- Warhol’s Time Capsule 51
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Andy Warhol’s Time Capsules (TCs) (figure 1) are a vast creative project of 610 containers, each holding an average of several hundred objects, which were assembled by the artist to document his life and times simply by saving things that interested him.1 Indeed, they surely must be the most pure expression of his definition of pop art as “liking things.”2 One of the TCs was opened and discussed at a meeting of the tripartite founders of the Warhol Museum, held in New York in October 1992, during which Warhol’s longtime business manager Fred Hughes clearly stated, “He [Warhol] thought of them as sculpture.”3 This characterization has been variously confirmed and rejected by other former Warhol assistants. Although they are held in our Archives collection, the Warhol Museum considers them to be a work of art, with conceptual connections to works that Warhol was very familiar with: the 1960s’ Poubelles of his contemporary Arman and the boxed notes of Marcel Duchamp (The Green Box of 1934 and A l’Infinitif of 1967). More recently, works by younger artists share a similar idea, notably Song Dong’s Waste Not (2005).4
Warhol began this obsessive work in 1974 in preparation for moving his studio one block north in Lower Manhattan from 33 Union Square West to 860 Broadway, but many of the bits and pieces in the boxes and filing cabinets (and in one large trunk holding more than three thousand items) date to earlier decades in his life.5 For example, one TC treasure that was vitally important to Warhol is his autographed photograph of Shirley Temple, which he received in the mail at his childhood Pittsburgh home in 1941, when both the sender and recipient were about twelve years of age.6
With only fifty-four items, seemingly a lightweight in the TC series, TC 51 cuts a wide swath—from Warhol’s college days to many stages in his commercial art career and through his pop-art years. It even reaches back beyond Warhol’s time to include objects from the middle and late [End Page 687] nineteenth century. While Warhol is most commonly identified in his role as a painter, only one publication title among those discussed here relates immediately to that identity (ARTnews 52, no. 2 , TC51.10).
TC 51 includes a few bits of evidence related to Warhol’s years as an art student, at the end of the first twenty years of his life, before he left his family in Pittsburgh for a new life in New York City.
During his college education at Carnegie Tech (1945–49),7 Warhol was required to take an English course called “Thought and Expression” taught by novelist Gladys Schmitt, founder of the school’s program in creative writing.8 The story of how Andy failed to earn a passing grade in the class (even with the extraordinary assistance of two female classmates) has been described in both Victor Bockris’s biography9 and in an essay by Warhol’s classmate, art historian Bennard Perlman.10 A signed copy of Schmitt’s third published book, Alexandra (New York: Dial Press, 1947, TC51.49), is in this TC. Oddly, her handwritten signature on the book’s first page is positioned almost exactly where her signature is embossed on the cover’s water-stained brown boards, creating a curious repetition of the autographic image as the book is opened.11
As it bears the same year of publication as Schmitt’s novel, another book in this TC is probably related to Warhol’s introduction to literature. The copy of a popular Simon & Schuster collection of short stories does not seem to have any significant markings among its 800+ pages, but there is a dab of white paint on its dark red cover (A Treasury of Short Stories; Favorites of the Past Hundred...