Tracing the footsteps of Andy Warhol in his hometown of Pittsburgh

Walk the hometown neighbourhoods of the pop art icon, who fused his eye for colour and deadpan detail with an unblinking take on US society.

Andy Warhol self portrait at The Andy Warhol Museum. The largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist, the institution mines a trove of Warhol creations and quirky personal possessions collected over his lifetime.

Photograph by Alamy
By Christine H O’Toole
Published 3 Jul 2022, 10:00 BST

Andy Warhol needs little introduction — the king of pop art is arguably one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Although he built his career in New York City, it’s his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he was born in 1928, that proudly claims his legacy; not only at The Andy Warhol Museum, which has the world’s largest collection of his works, but also at cultural landmarks that influenced and later honoured his style. Here’s how you can follow in his footsteps around the Pennsylvanian city’s neighbourhoods.

Oakland: the cultural and academic centre

Warhol’s modest childhood home on Dawson Street, now marked with an official plaque, is within walking distance of one of the country’s great art institutions. The Carnegie Museum of Art, founded by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and endowed by other local robber barons, was one of the young artist’s regular hangouts, where he took lessons and studied European masterworks.

In recent years, the museum has earned a reputation for collections highlighting Pittsburgh’s blue-collar labourers and neighbourhoods. One such exhibition, Gordon Parks in Pittsburgh 1944/1946, runs until 7 August, complementing the museum’s vast collection of works by photographer Teenie Harris, who documented African-American life in the city through the Depression, Second World War and subsequent redevelopment.

Just a short stroll from the museum was Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), which Warhol attended before moving to Manhattan in 1949. The student became the master when, in 1967, his work was selected as part of that year’s Carnegie International (organised through the namesake museum). The longest-running North American exhibition of international art is now readying its latest edition, curated by Sohrab Mohebbi, which runs from 24 September 2022 to 2 April 2023.

Warhol's work from the 1940s through to his death in 1987 is featured on five floors of ...

Warhol's work from the 1940s through to his death in 1987 is featured on five floors of The Andy Warhol Museum — as well as the subject of deep-dive collection exhibitions.

Photograph by Alamy

Downtown: music and entertainment in the city’s heart

Between the end of the 19th and the 20th century, Penn and Liberty Avenues became home to the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Pittsburgh Public Theater and big-stage performances at the Byham and Benedum theatres, giving rise to what would become Pittsburgh’s downtown Cultural District in the 1980s. As the renovation progressed, a brick wall on Strawberry Way was adorned with an unlikely double portrait. The Two Andys, created in 2005, depicts Carnegie the industrialist and Warhol the artist, side by side, gowned and sitting under hairdryers in a beauty salon — their makeover a reflection of the neighbourhood’s new face.

Free monthly events and performances in the area include the annual Gallery Crawl, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and weekly Night Market

North Shore: arts, museums, views

The golden span of the Andy Warhol Bridge, crossing the Allegheny River at Seventh Street, leads directly to The Andy Warhol Museum — the largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist. Opened in 1994, this stately seven-storey structure mines a trove of Warhol creations, including iconic works such as Campbell’s Soup Cans, the celebrity silkscreen series and Silver Clouds, as well as quirky personal possessions collected over his lifetime. Temporary exhibits, meanwhile, explore Warhol’s connections to gay artists and his influence worldwide. I Want It All, showcasing the eccentric work of Paola Pivi, runs until 15 August.

Warhol’s immersion in the experimental music, film and video scene of 1960s New York provides a natural extension of the museum’s programming. The Sound Series hosts international touring performance artists, while continuous screenings of Warhol’s movies and screen tests run alongside the daily film schedule.

The Warhol Museum’s neighbours in the North Shore area include the Carnegie Science Center and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, while the vibrant Mexican War Streets community, comprising 19th-century terraced houses, is also nearby. Highlights here include the Mattress Factory, one of the country’s premier venues for installation art — the likes of James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama are part of the permanent collection — and the backyard museum known as Randyland, an exuberant explosion of colour that’s open daily, with free admission.

The golden span of the Andy Warhol Bridge, crossing the Allegheny River at Seventh Street, with ...

The golden span of the Andy Warhol Bridge, crossing the Allegheny River at Seventh Street, with the view of downtown Pittsburgh in background.

Photograph by Alamy

Around and beyond Pittsburgh

Baptised as Andrew Warhola in the Byzantine Catholic faith, the artist grew up in one of Pittsburgh’s close-knit immigrant communities. The traditions they brought from Ruthenia, near Poland’s southern border, are still a familiar part of the city’s culture: pierogis (small hearty dumplings) are a staple of church dinners and avant-garde restaurants alike; while the making of pisanki, ornately painted Easter eggs from eastern Europe, has become an annual event at The Andy Warhol Museum Factory, a hands-on craft space.

When Warhol died in 1987, he was buried alongside his parents in St John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in the suburban town of Bethel Park, about six miles south of downtown Pittsburgh. A live video image of the grave streams 24/7 from the site.

British Airways flies direct from London Heathrow to Pittsburgh International in just over eight hours.

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