- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

A cardboard lid is lifted, and four archivists peer inside. A piece of crusty wedding cake.

Whose? Another box: $17,000 in cash. Yet another: an autographed picture of a naked Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

These are some of the many items workers have uncovered as they sift through 610 cardboard boxes, filing cabinets and even a shipping container filled with what would be considered junk by most people but has a whole different meaning because it was collected by pop artist Andy Warhol.

The archivists, hired with $600,000 from the Andy Warhol Foundation and several smaller grants, have six years to comb through everything from taxi receipts to fan mail, meticulously cataloging, photographing and, when possible, researching the often bizarre items before entering them into a database.

“He really didn’t like organization, and there would be several boxes going at a time,” says Matt Wrbican, who is overseeing the cumbersome project.

Now the spouses of the 19 heads of state and representatives of the European Union coming to Pittsburgh in September for the Group of 20 global economic summit may also get a peek at the papers, stamps, photos, gifts and knickknacks that made up Mr. Warhol’s life.

“I would like to give them a Warhol experience,” says Thomas Sokolowski, director of the Andy Warhol Museum, who will host the spouses for lunch during the Sept. 24-25 summit.

The idea, he says, is to give each white smocks and gloves, just as the archivists wear, and a box to sift through.

The White House hasn’t decided whether to go for it, he says, and if it does, the boxes offered would be vetted in advance to ensure that nothing crops up that is offensive - such as pornography - or truly disgusting - like the oozing, decades-old soup cans Mr. Warhol often dumped inside his boxes.

The artist was never one to throw away things, Mr. Wrbican says. In fact, when he died in 1987 at 58, his four-story Manhattan town house was packed with stuff: shopping bags filled with antiques, clothes, books and other artifacts from his daily expeditions; boxes; piles of furniture; and even a drawer of gems worth $1 million.

“The only rooms that looked like a normal house were the bathroom and the kitchen,” says Mr. Wrbican, who has been going through the artist’s things since 1991.

However, there was no rhyme or reason to the collecting until about 1973. That’s when a Warhol associate suggested the artist carry around a box to dump things inside. Each “time capsule” was filled, taped shut, dated and sent to a New Jersey storage facility.

In the 18 months since the project began, the archivists have opened 177 boxes - each with an average of 400 items, some with as many as 1,200. Today, Mr. Wrbican says, just one of the boxes is insured for the amount of money at which the time-capsule collection was appraised a few years after Mr. Warhol’s death.

In September, the archivists will begin blogging about the “Object of the Week.”

What could appear: Mr. Wrbican’s favorite, a mummified human foot belonging to an ancient Egyptian; a Ramones 45-rpm record signed by the punk-rock band’s lead singer, Joey Ramone, found by cataloger Marie Elia; or the orange nut bread that cataloger Liz Scott discovered - sent to Mr. Warhol by one of his Pittsburgh-area cousins.

“So he just threw it in a box,” Miss Scott says with a laugh, twisting her face to describe the tangy smell that wafted out of the box.

So, you’re wondering, whose wedding cake was it? Caroline Kennedy’s - married in 1986 to Edwin Schlossberg. And where is it now? The trash.

How did Mr. Warhol come to possess a naked poster of Jackie O signed, “For Andy, with enduring affection, Jackie Montauk”?

As it happens, says Mr. Wrbican - who along with other researchers authenticated the signature through handwriting comparisons - Mrs. Onassis was a frequent visitor to Mr. Warhol’s Montauk, N.Y., beachfront estate.

Her second husband, Aristotle Socrates Onassis, had gotten a paparazzo to take pictures of her skinny-dipping, and one landed in the hands of Larry Flynt, who turned it into a poster for his magazine, Hustler. Mrs. Onassis sent a copy - likely as a joke - to Mr. Warhol, Mr. Wrbican says.

“I really doubted it was her signature at first,” he says. “But it really matches her writing.”


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