Opening Warhol's time capsules
The Andy Warhol Museum has 612 boxes of Warhol ephemera, which they're currently opening and cataloguing
Whose desk would be covered in stuff like this? An invoice for $138 from Gerald Kornblau Antiques; a newspaper cutting with the headline "Verbal clash stirs the Onassis trial”; a Christmas card from John Waters containing a single dollar bill; 29 photo-booth strips; and a signed, semi-naked photograph of Rob Lowe?
The greatest pop artist of all, Andy Warhol, of course. At the start of a 2014 our thoughts turn to the passing years, and so we were delighted to hear that the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is continuing to unpack and catalogue the 612 'time capsules', or cardboard boxes of studio ephemera that the artist collected for posterity from 1974 until his death in 1987.
In a recent radio documentary for the public radio show, This American Life, journalist Starlee Kine visited the Warhol Museum and joined its curators as they opened another of Warhol's capsules. As Kine explains, the time capsules came about at the suggestion of one of Warhol's assistants, as the artist was preparing to relocate his studio. Rather than view the boxing up of his possessions as an unnecessary chore, the staff suggested Andy consider that packing away was an artwork itself. Warhol took to the idea, and continued to box and file away these time capsules – as Warhol described them – up until his untimely death.
The Museum has all the capsules in its archives and even though it has yet to unpack them all, its employees can attest to the wide variation of objects found within. Alongside soiled clothing and half-finished sandwiches sit some original works by the likes of Basquait, hundreds of candid photographs, and a huge amount of cultural ephemera of the kind that once found its way into Warhol's screen prints. During Kine's visit the staff unpacked a signed, semi-nude shot of Rob Lowe wrapped in a toy snake; its dedication, written by the actor, explained that the photograph was “a trade”, intimating perhaps that Lowe expected to receive a Warhol work in return!
The seamier stuff aside, it’s hard to think of another artist who could have put all his junk in storage, and deemed it art. A friend of Francis Bacon's stored and then auctioned the painter's detritus after his death, and yet it’s unlikely Bacon would have regarded his old cheque-book stubs as being of artistic merit. Warhol thought his desktop sweepings were valuable, and perhaps in viewing them as such, they became art. Certainly the capsules offer a charming insight into one of the 20th century's most important artists.
You can listen to Kine's show here; and you can see some of the capsules' contents here. Yet for a properly canonical view of Warhol's life and work, you'd be better off picking up a copy of our multi-volume catalogue raisonné, the most accurate and authoritative data on Andy Warhol ever assembled. You'll find all the great works here (and no rotting sandwiches).