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Photo essay: The Andy Warhol Museum celebrates 20th Anniversary with a curatorial overhaul

There is something catalytic about hitting a birthday with a zero in the second digit. A new decade seems to offer a chance at reinvention. As the Andy Warhol Museum approaches its 20th Anniversary, it has accepted that invitation by completely re-hanging its collection of works by the eponymous, and most beloved Pittsburgh-born artist. Staff photographer Brian Cohen was able to capture some images as the project nears completion.

"Our 20th anniversary presented an opportunity to reflect on 20 years of exhibitions and collaborations the museum has embarked on with curators and researchers around the world," says Nicholas Chambers, Milton Fine Curator of Art at the Andy Warhol Museum. "It gave us a chance to spend some time re-conceptualizing how we could think about our own collections. The idea of doing a chronological hang would really provide visitors with a kind of compelling, legible discussion of Warhol's life and work, starting with his time in Pittsburgh."

Over the past several years, the museum staff has been working behind the scenes to revise the museum, opting to give museum goers an experience of Warhol's biography from a chronological rather than thematic vantage, a point of view in which Pittsburgh plays a major role.

As visitors step off of the elevator on the seventh floor of the building at the corner of Sandusky and General Robinson streets they are greeted by a wall-spanning black-and-white photo of Pittsburgh from the 1920s, when the Warhola family arrived in the Steel City. Photos of Warhol, née Andrew Warhola, play out on a screen mounted to the mural, setting the scene for exhibits to follow. Here, they are to learn about Andy as a young artist, taking in family photos, early pieces from his time at Carnegie Technical Institute and his work as a commercial artist.

"Through artworks and archival materials, we've set the scene for his practice," Chambers says of the museum's top floor.

And indeed, after the seventh floor, the experience, for it is an experience, descends further into Warhol's singular approach to art as he begins experimenting with screen printing, develops his signature Pop Art style and explores multi-media including music, film and sculpture.

Perhaps one of the most striking moments in the essentially new museum occurs in a gallery on the sixth floor, where the curatorial staff has tried to recreate Warhol's collaboration with the Velvet Underground on a concert experience called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The room dances with light from a disco ball against photos of the band and other Warhol cronies projected onto the walls. Music from the iconic album with a banana on the cover blares and the senses are assaulted, in the best way possible, with stimuli.

This is not the only gallery in the newly re-imagined and remodeled Warhol museum. There is another dubbed "The Office," which pulls a pretty stark contrast to The Factory. The space attempts to contextualize how Andy worked in the late 60s when his studio became more of a business and less a social experiment. A long wooden library table hosts books by or about Warhol that visitors are able to sit and look through and a glass case holds an archival copy of Interview magazine along with a large telephone that aided operations.

Additionally, the way film is presented takes a more time-sensitive approach. As opposed to having one floor dedicated to film, there are now three screens on the sixth floor for films and images from the 60s as well as a space on the fourth floor where the museum worked with consultants to create a special interface for visitors to curate their own Warhol film experience using touch screen televisions.

As the visitor winds his way down to the third floor, he finds mannequins dressed in actual clothing worn by Andy Warhol from the 60s, 70s and 80s as an introduction to the following gallery where time capsule material will be on rotating display. Visitors will also be able to look past a wall of transparent glass to watch the museum's archival staff at work.

Ultimately, the museum's new layout tells the story of Andy Warhol's life in a way that is linear, but structured loosely enough to allow continued exploration of the artist's prolific work and indefinable genius.

"I think one of the interesting things in working on a project like this is just trying to find a way to talk about this extraordinary multiplicity that is Andy Warhol," Chambers says. "I think what we're trying to do is illustrate some of the different narratives we might use to talk about his life and work."

See the new Andy Warhol Museum at the 20th Anniversary Community Day on May 18 from 12AM to 5PM.
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