Warhol's grave is exceeding its 15 minutes

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The birthday of Andy Warhol, the pop artist whose own fame has long exceeded the 15 minutes he thought every one of us would have, was celebrated Tuesday in a fittingly eccentric way.

Warhol was born in Pittsburgh on Aug. 6, 1928, and died in New York City on Feb. 22, 1987. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the keeper of his memory's flame, marked the occasion by launching a live video feed from his grave in the Pittsburgh suburb of Bethel Park. It is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day worldwide.

This gives rise to a multiple yikes moment.

Yikes! So much technology, so much over-imaginative effort to find something to do with it.

Yikes! Andy Warhol would be 85 years old if he were alive. Would he be complaining about young artists today not being as avant-garde as they once were? Would he be saying that today's actresses are no Marilyn Monroe?

Yikes! Why would anyone want to look at a grave on a live cam? Viewing nesting falcons on a tall building -- now that I can understand. It saves the trouble of impersonating Spiderman.

But seeing a live feed of a grave in the St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, or any cemetery for that matter, is another thing entirely. For the living, it seems to me this is a desperate quest for entertainment only one remove from attending a tractor pull.

A person would have to be crazy bored to visit www.warhol.org/figment/, which of course I did. It was a sunny day, the grass was green -- otherwise the scene was pretty dead.

Somebody had attached a couple of festive balloons to the headstone to cheer up the deceased. It wasn't clear whether this worked. Later two guys came by to pay what passes for respect these days. They seemed a little confused. They had that "now-what-do-we-do?" look.

(The artist did not want an epitaph or his name on his grave. He just wanted the word "figment" -- hence the web address for the live feed, on which you can clearly see his name on the tombstone. His desire for an unmarked eternal rest turns out to have been a figment of his imagination.)

Would it matter to me if the occupant of the grave were someone else? No. I would not put a live feed on the final resting place of my own beloved parents. Their ashes are interred in a wall in a secluded garden behind a church. A frangipani tree shades their names with its perfumed boughs.

If I were to put in a camera at that hallowed spot, Mum would come back from the dead and swat me with a broom -- and quite right, too. For the same reason, I don't leave festive balloons.

Each to his own, but it is true that I don't think Andy Warhol is an artist for the ages, and perhaps that colors my opinion. He also got out of Pittsburgh as soon as he could and only came back to stay when he was dead. Some cities might take offense; we built a museum to the prodigal artist.

I do not mean to speak ill of the dead, although it makes more sense than speaking ill of the living, who might overhear.

So let me be clear: Warhol was a talented artist and a genius at marketing himself. In my view, he just wasn't an Edward Hopper or a Michelangelo, and I don't feel the need to make any sort of pilgrimage -- real or virtual -- to a brilliant self-marketer. On the whole, I'd rather go to Kennywood.

Perhaps my real grudge is that he pretty much invented the cult of celebrity. As one who has toiled in well-deserved obscurity, I am not the least bit jealous of the sort of fame that invites a live cam for the use of the adoring faithful. Celebrities have taken over America and are usually celebrated for doing nothing. At least Warhol painted a fine likeness of a Campbell's soup can.

If I were buried in a cemetery, my epitaph would be: "Buzz off, can't you see I am sleeping?" But I'm not sure that's for me. An angry reader recently emailed me to say that he planned to relieve himself on my grave (sadly, a true story -- people without a sense of humor grow terribly bitter).

Yikes! Of course, I thanked him for his note but advised him to take a life preserver with him, as I am considering having my ashes spread at sea. It seems the only way to be forever free from the eye of the live feed and unwanted tacky vigils.


Reg Henry: rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668.


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