An Unseen Side of Andy Warhol

The sweet spot for the fine arts is inclusive but exclusive, making gallery-goers feel like welcome guests in an artist’s vision, but often retaining an air of mystery and sometimes of chic. The master of walking this line was Pittsburgh’s own Andrew Warhola, Jr, the man reinvented as Andy Warhol. On November 1st, the Andy Warhol Museum revealed a truly exclusive experience: An exhibition of never-before-seen artworks from their collection. “The unseen nature of these works reflects the fact that there is always something new to be learned about Andy Warhol,” curator Patrick Moore said in his opening remarks. “These have sort of hibernated in our collection for the past forty years. It makes Warhol’s legacy fresh to see that there are still things to be understood about his work.”

The freshening of Warhol’s legacy is part of recently appointed chief curator Aaron Levi Garvey’s vision for the museum — to not reduce Warhol to soup cans and Marilyn Monroe, but to engage with the edgier, more subtle, less explored parts of his ethos.

All Dressed Up

The opening for Unseen traced an inclusive-exclusive line. Art shows are not meant to be warm and fuzzy kumbaya affairs, but creative people are also by nature misfits who long for community. By allowing people to feel special by being among the first audience to see these works, the Warhol drew a crowd of Pittsburgh art world insiders. People came out in their nicest outfits at 6 p.m. on a cold, grey Wednesday. Sparkly high-heeled boots, plaid suits, scarlet peacoats and kitten heels, technicolor jumpsuits that would’ve been the envy of Old Testament Joseph himself, all captured by the Pop District photography and videography staff. (The Pop District is a career training initiative of the Warhol that allows adults in Pittsburgh to build their resumes in different facets of the arts).

Unseen is divided up into The Art World, The 1980s, Portraits, Abstraction and Color, and Love and Sex. Moore’s curation allows for punctuation marks of red and black on the white walls of the museum’s second floor, which has a warehouse-like ambiance. Unseen fills the space impressively. Some of the brightest red comes from Number 4 (Multi Image), two test prints of a piece Warhol gifted to actress Liza Minnelli for her fourth wedding anniversary. Though the marriage in question did not last, the paintings’ value apparently did, since Minnelli sold the originals at Christie’s.

The Abstraction and Color section shows a playful, more subtle side to Warhol. Three pieces of screenprinting on Cuvaison Chardonnay labels paired with an absent dyed depiction of a Watercolor paint kit with brushes make a quadrant on a far wall. Shadows V and Shadows IV are part of a collection shown before at upstate New York’s Dia Beacon. Their black surfaces shimmer, a rare instance of a luster-like texture in Warhol’s work.

A New Experience

There is something deeply intimate about seeing these works in public for the first time. For Warhol, the line between public and private was blurry, and one of the most notable parts of the exhibit is the erotica featured in Love and Sex. (During his opening remarks, Patrick Moore noted that the only “little one” in attendance was fellow curator Aaron Levi Garvey’s toddler-age daughter, and that perhaps there were a few works in Unseen not appropriate for her, but that those works were some of the most important. Garvey’s daughter, for the record, didn’t seem to mind).

Love and Sex begins with an anatomically accurate heart, then a chocolate bunny. This tableau perfectly captures Warhol’s struggle between real feelings, whatever “real” might mean, and their commercialized equivalents. Querelle (ca 1982) (which illustrates this article) shows a pair of male lovers, a splash of red over the screenprint representing where one’s tongue meets the others neck. Love (1983) sees flashes of yellow and pink around the bodies. The latter print is one of the few in which Warhol employed a triple screenprint. Fellatio shows the throes of oral sex without sensationalizing it.

Love and Sex is where Unseen really triumphs — diving headfirst into a side of Warhol rarely examined by the public. There’s a tenderness to how Warhol depicts bodies in these screenprints and lithographs. And it’s not just the subject matter that feels intimate; it’s also the fact that these were test prints and early works perhaps never meant for a large audience.

Through the Eyes of Warhol

Warhol might have argued, though, that everything he did was for an audience. Unseen lays bare the ways Warhol used art to understand the world around him. He is often remembered for saying “I want to be a machine.” Love and Sex almost feels like an alien or machine attempt to understand human intimacy. The heart as an organ, the body as an abstraction. For Warhol art and the social ecosystem of the art world was a glamorous fantasy where he could escape himself — a beautiful dream of a never-ending sequence of openings, dealers, wine and the charcuterie boards, afterparties, and after-afterparties.

Warhol’s vision of the art world, which is part of what made it what it is today, was a castle of adoration and validation built by and for neglected, neurotic misfits. Though Warhol’s assembly line painting techniques and his Factory-centric social circle might have been an attempt to emulate a machine, with Unseen the museum reveals the ways that no matter how hard he tried, he was human.

Story by Emma Riva / Image Courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum 

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