Rachel Pastan
March 3, 2011

Checklist for the Prince of Pop

Here is a list of some of the items likely be on view in ICA’s upcoming show, That’s How We Escaped: Reflections on Warhol:

  • An invitation to the preview party for Andy Warhol’s 1965 exhibition at ICA—his first solo museum show—printed on the back of a genuine Campbell’s soup label.
Miranda: Warhol soup invitation

Photographs of the crazy, legendary opening night of that exhibition, which was attended by up to 4,000 people, and during which Andy, along with 60s It Girl Edie Sedgwick, took refuge from the shouting crowd by climbing a metal staircase that went nowhere, and on which they were stuck for four hours, waving and signing autographs, until curator Sam Green finally convinced University of Pennsylvania officials to cut a hole in the ceiling, through which the artist and his consort escaped into the rare books room of the art history library.

A three-dimensional model of the exhibition design, painstakingly recreated from installation photographs by Penn undergrad Shaye Roseman and Architectural Archivist Bill Whitaker, and constructed by architecture student Ben Loughin, showing where Andy’s art hung—or at least where it hung until it was taken down from the walls after the preview so it wouldn’t get hurt in the crush of opening night fans, meaning that there was no art on the walls during the opening, and also no room to dance on the glittering silver-painted floor despite the fabulous pop music playing in the gallery.

Empty walls lit here and there by track lights to represent the blank places where the art wasn’t back in 1965 (though that exhibition was held in temporary ICA quarters in Penn’s Furness Building, not in our current permanent home at 36th and Sansom).

A photo of Sam Green and exhibition fairy godmother Eleanor Biddle “Lallie” Lloyd, chair of ICA’s board at the time and the woman for whom one of ICA’s galleries is named—not to mention wife of CIA deputy director H. Gates Lloyd—in which she is wearing a blouse made of fabric patterned with Andy’s Green Stamps print, and he, Sam, is wearing a matching Green Stamps tie, and they are standing in front of wall papered entirely in Green Stamps.

Miranda: Warhol green stamps clothes

This 1965 exhibition is part of ICA’s origin story. The museum was founded in 1963 by the dean of Penn’s architecture school, Holmes Perkins (who you can see chatting up Edie Sedgwick in another of the photos likely to be in the exhibition), but the Warhol show was what put ICA on the map. What happened on that wild, transformative night is the original example of what we pride ourselves on doing: giving significant exposure to emerging artists and thereby helping launch their careers. The fabulous media event that was Warhol’s ICA show helped catapult him to superstardom, and it helped define ICA’s role in the world of contemporary art.

But despite its iconic status, many of the details of the show slipped quickly into the fog of history. The records disappeared long ago, and in recent years no one seemed to know what works were on view, or where the hole was cut in the roof, or who was there, or what exactly the public response was.

Then last year, Kenny Goldsmith—conceptual poet, Warhol fan, writing teacher, provocateur-at-large—was asked to teach “Contemporary Art and the Art of Curating,” a year-long course co-offered by ICA and Penn’s Department of the History of Art, along with ICA’s Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow, Virginia Solomon. This class always curates a show in ICA’s Project Space at the end of the year, and Kenny thought it would be fun to revisit that original Warhol exhibition, to put the students to work and see what they could dig up.

Dig they did. They spent time in the library, learned to use the archives, located and interviewed people who had been at the opening, talked to former reporters for the DP (Daily Pennsylvanian) who covered the show and the protests it spawned. Amazingly, they tracked down the missing archival materials from the Warhol show after nearly half a century’s absence. The documents were apparently resting after all that hoopla in Penn’s Architectural Archives—which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense until you remember that Holmes Perkins, ICA’s founder, was the architecture dean. The kids had hit pay dirt.

Miranda: Warhol staircase

Last week the class invited some guests to a presentation of their ideas for the show. Donna Brandolisio of Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library was there, and Architectural Archivist Bill Whitaker, and ICA Marketing and Communications Director Jill Katz, and Ben Laughin the model builder, and artist Alex De Corte who has been engaged to do a special commission for the show representing the iconic staircase, and me. The students’ presentations were not only clear, they were exhilarating, and the images they showed were fantastic. Kenny kept bouncing out of his chair and enthusing, “Isn’t this cool?!”

It was cool.

I can’t promise that the opening of Reflections on Warhol on April 21 will still be talked about 46 years later—that crowds will chant and protesters wave signs and helicopters rescue stranded celebrities—but it might happen. So tell your friends, don your hippest duds, wear a wig, bring your own can of soup, and also a tape recorder, and while you’re at it a hacksaw. This is ICA, after all. You never know when you might need one.

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