Warhol Memorabiliaphila

Andy Warhol’s huge artistic output has been documented and catalogued with care and precision. But when it comes to Andy Warhol’s huge collection of stuff, which in a way can be seen as another body of artwork, we’ve just scratched the surface. Many of Andy’s belongings were sold by Sotheby’s in 1988, the year after his death, to help fund the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, but the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh holds a treasure trove of archival material and what the artist called “time capsules.” When it comes to the latter-612 boxes (the vast majority being identically sized and made of brown cardboard) into which Andy put all sorts of things, from the ridiculous to the sublime-we’ve only just begun the biggest dig in Pop archaeology.
Among the first time capsules were the pharaohs’ tombs, and the craze for all things pharaoanic was likely what popularized the idea of the time capsule around the time of the 1939 World’s Fair. Suddenly people were burying all sorts of things in cornerstones and other caches, intended to be opened by future generations. Andy Warhol was an infamous pack rat, and in this issue Brigid Berlin and Vincent Fremont discuss his inability to throw anything out. But Andy took this problem and turned it into an asset in an almost alchemical way. He turned trash into treasure by collecting it methodically and obsessively.
Exploring these boxes, very few of which have ever been opened, reveals an amazing panoply of stuff-invitations, correspondence, answering-service messages, gifts, magazines, newspapers, party lists, clippings, photos, artworks, clothing, and materials closely resembling rubbish. But the dross of one period is the delight of another, and since virtually no one else saved these sorts of things, what was once disposable has become a rarity, and these boxes provide an eerie feeling of what it was like to live in Andy’s time and place. Slowly, the contents of the capsules are being catalogued, down to the last paper clip. These boxes hold much history, many mysteries, and, until a recent bug attack, they even held some semipetrified pizza dough.
In April 2008, Todd Eberle and I visited the Andy Warhol Museum, where curator
Matt Wrbican and his staff kindly allowed us to poke around the archives and peruse some time capsules. Here’s a tantalizing peek at the tip of a very cool iceberg.