Finding Warhol in Slovakia

By William Schreiber

“I come from nowhere.” –Andy Warhol


Standing outside the colorful Warhol museum in Medzilaborce, Slovakia. Photo: William Schreiber

MEDZILABORCE, Slovakia – Welcome to nowhere, two small Slovak border towns called Mikova and Medzilaborce, but more widely known as the obscure Eastern European genesis of America’s most famous pop artist, whose mother was born nearby.

Surrounded by monuments to the Red Army and overshadowed by an Orthodox dome, the museum built in Andy Warhol’s honor appears painfully out of place. When we arrived at 3 p.m., we were the day’s first visitors.

After a debate with the single staff member, a clerk in her early 20s, about whether the museum was open, we were admitted, mostly because I was an American. Although there are signs prohibiting photography, my Polish traveling companions didn’t hesitate to reproduce the collection with flashes on.

A Pennsylvania native, I had visited Pittsburgh’s Warhol museum two years earlier. The top floor was devoted to an exhibit of his homoeroticism. Another exhibit showed the oxidation prints created when Warhol urinated on exposed copper plating.

As we wandered from room to room turning on lights, I realized that the biggest difference between the two museums – besides visitors – is the artist. Warhol dropped the vowel from the end of his name to Americanize it, but make no mistake: It is Andrzej Warhola who is on display here.

Warhola was a good Communist. A popular exhibit here includes suddenly non-ironic prints of Lennon and Mao. Hammers and sickles outnumber soup cans.

In Warhola’s world, Ingrid Bergman dressed as a nun outdazzles Marilyn Monroe. The artist’s baptismal certificate is on display, as well as the Catholic liturgy from his funeral service. Surprising only to me, there is a snapshot of Warhola meeting with Pope John Paul II.

Warhola wasn’t homosexual. He had a girlfriend who shot him because he wouldn’t marry her. The only eroticism in this museum is a few colored pencil sketches, tastefully hidden behind a nook in the wall, similar to the way the more graphic scenes of the Holocaust are displayed at the Auschwitz visitor’s center, located only a few hours’ drive away.

Only a handful of my students in Tarnawa have heard of Andy. On our way out, my Polish friends thanked me for inspiring them to see the museum. Warhola many have been a famous American artist, but he wasn’t so different from them. Practically Polish.

Readers interested in more information about the Slovakian Museum of Andy Warhol can watch the documentary film Absolut Warhola.

William is a sophomore in the Elliott School of International Affairs, majoring in International Affairs and concentrating in Europe and Eurasian Studies. In the summer of 2009, he taught students in Poland through Learning Enterprises and has also taught in D.C. with the AnBryce Institute.

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