Andy Warhol’s Pop Riot

“The sophisticated audience that had turned out to put down the art that was not on display provided a chilling touch of surrealism worthy of Buñuel or Fellini”
JUNE 16, 2020
The latest Arthurian exploit of the legendary Andy Warhol occurred last Friday at the public opening of his first comprehensive exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the University of Pennsylvania campus. (The show closes on November 21.) At the preview opening the night before, attended by 1600, a tuna fish painting was impaled by a television light stand and Institute Director Samuel Adams Green was himself pushed to the wall against a painting. Realizing he was up against something big, Green took the unprecedented step of removing the paintings for the public opening. Left up in three spacious rooms were a few dozen flower paintings on one wall and about seven grocery carton sculptures in a corner.
Confronted by vistas of stark white walls, the milling crowd, mostly students, debated the merits of the absent art. TV reporters with mobile cameras interviewed earnest co-eds who pointed at nail-studded walls and made pronouncements like: “I always thought art was supposed to be creative,” “pop art is just comedy in art,” “all of his art is trash, you know it, it’s got to be a fad.” The sophisticated audience that had turned out to put down the art that was not on display provided a chilling touch of surrealism worthy of Buñuel or Fellini.
By 10 p.m., one hour after opening, 1000 people had crammed into the galleries and refused to budge. On the wall opposite the flowers, a single crutch hung on a nail where a painting had been, presumably left behind by someone now borne along by the crowd.
Andy and the Satellites were recognized by their golden and silvered locks and engulfed in a sickening crush. Forming a human chain, they sought refuge in the back room. Nearly trampled in the melee was the entire pop art brain trust — Rosalind Constable, Henry Geldzahler, and G. R. Swenson, all of them old hands at non-violent museum openings.
The crush to get into the back room was so great that three people were forced out a window on the opposite side and landed in a hospital. The unruliness of her fans prompted Edie Sedgewick — incredibly gorgeous in a floor-length, shocking pink Rudi Gernreich sheath — to shriek. Escorted by campus police, the Warhol party swept back to the front room where they scrambled up a corner stairway. “We want Andy,” the crowd chanted. ”Well, now I’ve seen Andy Warhol,” one boy crooned, while another screamed, “Get his clothing!” At the first turn in the stairs, Warhol wheeled around to look back horror-stricken through his yellow sunglasses. Like the star-crossed heroines with whom he identifies (Marilyn, Liz, and Jackie), he was menaced by the disrespectful idolatry of his fans.
The stairway, alas, did not lead to the second floor, having been boarded up years ago. ”We were trapped like rats,” Green said, but also protected by four policemen posted at the base of the stairs. From their perch, Warhol’s party stared at the crowd and the crowd stared back; both sides seemed to be getting satisfaction. “I wish he would leave so I could leave,” a boy said. Co-eds pushed forward bearing tins of Campbell’s pork and beans and Campbell’s tomato soup that were relayed up the stairs for autographing. An attractive housewife had her book of S & H Green Stamps autographed; she said she would never redeem them.
Warhol and the Satellites were rescued by a group of students who cut a hole in the floor above, through which they made a Beatlesque escape.
Although the show received unfavorable reviews, Warhol was credited with sparking tremendous in art in Philadelphia. “All the people thanked me for doing something in Philadelphia ,” he said.