We’re in my station wagon driving up Lancaster Avenue past the trolley tracks and the boarded up houses, but when we cross the city line into Montgomery County the streets are suddenly lined with blooming cherry trees. Virginia, ICA’s Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow, points out a sign that looks like it spells “SIN,” though really it’s just pointing out South and North on Route 1. Robert, ICA’s Director of Curatorial Affairs, asks Hillary, a Penn freshman, how she traced the Andy Warhol blouse, the piece of clothing patterned with Warhol’s Green Stamps print which we are on a mission to fetch. She says she used the White Pages.
The blouse was worn by ICA Board Chair Eleanor Biddle “Lally” Lloyd to Warhol’s first solo museum show, which was held at ICA in October 1965. ICA is displaying it as part of “That’s How We Escaped”: Reflections on Warhol, an exhibition in ICA’s Project Space on view this spring and summer. Hillary is part of the freshman seminar “Contemporary Art and the Art of Curating”—the original undergraduate course in curating in the country—which is organizing the exhibition. She tells us how she called various relatives of Lally Lloyd’s; how Lally’s son led her to his two sisters, the one who had photos of the ’65 Warhol show, and this one, who has the blouse. Hillary is an impressive young woman: I can’t imagine making calls like that at eighteen.
In fact, the whole freshman seminar is impressive! Guided by their instructors, these kids have researched Warhol and his ICA exhibition; tracked down soup cans, articles, programs, and photographs; obtained permissions; written press releases and wall text; and done everything else that goes into curating a show. It’s fitting: Sam Green, ICA’s one-time director, who organized that original Warhol exhibition, was only in his twenties at the time. (Warhol himself, on the other hand, had already had a career as a commercial artist and was pushing forty.)
The gray stucco house sits behind rhododendron bushes. It looks modest from the outside, but there’s a lot of space when you go in. Minney Robb, Lally Lloyd’s daughter, introduces us to her husband Ted. If they didn’t expect a whole troop of us, they’re too polite to let on. In her purple sneakers, Minney show us into the dining room, where a large white box lies on the table. Robert pulls on his art handling gloves before he lifts the lid and unwraps the blouse, which, like the house, is bigger than I expected.
“This was made by my mother’s dress maker,” Minney says, showing us where Warhol signed his name.
“Is there a name for that style of blouse?” Virginia asks.
“Sixties,” Minney says, and she laughs, pointing out the bowl neck, the three quarter sleeves.
We ooh and ahh. “Where do you keep something like that?”
“Under the bed,” Ted says. “In the guest room.” He smiles, and the talk turns to insurance.
Hillary asks about a painting on the wall. “Is that one of your children?”
“No, it was me as a child,” Minney says. The painting, by Franklin Watkins, shows a young girl with red ribbons in her hair, scissoring a piece of cloth. I imagine it must have been painted around the same time Lally was donning her Green Stamps blouse and waiting for the babysitter who would watch Minney and her siblings while Lally attended the Warhol opening, a crazy manic celebrity event with crowds on the silver-painted floor chanting for Andy, who sought refuge with Edie Sedgwick on a metal staircase and ultimately escaped through a hole cut in the roof.
Think of all the bits of history packed in boxes, waiting in attics and closets and under guest beds for someone like Hillary to come calling. I’m glad we’re able to offer this blouse a little air and the company of other Warhol mementos for a while. Think of the conversations that go on in stagey whispers under the vitrine: soup can and blouse comparing signatures; invitation and newsletter swapping memories; photographs and articles arguing over the details. Climb the steps to the Project Space, put your ear to the Plexiglas, and listen.
“That’s How We Escaped”: Reflections on Warhol is on view at ICA through August 7.