It’s the Pits! Andy Warhol and Pittsburgh

Andy Warhol
American 1928–87

“Pittsburgh’s rise to prominence was based on the rationalization of natural resources into a production process that sought to eliminate waste and create efficiencies of scale.”

— Allen Dieterich-Ward, Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America (2016)

“Warhol’s productivity escalated after he discovered that he could make more money by having assistants do his work while he drummed up new business; beneath this convenience lay the insight that transformed him into a mixture of Picasso and Henry Ford—the realization that the artist’s atelier could be turned into a factory by mechanizing reproduction and minimizing manual touch.”

–Wayne Koestenbaum, Andy Warhol (2001)

Pittsburgh is often ignored from accounts of Andy Warhol, despite its legacy-status. It is his final resting place, and the site of the Andy Warhol Museum. Tellingly, Victor Bockris’ biography titles a chapter, “The Birth of Andy Warhol: 1959–1961”—ten years after he left Pittsburgh. The city is barely mentioned in Arthur C. Danto’s biography, though he notes a similarity between the iconostasis of the Orthodox Church where Warhol’s mother worshipped and the array of Campbell’s Soup Tins.

“I hate New York”—so begins Scott Herring in his book, Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism. Herring wants to turn against the “metronormativity” of New York. Warhol is a central figure in this celebrated hub of artistic production, chic cosmopolitanism, banal-because-ubiquitous celebrity, and refuge for outsiders of all kinds; however, he was first Andrew Warhola, born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, a first-generation immigrant.

While not hating on New York, let us shift the focus away from Warhol’s New York factory and playground to Pittsburgh to consider the impact of his birthplace and initial education. What if we consider Warhol’s Campbell soup cans not as a critique of mid-century consumerism and Fordist production, but an index of Warhol’s Depression-era youth, where he ate what was in the cans? What if the cans were symbols of plenitude and sustenance for an impoverished early life?

If New York is the city that never sleeps, Pittsburgh was the city that never stopped working (until its decline). Its steel mills operated twenty four hours a day during World War II (horribly polluting the city in the process). What was the influence of the Steel City for the artist associated with plastic and Pop?

Learn more about this industrial city and its influence on Warhol from Dr Rodney Taveira when he speaks alongside Dr Sylvia Harrison as part of A Tale of Three Cities, a three part lecture series starting on Saturday 13 February, 2016 with Where it began – Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh.