By the time I met Andy Warhol the person had been so overshadowed by the persona that it was tough to remember what a shatteringly great artist he actually was. This was 1984, and the Brillo Boxes, the Campbell's soup cans, the silk screened Jackie O's had long since become part of the backdrop of popular culture. He was a cultural figure, but did anybody really think of him as an artist still capable of great work? It seemed impossible to disentangle his influence from his celebrity. (It occurs to me that this was also the time when Bob Dylan was considered a washed up hasbeen, respected for having done a few great albums twenty years earlier, but no longer capable of doing anything significant.)
The Warhol museum is a great corrective to this benighted view. My visit there ten years ago was one of those world shifting art experiences that I've never quite gotten over (like the Whistler Retrospective at NGA in the mid-eighties, or seeing Ellis & Branford Marsalis together at Blues Alley in '96). Going again was the one thing I was determined not to miss on last week's trip to Pittsburgh.
The current exhibit, "Twisted Pair", twines Warhol's work with that of Marcel Duchamp. An inspired coupling, and the curators clearly had a lot of fun putting it together. From the faces of some of the folks in the museum, they've clearly not lost their capacity to shock. But mostly what's revealed from seeing so much of their work together -- some of it very familiar to me and some of it very new -- is how they shared a deep sense of joy in the world, wonder and respect for its mystery. Neither would flinch from the harsh uglinesses of life, but they combat the darkness with a wicked, tender sense of humor.
It appears that they may have met twice -- Duchamp, no longer active as an artist (practically no one knew that he was still working on the astonishing Etant donnes), but some sort of godlike figure to the younger generations; Andy coming into his own as the enfant terrible of pop art, but very much a fanboy when it came to the Frenchman. Duchamp's few recorded remarks on Warhol's work are glowing and generous.
Fittingly, the exhibition "catalog" is a tabloid newspaper. They would have loved being in this show together.
On the way to the museum, I walked along the river, after crossing the Fort Duquesne bridge, then curved around PNC park, where people were just starting to get to the ticket windows for the Pirates' game that night against Houston (they lost that one, but won the next two). City workers were starting to unload the barricades to block off sections of the street, and the beer trucks were unloading at Firewater's and Mullen's Bar & Grill where the faithful would be gathering after the game. I walked another block past Finnigan's Wake, and one more to The Warhol. I don't know the story of how the museum came to be in that location, but I'm sure Andy would've approved.