Eric, could you tell us a little bit about how you started your career in the art world?
It’s such a weird story. I grew up about an hour from Pittsburgh in a city called New Castle Pennsylvania and my family was in the candy business. We had a horse farm and I had a rather idealistic country life except sadly for me, when MTV started in the early 1980s, I became a complete acolyte of NYC city life. I somehow conned my mom to take me to New York when I was 13 to explore the city. I was an urban boy not a country boy. I started to read everything I could about NYC, and its art and music scene. I had a wonder-lust and curiosity about the world!
How did you end up at The Andy Warhol Museum?
In college I wanted to be an international lawyer so I started studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics but as a joke, I made the ‘mistake’ of studying African literature and world architecture. Those were the things I ended up loving the most. Then I decided to study Japanese and did my junior abroad in Japan learning about Japanese art history. The love of New York was one love of my life and the other was art history. So I graduated from college and found out that The Andy Warhol Museum was opening here in Pittsburgh and I was offered an internship in the curatorial department. I became an intern, the second week of May in 1994 when we opened to the public. I did that for a year, went off and built my life and found my way back here six years ago.
And your personal relationship with the works of Warhol?
I like to keep a critical distance from Warhol. So, I’m not a Warhol maniac; I don’t look at soup cans all day, but I look at all aspects of what he was doing, who he was, and how he had his finger on the pulse of society.
For someone visiting The Andy Warhol Museum for the first time, could you briefly explain what they would expect to find and see?
When I first became director, I thought about a lot how people first experience the museum. So I set off in my own ways to make it a very Warholian experience.
As you enter the parking lot, the first thing you see is a Brillo Box. Crossing the street to the museum, a beautiful 1911 building that has amazing terracotta facades,the visitor approaches a super-glamorous building that we have fully renovated with 1980s disco music pumping onto the sidewalks to give a Warholian vibe. So right out of the chutes, you start to feel something that is different than most museums. As you enter the door, our entrance is covered with Warhol’s wallpaper of big bright pink and yellow cows. In the lobby of the building, you will walk into what looks like Warhol’s Factory – a silver brick environment with a huge image of Andy and the acetate he made of Marilyn Monroe in his hands. We recreated the sofa that was in the factory back in the 60s and put a big picture of Andy sitting on it on the wall above – a great spot where visitors can take their photo inside the factory.
We are a vertical building, seven floors tall. That’s about 40,000 square feet of gallery space. We send our visitors to the top floor and then our galleries unfold in a chronological order. The first thing people will see are the works Andy made in high school and college and lots of pictures of the family in Slovakia, where they originally came from and pictures in Pittsburgh. The story unfolds from there.
There are a handful of museums around the world that are themed entirely around a single artist. The Andy Warhol Museum is the largest museum of this type – why is Andy Warhol’s legacy important to document?
It is so incredible because this young kid from a working-class family in Pittsburgh was literally able to change the aesthetics of the entire world from paintings to film to video. Warhol was one of the most important avant-garde filmmakers in the 1960s. Warhol was always an innovator – trying to make art in completely new ways and that is what we try to tell at this museum. Most museums wouldn’t have discotheques embedded in the museum and we do. We have a gallery dedicated to Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which was a touring disco with the Velvet Underground that he sent around the country in the late 1960s. We want to be fun and engage visitors with Warhol’s character.
We keep it fresh by re-interpreting his artwork and by doing tons of exhibitions with contemporary artists who plug into the Warhol ethos. And these travel all over the world from Asia to Marrakech.
Is the location of the museum particularly symbolic of Warhol’s legacy?
Absolutely. Andy was born and raised here. We even have an urban legend story from his brother that he and Andy once sat on the front step of this building, which is located around 5 miles from the neighbourhood that Andy grew up in. But it is so great to be located in Pittsburgh because this is where it all started for Andy. It is all about industry, hard work and the American Dream. People of this town realise that Andy is the success story – and that is something that the Pittsburgherss can support, understand and champion.