Peter Beard, Donna Jordan and Jane Forth, ca. 1970, © 2019 Peter Beard / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Instead of the throngs of closely packed people, live music, workshops and film screenings that mark the typical opening of a new exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum, the Warhol’s new exhibit debuted to a sparsely populated and quiet building.
Since reopening June 29, the museum is only operating at 10% of its capacity due to health and safety concerns, according to its website. The first new exhibit since the reopening, “Femme Touch,” debuted June 29 at the museum’s North Shore location and will run until Jan. 3, 2021.
“Femme Touch” is an exploration of the women and femmes — feminine-aligned queer people — who Andy Warhol frequently associated with and made the subject of his art, according to the Warhol’s chief curator, José Carlos Diaz. He said the museum drew heavily on its extensive collection of Warhol’s art and other Warhol-related objects in order to show how female figures and femmes were part of Warhol’s universe.
“We realized a lot of these individuals’ narratives exist in the collection, but that’s behind closed doors,” Diaz said. “This is the first time a lot of these [people’s lives have] been told, at least in an institutional way. It’s a really unique show that only the Warhol can do.”
Diaz, Danielle Linzer — the director of learning and public engagement — and a team of curators and experts created “Femme Touch” over the course of two years. Linzer said some of the original inspiration came from the #MeToo movement.
“When we started having these conversations, it was around the time of the #MeToo movement,” Linzer said. “[We were] thinking about how to use film and archives and other materials to introduce people to these figures and through their stories start to highlight some of these interesting and complex conversations around gender.”
“Femme Touch” features the stories and works of Warhol’s feminine friends and subjects, who often played crucial roles in his personal life and work, according to the museum’s website. Items from the museum’s extensive archives shed light on these individuals, from celebrities such as singer and actress Tally Brown to Warhol’s mother Julia Warhola and her collaborations with her son to Valerie Solanas, his would-be assassin.
An entire floor is devoted to his portraits of women and femmes, from the unknown to the famous. The rest of the exhibit is scattered around the upper floors of the museum, interspersed with Warhol’s more well-known works. Both Linzer and Diaz said they hope visitors will not only see the new material but also revisit Warhol’s “greatest hits” in a new light.
Kayla Sidell said she drove an hour from her home in Columbiana, Ohio, to revisit some of Warhol’s greatest hits along with the new exhibit.
“My last time here was like 12 years ago. I always loved the ‘Silver Clouds,’ I remembered them,” Sidell said, referencing Warhol’s 1966 work.
Jeremy Rolon, a Warhol gallery attendant, said the new gallery is probably his favorite new exhibit at the museum, partially due to its emphasis on an overlooked aspect of Warhol’s work.
“I’ve been living in Pittsburgh for four years and come here all the time. [‘Femme Touch’] really shows off the women who do tend to get overlooked form Warhol’s past, which is very strange because it’s so clear that feminine power goes through a lot of his works,” Rolon said.
According to Diaz, the new exhibit was almost completely finished when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so its completion was never in jeopardy. But the museum did have to push back the exhibit’s opening three or four months, Diaz said.
As a visitor, Sidell said she felt the Warhol navigated the difficulties of reopening in a pandemic quite well.
“I thought they did a great job in handling [reopening],” Sidell said. “I feel very safe here, they were cleaning constantly.”
Looking to the future, Diaz said many museum events will move online, but its next exhibition is already in the works.
“We’re hoping that the future will enable us to do film premieres or commission artists to do a concert online,” Diaz said. “In terms of exhibitions here, I’ve shifted the calendar, but the next exhibition will open March of 2021.”
The new exhibition, “Fantasy America,” will feature five contemporary artists based on Warhol’s 1985 book “America,” in which he talks about the state of the nation.
“I’d be curious to hear what he’d say [about the state of the nation today],” Diaz said, “but I think as a museum we can keep his legacy alive with contemporary artists and their voices.”