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What would Andy Warhol think of a museum celebrating his art and birthday?

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

By Caroline Abels, Post-Gazette Cultural Arts Writer

If Andy Warhol had lived to turn 75 tomorrow -- or better yet, if he came back to Earth in a dazzling, descending UFO, or something similarly glamorous -- he might be taken aback by his status as a household name, and by the fact that his personal museum has become a cultural cornerstone of his hometown.

"Self Potrait," a 1986 paint and silkscreen work by Andy Warhol.

Or maybe he'd be taken aback just for a little while and then revel in his fame, given his fascination with the concept.

For those intimate with his work, speculating about how Warhol at age 75 might have reacted to his place in art history -- and how he might have liked life in the 21st century -- is a bit tempting.

"I wonder if he could have imagined becoming the most prominent artist of the last half-century," said Joel Wachs, president of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York City. "I wish he could have been here to see how his influence has permeated every aspect of our culture."

Thomas Sokolowski, director of The Andy Warhol Museum, believes the pop artist would warm to modern technology.

"He would have loved the Internet, and he would have loved cell phones -- to be in constant contact with anyone," Sokolowski said. "And he would have found reality TV really interesting. He started it, in a sense, with his '15 minutes of fame' notion, as well as his notion that anyone could be a superstar."

Warhol died in 1987 at age 58 following complications from gall bladder surgery. He was living in New York at the time, having left Pittsburgh behind long before.

Tomorrow, to celebrate the artist's Aug. 6 birthday, the Warhol Museum is offering 75-cent admission to the museum between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., as well as free birthday cake, art-making activities and a non-perishable food drive.

On Saturday and Sunday, the museum will offer $1 off admission for anyone bringing a canned good, and people who lived in Pittsburgh in the 1930s and '40s are invited to share memories of the time when Andy Warhol was growing up here.

In New York City, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is also planning a birthday celebration -- an Oct. 25 symposium on Warhol's life and influence, plus an October film series featuring some of his works.

Sokolowksi said Warhol's current fame would have filled a deep need of the artist to live forever.

"One of the things he could never achieve -- eternal youth -- he has achieved through fame," Sokolowski said. "He is seen today as this eternal prince of youth and hip and cool."

Sokolowski noted that Warhol often wore wigs to mask his receding hairline and to take attention away from his bad skin.

"It was the notion that you'd look at the wig and not at him," he said.

And how would Warhol's art have developed through the 1990s?

"It's hard to say, because, like the work of Picasso and Michelangelo, his work was predicated on change," Sokolowski said.

Wachs imagined Warhol would have been thrilled to be alive now "because he often talked about life being fleeting and about the importance of doing what you can, while you can, because you can be gone quickly."

"When 9/11 happened," Wachs added, "I wondered what Andy would have done, or what he would have done when the [Iraq] war broke out. He was so able to grasp what was important in a moment."

Caroline Abels can be reached at or 412-263-2614.

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