Where We Are Now
Figment of an Icon by Sam Rucket written for a class at the University of Pittsburgh; Intro to Non-Fiction and Journalism, December 2018
If you plan on going to Andy Warhol’s grave, consider bringing him some soup.
It could be vegetable, beef, cream of mushroom, consommé, something else, but, of course, people love to bring tomato and chicken noodle the most. As long as it has his iconic design.
Warhol’s grave is located in St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Bethel Park, a suburb south of Pittsburgh, PA. The cemetery mainly serves members of St. John the Baptist Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church in Pittsburgh's neighborhood of South Side, as well as others from the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh.
It is free for anyone to visit at any hour, any day of the week. All you have to do is pull into the narrow, nondescript driveway off Connor Road. From there, you do not have to go far onto the 20-acre plot of land. His grave is only a few hundred feet from the start of the rows of tombstones that line a grassy hill.
Warhol is hailed for eroding the boundaries between popular culture and high art. His emergence of pop art brought everyday subjects forward and elevated them to something worthy of praise and contemplation, such as his Campbell soup cans and Coca-Cola prints. His democratization of art fundamentally changed the art world of the twentieth century, shifting away from the abstract expressionist movement that came before him. Warhol’s work has since fascinated the public and his influence as an icon has only grown after his death.
He also examined contemporary popular figures, using his sensational silk screen printing method to capture the likeness of people such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Jackie Kennedy.
In 2013, Warhol’s macabre painting “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” sold at Sotheby’s auction house for $105.4 Million, the highest ever paid for one of his works. Today, even his lesser known works can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“One thing about Warhol that draws a wide audience is that he has taken on so many different subjects. So, there is a way for a really wide variety of people to form some sort of personal connection with him, whether they worked somewhere or passed by somewhere that had a Warhol on display. Or maybe he painted a portrait of their favorite actor or their favorite musician,” said Grace Marston, an educator at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
But the best place to connect with Warhol may be at the foot of his grave, a popular place for many to commune with him. Warhol’s final resting place sits on a hill that leans into the wooded backyards of a row of houses. The bottom half of the hill is an expanse of grass that stretches to the road below. The top half is lined with irregular rows of modest, grey tombstones.
Walking up the hill, it is easy to home in on Warhol’s grave. His real memorial is what appears to be a polished black rectangular block of granite that reaches no more than 2.5 feet off of the ground, surrounded by grey headstones of the dead.
The inscription on the glossy smooth surface is organized into three simple lines, one over another, that reads: Andy Warhol; August 6, 1928; February 22, 1987. The edges are decorated with a laurel of carved wheat and under the inscriptions is the image of a pair of clasped hands in prayer. Above the inscription is the image of the eastern orthodox cross.
His grave is one of the few that nurtures a bed of flowers and a small bush. Planted to the right is an electric lantern with a dead bulb.
It is hard to imagine that this is the burial ground of the man buried wearing a black cashmere suit, large black sunglasses and a platinum blond wig while holding a rose.
Warhol was buried on the family plot and directly behind him rests his parents, Andrej and Julia Warhola. His parents were Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants from what is now Eastern Slovakia. Andrej immigrated to the United States in 1914 and Julia joined him in 1921. If you wander to the left a few plots over, there lies Warhol’s brother, John.
What really makes Warhol’s nondescript grave stand out are the tributes left behind by the many people who visit his gravesite. If visitation has been heavy, it would not be surprising to find a stack of Campbells soup cans sitting on top of his headstone that rivals a grocery store display.
You may also find flowers, glass Coca-Cola bottles, fruit, vegetables, pumpkins, notes, letters, Brillo pads, figurines, coins, religious statues, decorations, money or drawings. Do not be surprised if you find mourners talking with Warhol, whispering to him as though they are in a confessional booth. You may even stumble upon someone performing a musical piece to entertain the legendary artist.
Visitors tend to give one another space to commune with Warhol. New visitors who walk up to the grave typically wait until the person before them has finished before approaching.
Steve Fekete has been a regular visitor to Warhol’s grave for years and since he lives directly across the street from the cemetery, he has made it a point to come by every other day.
“Quite often I just sit and silently commune with whatever spirit seems to surround the space often with my hound dog Bizzy. I sort of throw questions to the wind and try to allow the moment to help me find an answer,” Fekete said. “Initially my interest spawned from Warhol's involvement in various music-related projects (The Velvet Underground, album cover design etc). But as I've read more about his philosophies and projects, I find them a fascinating filter to look at popular culture.”
But he isn’t the only one in his family that has built a connection with Warhol. His teenage daughter, Josie, has been leaving behind her drawings and knick-knacks at the grave since she was 5 years old. Warhol has been an inspirational force for her in developing her painting and drawing skills.
Though, no visit to Warhol’s grave is completely private, even for regulars.
At the halfway point on the hill stands a wooden pole with two large cameras pointed directly at the grave. They are not there for security. Their feed connects to a live public stream that is viewable 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Andy Warhol Museum website. It is part of a collaborative project between the museum and Earth Cam that began in 2013 called “Figment.” All you have to do is go to the museum’s website to check up on Warhol and watch his collection grow.
So, when you find yourself in front of Warhol, be sure to turn around, smile and wave.
Pittsburgh takes great pride in playing a fundamental role in Warhol’s formative years. Warhol was born Andrew Warhola on Aug. 6, 1928, in a two-room apartment at 73 Orr Street in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh. In 1934, the family moved to 3252 Dawson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Oakland neighborhood, a home much closer to their church St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic.
While in elementary school, Warhol took free art classes at the Carnegie Institute, which is now the Carnegie Museum of Art, before attending Schenley High School. From 1945 to 1949, he attended college at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University.
Now, 31 years after his death, Warhol’s legacy lives on worldwide, and in Pittsburgh it has taken on a life of its own. His grave has become a site of pilgrimage where artists and admirers alike can connect with him on a deeper, personal level. People of all ages and backgrounds come from all over the world to talk to Warhol, and many of them have built a community around him.
This fascination and honoring of Warhol extends into Pittsburgh proper, where his legacy is immortalized in less ritualistic, but equally profound ways. A figment of Warhol lives in Pittsburgh that attracts and fascinates everyone that visits the home of one of the most iconic artists of the twentieth century.
“I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, and everything could just keep going on the way it was only you just wouldn’t be there. I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment,’” Warhol famously said in 1985.
He never got his wish, only the final A was removed from Warhola on his epithet, which he dropped from his name upon first moving to New York after leaving college.
Warhol died at the New York Hospital in Manhattan from heart arrhythmia after gallbladder surgery. What was considered a routine operation was likely complicated by his age, his previous gunshot wounds from Valerie Solanas’ murder attempt, his family history of gallbladder problems, his medical state in the time leading up to the surgery and the fact that he delayed getting his recurring gallbladder problems checked out. His sudden death left funeral and burial decisions to his brothers, Paul and John, who wanted to bring their brother back home to his family in Pittsburgh.
During his time in New York, Warhol achieved massive success as an artist and entrepreneur in commercial art, illustration, pop art, film making and more. The wide breadth of his work led to an extensive reach into the various art scenes that inhabited the city. Warhol developed a wild lifestyle with his posse of artists, musicians, writers and influential underground figures.
Warhol’s work was both controversial and celebrated. It challenged the public to reconsider what they considered to be art, and for many during the 50s and 60s the world seemed to revolve around Warhol.
Even after his death the world is still captivated by Warhol and the concept of his figment is explored by many today.
Political Sign on Andy’s Grave
October 10, 2018 8:11 PM
St. John Byzantine Cemetery, Bethel Park
State House candidate scrutinized for posing with political sign at Warhol grave . A Pennsylvania state House candidate was criticized for placing her campaign sign inches away from Andy Warhol’s tombstone last weekend. But the candidate said she did not have any political intent. Screenshots from a 24/7 webcam pointed at the Pittsburgh icon's gravesite show Sharon Guidi, Democratic nominee for state House District 40, posing next to the tombstone and her campaign sign on Saturday at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Castle Shannon.
Madelyn Roehrig, a longtime visitor to Mr. Warhol's grave who has documented it through photos and an archive of handwritten notes, said people leave all kinds of personal items for Mr. Warhol to "remember his legacy and just have a connection with him in some way," but never political signs, to her knowledge.
"I don't think that's appropriate for a cemetery, especially with Andy," Ms. Roehrig said. "He's not endorsing anybody. I think that's a little bit much."
The gravesite is about sharing a community and "having respect for Andy and his family and his legacy," Ms. Roehrig said. Since 2009, Ms. Roehrig has run Conversations with Andy -- an art project that documents Mr. Warhol's tombstone through a collection of handwritten notes from visitors and video shoots of people talking about the artist.
"Some people want to do what they want to do," Ms. Roehrig acknowledged. "I don't control the grave."
The screenshots of the candidate placing the sign were retrieved from EarthCam, which has partnered with the Andy Warhol Museum and St. John the Baptist Church to live-stream the gravesite around the clock since 2013. Viewers of the stream can take screenshots, which are then stored in an archival collection below the video.
In a statement, the Guidi campaign said: "This past Saturday, a volunteer and I were out knocking on doors and talking to constituents. The volunteer I was with lives in Bethel Park, and, because he is familiar with the neighborhood, asked if I had ever been to Andy Warhol’s grave. I’ve long admired Andy Warhol, as does the volunteer I was with, and so in between doors, we made a stop to visit the grave in order to appreciate the convivial spirit that this landmark embodies. This was never intended to be politicized in any way. No photos were taken and my campaign never planned to share any information about the visit."
By this past Sunday, a day after Ms. Guidi was shown at the site, the campaign sign was no longer there, the screenshots show. One frame from Saturday appears to show Ms. Guidi and a man removing the sign after leaving it alone for a while.
A spokeswoman for the Warhol Museum said that because the museum doesn’t handle maintenance for the cemetery, "we cannot control what is put on or around the gravesite or what is removed from it." The cemetery is owned and operated by the St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church.
Ms. Guidi is running against Republican Natalie Mihalek in the 40th District, which encompasses all of Peters and Upper St. Clair, as well as parts of Bethel Park. The seat is open for election because state Rep. John Maher, an Upper St. Clair Republican, isn't seeking another term.
Ms. Roehrig said people typically leave notes to Mr. Warhol to help them with situations in their lives, or pass messages along to their loved ones who passed. Visitors also leave Campbell's soup cans, flowers, writings, wreaths and religious objects to honor Mr. Warhol, who died in 1987.
email@example.comStaff writers Ashley Murray and Andrew Goldstein contributed.
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Andy’s 90th Birthday Party
August 4, 2018
5:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
St. John Byzantine Cemetery, Bethel Park
Join us to celebrate Andy’s milestone 90th birthday! There’ll be cake, art activities, visitors and good times to celebrate the community and Andy’s legacy. Anyone can come and entertain: poets, musicians, Andy impersonators, or anyone who wants to perform! Andy’s actual birthday is August 6…museum is not open that day….so we are having his celebration on the 4th….BUT we will also be doing something on the 9th TBA !
Open Studios Radiant Hall
Radiant Hall, Lawrenceville
Many people visited and sold some art !
13th Annual Lawrenceville Studio Tour
October 21, 2017
11:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Radiant Hall, Lawrenceville
Take part in the 13th Annual Lawrenceville Studio Tour and come visit me and Andy in my studio at Radiant Hall! See notes and objects left by pilgrims, along with photos from the grave, and talk with me about Andy, Pittsburgh art, and the community of pilgrims who visit Andy at his grave.
Andy's 89th Birthday Party!
August 6, 2017
5:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
St. John's Byzantine Catholic Cemetery
Join us to celebrate the life and ongoing influence of Andy Warhol — there will be cake, music and a good time had by all! The curator of The Andy Warhol Museum, Jose Carlos Diaz, will be joining us, PLUS we'll be launching a weather balloon in honor of Andy Warhol with a banner that all visitors are welcome to sign. Then you can track the balloon's progress here as your well-wishes make their way across the country. Check out Elvis inviting you to join us!
The weather balloon took off carrying a huge banner with his picture on it, signed by all of the party guests, and it landed near Scranton, Pa., around 4:15 a.m. the following day.
July 11–August 11, 2017
Public Reception with the Artists
July 15, 2017
5:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
I will be exhibiting two different kinds of work in the Boxheart Gallery's NOW exhibit. There will be a new animation of everyday photos from Andy's grave, representing some of the latest iterations of fans' and pilgrims' offerings, and I will also show new images I'm creating involving the ocean and superimposed imagery. My new work is called Imprints. We all leave an imprint in the lives we touch. Death for some is an absolute end, but death for those with special gifts means another journey intertwining family and friends of past and present. A free reception that's open to the public will take place on Thursday, July 15, so I hope you stop by to chat!
Join us for dinner and discussion! Food will be provided by B52 Cafe, art and discussion will be provided by yours truly and other local artists! I will be showing a 2-minute video along with a 3-minute mini-lecture that talks about Andy is now "in situ" at the St. John Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, where his influence is still creating a Warholian experience even from the afterlife. The project itself is a local expression of art that occurs almost entirely in situ on the premises, except for the movies and art installations that travel to museums and other presentations. Hope to see you there!
Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs Forum: Art and Entrepreneurship
June 20, 2017
5:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.
I will be participating in this forum discussion along with Juan Carlos Diaz, the Fine Curator of Art at the Warhol Museum who came to visit me and Andy at my studio awhile ago. Come out and discuss with us!
Andy's Annual Easter Egg Hunt
April 16, 2017
4:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Join us for Andy's Annual Easter Egg Hunt at his gravesite! Every year, the night before Easter, the Easter Bunny comes and hides eggs so you and your friends and family can enjoy a fun event with Andy in the afterlife on Easter Sunday. Treats, fun and good times all around!
Bookmark EarthCam so you can watch if you can't come! (plus, if you remember, you should be able to catch the Easter Bunny hiding its eggs)
I had an incredible visit with Jose Carlos Diaz at my studio in Radiant Hall! He loved everything, from the work I've done on Figments to all of the artwork I've done over 10 years on terrorism that led me to talk with Andy at his gravesite in the first place. He's thrilled with the book and its proposal, and we'll be meeting up again soon at The Warhol Museum!
Artist and performer Neil Murray will be performing a sunrise dance at Andy Warhol's grave, bringing new hope and beginnings with the rising sun as we honor and pay tribute to Andy Warhol on the 30th anniversary of his departure to the afterlife. Andy's newphew, Donald Warhola, may also join us to celebrate his uncle's life and afterlife. All are welcome to attend and bring devotional offerings such as flowers, cards, Campbell's soup cans, Coke bottles, or anything that represents however one feels their connection to Andy Warhol. Come as early as 6:30 a.m. for sunrise at 7:09 a.m.
Bookmark EarthCam so you can watch if you can't come!
Come meet Madelyn in her studio at Radiant Hall! You can talk about Andy, art, afterlife or anything else you want, plus see Figments movies and check out notes and gifts that have been collected from Andy's grave over the past eight years. Plus, you can also explore the workspaces of other artists creating pieces in a variety of mediums.
Vermont Studio Center Residency
September 9–23, 2016
Spending time at an artist's residency, dedicating days to finishing up the book. Each season has so much material in every category: notes, tombstones, gifts, visitors. It's a massive undertaking to try to pare it down and decide what's "best" to go in the book and what highlights all of Andy's Pilgrims.
Radiant Hall Studio Tour (click the link for more info)
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Please join Madelyn, Andy (in spirit!) and all of the other artists for the first annual Radiant Hall Studio Tour fundraiser!
Brunch starts at 1:30 p.m., followed by a pop-up exhibition at 3:00 p.m., and the day concludes with the last stop at the original studio location. Beer and wine will be provided by Sweetwater Brewing Company and EngineHouse 25 Wines at each location. Food is provided by The Vandal, Station, Lithic Granola and more.
“Andy Warhol: Life and Afterlife” Special Studies Class at Chautauqua Institute
Co-teaching with Donald Warhola
Thursday and Friday, July 23-24, 2015
In session one, Andy's nephew, Donald Warhola, will visit the class to talk about Andy's childhood, career as a commercial artist, and subsequent success as a Pop Artist. Donald will also discuss growing up with his uncle. In session two, artist Madelyn Roehrig explores Warhol's afterlife through visitors notes, gifts and films of visitors talking to Andy at his grave made over the past six years.
Pittsburgh Filmmakers Film Kitchen Contest Show
Madelyn is screening her KITSCH 4-minute movie filmed at Andy’s grave.
Heinz Ketchup, the Easter Bunny, and the Anonymous Neurologist focus on "Family Days with Andy."
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Reception 7:00 p.m. | Screening 8:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Filmmakers Film Kitchen
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Reception 7:00 p.m. | Screening 8:00 p.m.
Madelyn will show three short films:
Lucy’s Diamonds – A large diamond travels from the sky to a little girl’s backyard
Transported Traditions – A self-portrait using still images photographed from family home videos
Darksides: Terror Through TV – A “broadcast” of still images photographed from “trash TV”
Film Kitchen is held the second Tuesday of every month and features independent film and video work from regional artists. Film Kitchen is co-sponsored by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, 92.1 WPTS-FM, Mellinger's Beer Distributing, and Spak Brothers Pizza.
Andy's Tombstone, Edition II won 1st prize, the Bellinger Award, at the 57th Chautauqua Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art! The short film was selected for inclusion in the exhibition by juror Jerry Saltz, senior art critic and columnist for New York Magazine, former long term senior critic for The Village Voice, and three time Pulitzer Prize nominee.
Andy and Figments are also part of an exhibition at Elmhurst Art Museum in Illinois, and mentioned in the 4th paragraph below:
LifeLoggers: Chronicling the Everyday
May 11 to August 17, 2014
Counting steps, tracking calories and checking in—new technology allows us to be our own favorite research project. The artists in the exhibition, LifeLoggers: Chronicling the Everyday, take logging to a new level by translating their data into complex and prodigious artwork.
“Lifelogging” describes the extensive documentation of one’s personal experience. Previously the domain of scientific research and recently individual health and fitness analysis, the impulse to track, map and graph now animates artistic practice. The 13 artists in this exhibition produce work in different media—from low tech to high tech—that demonstrates the chronicling impulse, not as an objective record of every second lived, but as a thoughtful and studied approach to revealing the complexities of human existence.
By focusing on a particular aspect of their lives, the artists in Lifeloggers turn personal bits of data and lived experience into works of art. Suzanne Szucs chronicled the passage of time through fifteen years of Polaroid self-portraits and Clive Smith painted miniature self-portraits on wood blocks every day for a year. Others recorded belongings or surroundings: Jennifer Dalton documented both market and sentimental values for everything she owned at a particular time in The Reappraisal, and Elise Engler archived all of the things she carried while traveling in a series called Suitcase Drawings.
Stephen Cartwright charts his movement through the world around him, logging his longitude and latitude every hour of every day to translate the numerical data into kinetic sculptures, and Nathalie Miebach transforms scientific weather data into colorful, woven sculptures and musical scores. These and other compelling works by Leona Christie, Richard Garrison, Katie Lewis, John Peña, Madelyn Roehrig, Renato Umali and Jorinde Voigt explore the many ways lifelogging has entered contemporary art practice.
Visit the studio during the Radiant Hall fundraiser to see all of the things people have left for Andy over the years -- the Factory 2.0 Afterlife time capsule!
Packing up for the Chautauqua class
Andy's neon sign in front of a giant contact sheet print made for the Three Rivers Arts Festival 2015
Madelyn Roehrig (in the blue shirt) next to juror Jerry Saltz at the opening of the 57th Chautauqua Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art, 6.22.14
Figments: Conversations with Andy, and the short film Andy's Tombstone: Edition II, 57th Chautauqua Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art, 2014
“Lifeloggers: Chroniclers of the Everyday,” Carleton College, Exhibit opening, Photograph by Kay Kirscht, 2014
“Lifeloggers: Chroniclers of the Everyday,” Carleton College, Display of objects, Photograph by Kay Kirscht, 2014