle, one rooted more in the essential contradictions between the historical value we place on art and the economic demands of the marketplace than in problems of the foundation's own construction: by existing both to protect Warhol's artistic legacy and to fund worthy projects in the visual arts - noble aims for sure - the foundation must look upon the Warhol works that form the bulk of its assets both as things to be historically protected (ergo, the museum) and to be exploited commercially. Already, significant works that belong in museums have been sold strictly for the cash they've raised - Mona Lisa (1963), for $2.8 million is perhaps the most obvious example. That the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts is at odds with itself is a dilemma of profound magnitude. The catch-22, which is currently leading the Foundation down a path of self-destruction, underscores the singular brilliance of Andy Warhol for simultaneously achieving a synthesis and a deconstruction of art and capitalism. This makes it all the clearer how he has left his mark not only on the history of art and general culture, but on that of ideas as well, and why the Andy Warhol Museum will be no put-on.