“I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.” — Andy Warhol
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or it’s Night of 1,000 Andys and Andy Warhol’s celebrity obsession.
Warhol’s first celebrity portraits were made in the early 1960s and took inspiration from newspaper and magazine articles, such as those about Marilyn Monroe’s suicide in 1962 and coverage of Jackie Kennedy’s presence during President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. But Warhol’s initial flirtation with celebrity came as a sickly Pittsburgh boy who sent away for movie star autographs and Hollywood studio headshots, which he collected and saved until his death in 1987. Life as a sensitive and artistic child of immigrant parents in a dirty steel town left a lot of room for imagination. And after all, what is celebrity but the manifestation of the American Dream?
Americans have always had a complicated relationship with celebrity. For as much as we practice the idolatry, we delight in the shadenfreude that comes with scandal, infidelity, and tragedy. Warhol also idolized the famous, but his iconic celebrity portraiture is not always flattering. Sometimes the Natalie Wood images get messy, Marilyn Monroe smiles fiendishly, and the double portraits from the 1970s may appear plastic and two-dimensional. Warhol may have been fascinated by the glamour and escape of celebrity, but he was clever enough to reference the dark sides of this particular cultural obsession. What he worshiped, what we worship, is a façade, dictated to us by the media, replaceable and infinitely replicable, but it still holds a sense of infinite possibility and reinvention while freezing moments in time.
In honor of Warhol’s obsession with popular culture, Night of 1,000 Andys gives us all an opportunity to imitate the king of all celebrities, Andy Warhol. Put on a wig, explore the exhibitions, dance with drag queens, and celebrate this dream of a museum with all of us on October 17. We hope to see you there!