Pop Goes to Pittsburgh

ANDY WARHOL ACTED NICE about being bad. He made crude silk-screen paintings of fatal car accidents, shot movies with real sex and dope in them, and promoted the street hustlers and debauched debutantes who hung around his New York studio (called The Factory) as poets and "superstars." But Andy, who died in 1987 at the age of 58, also gladly signed autographs, went to church every day and ensconced his mother in a Manhattan town house. No wonder then that the new Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh-where the artist grew up-is a cross between a cathedral honoring a saint and a waxworks documenting the life of a sinner.

Curator Mark Francis says, "We didn't try to reconstruct the studio, like other single-artist museums." Hardly: at eight floors and 88,000 square feet, it's the largest solo repository in the world. The museum is housed in a baroque-on-the-outside, minimal-on-the-inside former steel-products warehouse. Refurbished right down to galvanized-metal ticket booths by arty architect Richard Gluckman, the museum opened grandly last weekend. A tent bash ($125 to $300 per person) culminated in the museum's staying open to the public for 24 straight hours. Staying up all night in an art museum, how wicked! You can almost hear murmurs of 'Andy would have wanted it this way."

And Andy probably would have also wanted his museum to contain (as it does) his precociously realistic 1945 painting, "Living Room." He might be proud of the archive crammed with tons of the tacky commercial ephemera he used as source material for his art, and a portrait gallery where his celebrity pals turn up as caught-in-the-headlights grotesques. He might not, however, have wanted themes like "Heritage" and "Enterprise" on each floor, or stainless-steel signage pristine enough for a Swiss pharmaceutical headquarters.

But who knows what Andy-who once said, "Death means a lot of money, honey"-would have thought of the ongoing battle over his net worth? The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (which, along with the Texas de Menil family's Dia Foundation, gave the museum its collection of more than 3,000 objects) had Christie's auction house appraise the estate. Using a "blockage discount" (which assumes that many similar works hit the market at the same time), Christie's pegged the art by Warhol at $95 million, and the whole estate at $225 million. Christie's said it relied on the best of expert opinion. The estimate caused Edward Hayes-a lawyer, contracted to receive 2 percent of the estate, who had already made $4.8 million from 1987 to 1990-to sue. He says, "I always thought [the foundation's] price was ridiculous." Hayes hired his own appraisers, who furnished a much larger estimate-one that would raise Hayes's earnings by about $10 million. Last month Hayes appeared to win big. A New York surrogate-court judge quadrupled the art's value, bringing Hayes's potential fee to ... oh, a lot more money But the judge also ruled that Christie's had a conflict in calculating the appraisal while seeking to conduct a future Warhol auction. And the New York state Attorney General's Office is contesting Hayes's fee (saying he didn't even do enough to earn what he's already been paid).

Excess and banality, of course, were always Andy's stock in trade. Almost 35 years ago, he figured out that baldly appropriated low-grade commercial art was just the needle needed to deflate all the pompous seriousness surrounding the reigning avant-garde style, abstract expressionism. From then on, he supplied the art world with garishly simplified images of Marilyn, Liz, Jackie, cows and electric chairs. In 1968, he was shot almost to death by Valerie Solanas, a demented actress who called her (one-woman) organization SCUM-Society for Cutting Up Men. Francis says, "Andy had supposedly given up painting after he was shot. Then, in the early '70s, pow! Out came the Maos and then the skulls and the rest."

But during the last decade of Warhol's life, much of the fizz escaped. Andy became more of an art object than an artist, somebody to be sighted at nightclubs rather than somebody to show us how our culture really works. His last paintings-photo-derived images of eggs and yarn and camouflage, and gigantic rehashes of his early, unfinished-looking pop-go nowhere. Andy, an artist who was always six months ahead of his time, ran barely even with the art world. With the advent of the tawdrier Jeff Koons's photographic sex paintings, and the blunter Barbara Kruger's whole roomfuls of shouting words, Warhol fell behind. Now, Andy's got his own museum, which, depending on how you look at it, is either Warhol's trump card or the art world's ultimate revenge.