Andy Warhol fans celebrate his 90th birthday atop pop art icon’s grave

August 12, 2018
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Andy Warhol didn’t make it to age 90, but his hometown is throwing a weeklong party in honor of the would-be birthday milestone of the Pittsburgh-born American pop art icon three decades after his death.

A few dozen of greater Pittsburgh’s most devoted Warhol admirers gathered Saturday afternoon for an informal event at Warhol’s gravesite at St. John Byzantine Cemetery in Bethel Park.

“It’s a celebration of how he’s reached so many people beyond the art world,” said organizer Madelyn Roehrig, an artist based in Upper St. Clair who’s been hosting “Conversations with Andy” events annually at the cemetery for the past eight years.

One by one, participants ranging from toddlers to the elderly took turns speaking to the spirit of Warhol and taking photos alongside the plot where Warhol was buried, atop a small grassy hillside just a few feet from the graves of his parents, Ondrej/Andrew and Julia/Zavacka Warhola, working-class emigrants from what’s now Slovakia.

Attendees lauded Warhol and his legacy for inspiring generations of artists to embrace higher thought, individual creativity and breaking away from artistic norms and societal expectations.

“He challenged what art was, and today we have artists that are doing the same thing,” said a man donning a wig resembling Warhol’s signature platinum-white, spiky hair. “They are challenging what art is and pushing the boundaries.”

Another woman approached the grave and thanked Warhol for his “vivid imagination” and taking “art to a whole new level.”

“You have made so many more people aware of art, and we thank you for your genius,” she said.

Warhol’s understated black-and-gray tombstone was adorned with fresh flowers and a variety of thoughtfully curated objects -- a pink neon silouette highlighting Warhol’s signature locks, a pair of retro angular glasses, a hotel key, old photographs, an American flag, handwritten birthday cards, four pennies and two cans of Campbell’s Soup.

Adults and children played dress-up in Warhol-style moppy wigs and human-size Campbell’s soup cans, signed jumbo-sized birthday cards and shared stories of what Warhol and his work meant to them before singing “Happy Birthday” and carving into a white-frosted chocolate cake.

Warhol died Feb. 22, 1987, of a sudden complication following what doctors thought had been a successful gallbladder surgery. He was 58.

“I think he’d be pretty proud for a place like Pittsburgh, which was known for steel mills, is now known for being a world-class arts center,” said Mark Moll, creative executive director for Marc USA, the advertising agency that promotes the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh’s North Side.

The seven-story building near the Seventh Street Bridge pays homage to Warhol and his life’s work -- from his early days working at an ad agency, to stunning the art world with avant-garde forms of mixed media, to troves of personal items and celebrity party invitations Warhol had kept.

It’s the largest museum in the world devoted to a single artist.

Racquel Grizzle of Upper St. Clair attended some special events at the museum Saturday before stopping by the gravesite party with her 15-year-old daughter.

Grizzle, who now lives in Upper St. Clair, recalls being impacted by Warhol’s work when she lived in Jamaica as a child, affirming that Warhol has made Pittsburgh a notable destination for art lovers around the world.

“I’m trying to get her hooked on it, so I brought my daughter too, so it goes on for a next generation,” Grizzle said.

Warhol was born Aug. 6, 1928.

This year’s regional celebration will continue on the exact anniversary of his birth on Monday, when Marc USA plans to donate 90 cases of Campbell’s -- or 1,080 cans -- to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.

Moll said he recently learned Warhol frequented homeless shelters to help the needy while he lived in New York.

“It celebrates him and his iconic muse, which is Campbell’s soup,” said Moll, “and does something good for the community.”

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