Warhol Museum Reimagines the Factory in a New ‘Pop District’

A “Pop District” is being planned in Pittsburgh, the Pop artist Andy Warhol’s hometown.

Officials with the Andy Warhol Museum said the creation of the district, covering six blocks, is part of an expansion that will include a reimagining of the Factory, the center of Warhol’s creative universe.

The first of the district’s elements have already been installed: a mural created in an alleyway adjoining the museum, by a Miami-based artist known as Typoe, and a sculpture by Michael Loveland, also of Miami, placed on a grassy space across the street from the museum.

“Andy continues to be emblematic of the American entrepreneurial spirit — a true agent of influence and change,” Patrick Moore, the director of the Warhol Museum, said in a statement. “We now have the plan and resources to follow suit as an agent of change for Pittsburgh.”

The project is meant to make the museum more stable financially, provide training in creative skills and play a part in shaping the future of a swath of a city that has undergone significant gentrification in recent years and accompanying displacement.

Situated on Pittsburgh’s sparsely populated North Shore, where its most prominent neighbors are stadiums used by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers, the museum is halfway between two busier areas. It is separated from the active North Side to the north by an elevated roadway and from the Cultural District to the south by the Allegheny River.

The Enduring Legacy of Andy Warhol

The artist’s cultural prominence has hardly diminished in the decades since his death in 1987.

  • Warhol-mania: If Andy Warhol seems particularly ubiquitous right now, that’s because he is: onscreen, in museums and in the streets.
  • A Play: In “The Collaboration,” Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope give memorable performances as Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
  • A Book: “Warhol” by Blake Gopnik, the first true biography of the artist, reveals a narrative that gets more complex the more closely you look.
  • A Musical: “Andy,” Gus Van Sant’s Warhol-inspired stage debut, may be the movie director’s oddest tribute to date.
  • An Exhibition: “Andy Warhol: Revelation” at the Brooklyn Museum shows how Catholicism seeped into the Pop master’s work.

The hope, Moore said, is that the Pop District would attract restaurants, art galleries and other businesses that could make the area a destination for Pittsburgh residents as well as tourists.

Moore said in an interview that because there is almost no residential property around the museum and its expansion involves unused commercial spaces he did not expect it to result in the displacement of people from homes. He also said that the steady presence of the institution could be a stabilizing force in the neighborhood as it changes.

“Over the Rainbow” by Typoe, in the Pop District. The district will be built in two phases over about 10 years and cost about $60 million.Credit…Sean Carroll

The Warhol, which opened in 1994, was the first museum devoted exclusively to a postwar American artist. It holds the largest collection of its namesake’s works, including paintings, drawings, commercial illustrations, prints, photographs and films. Among the highlights are more than 4,000 videotapes and Warhol’s serial work, “Time Capsules”: 610 containers that he filled, sealed and sent to storage.

Over the years, Moore said, the Warhol has earned a healthy revenue from touring exhibitions like “Andy Warhol: Revelation,” which examines the artist’s Catholic faith in relation to his artistic practice and is currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum. But then the coronavirus pandemic caused museums across the country to shut their doors.

“When something like a pandemic comes along, it doubles down on the idea that this is a pretty volatile business model,” Moore said, adding, “The museum was set up with a treasure trove of art but without an endowment.”

The Pop District is meant to provide a basis on which to start expanding the museum’s endowment — Moore said that the museum’s belief was that it had to do something new to spark that — while also creating new sources of income. Museum officials estimate that the district will be built in two phases over about 10 years and cost about $60 million. The first phase is being financed by commitments of $15 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and $10 million from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. Some of that money has gone toward the purchase of a nearby parking lot that is intended to be the site of a performance venue that will accommodate 800 to 1,000 people and is to be built in 2024.

The mural and the sculpture are to be followed in July by another part of the museum’s expansion. Several dozen young people ranging in age from their teens to their twenties who have been working as employees and paid interns for an in-house, museum-run group called Warhol Creative are scheduled to move into the seventh floor of an empty office building next to the museum. There, they will continue creating Instagram and TikTok content for the Warhol while being trained in digital skills and taking on projects for outside companies, like Dell, that are expected to bring in revenue to sustain the program.

Warhol Creative’s new work space will be provided at a preferential rent, Moore said, by Jeremy Leventhal, a museum advisory board member and developer from New York who owns the empty building and whose company has invested in several other commercial and residential properties in Pittsburgh, including a North Side complex of more than one million square feet called Nova Place, which is a couple of blocks from the Warhol.

Moore said that the collective Warhol Creative work space is meant to capture part of the spirit of the Factory, in Manhattan, where Warhol mass-produced images, made films and engaged in what often felt like a lifelong piece of performance art with cameos by people like Lou Reed, Billy Name, Halston, Candy Darling and Baby Jane Holzer.

Silk-screening, a favorite Warhol medium, will be taught in a nearby storefront, in a space the museum is able to use free for a year.

Walls in the alleyway where the mural by Typoe was created have been painted silver in homage to the silver foil that covered the walls in the Factory’s first iteration in Midtown Manhattan, as well as Warhol’s love of Hollywood’s so-called silver screen.

And the museum has begun discussions about painting and lighting a series of underpasses that run beneath the elevated roadway and connect it to the bustling North Side, Moore said, “basically creating a blank canvas where hopefully in the future we can do public art.”

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