Jul 8, 2014

The Andy Warhol Museums: Erasing the Gay

You probably know that Andy Warhol, the gay-yet-homophobic pop artist, was the son of immigrants from Miková, a small town in Slovakia, near the Polish and Ukrainian borders.
You probably don't know that the nearby town of Medzilaborce features the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art, established in 1991 to celebrate Andy's Slovak heritage.

It was a tough sell to the locals, who worried that the museum would glorify the "homosexual aspects of the drug parties." So it tried to make him a good Slovak communist (later, a good Slovak Catholic).  There are paintings of butterflies, flowers, and a Russian hammer and sickle.  His gayness is not mentioned.

To emphasize his loving (and presumably heterosexual) family connections, there are also works by his mother (a drawing of the Annunciation of our Lord), his brother Paul Warhol and nephew James Warhola.

But no beefcake.  Not even this cover that James drew for Robert Heinlein's sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

Still, locals stay away, and parents won't even allow their children to attend the art classes held on the site, for fear that the gayness will rub off on them.

There's another Andy Warhol museum in his native Pittsburgh, considerably larger, with 17 galleries and 900 paintings.  Is it any better at acknowledging Warhol's gayness?

They do a little better.

True, you can walk through the entire permanent exhibits of giant Campbell's Soup cans and silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe without ever suspecting.

And the biography page on the website discusses his college career, his Catholicism, the Factory, his celebrity interviews, his visits to Studio 54, but not his gayness.

But the gay-themed work is available for those willing to dig, like the short film, Tarzan and Jane Regained, Sort Of (1963), starring Davis Hopper and Taylor Mead (top photo).

And some of the special events are gay-inclusive. In 2012 there was a book signing and reception for Lance Out Loud, a biography of the gay icon by his mother, Pat Loud.

So, like the "outsiders" of Howard Becker's classic sociological study, it's invisible to most people, but you can find it if you're "in the know."

See also: Andy Warhol; Lance Loud