You wouldn't think so to look at Andy Warhol's "Vote McGovern" -- a lurid 1972 portrait of Richard Nixon with mold-blue skin, orange eyes and lime lips -- but the artist feared having something in common with our 37th president. Warhol loved tape-recording his conversations, in person and on the phone. But after Nixon was felled by tapes revealing his cover-up of the Watergate wiretapping affair, a shaken Warhol quit his audio obsession. Temporarily, anyway.
The connection is made in Buggin' Taps for Justice, the 25th in a series of mini-exhibits culled from the archives of The Andy Warhol Museum. Curated by Warhol archivist Matt Wrbican, Buggin' is a thoughtful look at wiretapping during the artist's lifetime. Yet, says Warhol executive director Tom Sokolowski, the museum's archive shows constitute perhaps its most overlooked asset.
Maybe that's because they are housed behind the often-closed glass door of the third-floor room labeled "Archives Study Center." The small room is flanked by one glassed-in chamber lined with shelves bearing some of Warhol's famed Time Capsules -- 605 cardboard boxes full of whatever he felt like saving -- and another housing staffers cataloging Capsule contents.
But once you're inside the lounge-like room, Buggin' welcomes, and enlightens. Under glass sits a partial transcript of Warhol's tape of a 1978 lunch with pals including Steve Rubell and Bianca Jagger -- the sort of transcript from which Warhol composed his experimental 1969 book a: A Novel. Nearby, a vintage telephone earpiece plays tape of Warhol counseling a screeching Ingrid Superstar ("Quit calling me retarded!") in 1969. The recording is amusingly (or bizarrely) spliced to extra-archival audio of JFK consulting Eisenhower on Cuban missiles, and Nixon and Haldeman conspiring.
Also from Warhol's collection: Watergate-themed Newsweek magazines; two Nixon hand puppets; photos documenting wiretapping techniques; and a Warhol portrait (rather more flattering than Nixon's) of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who wrote an influential minority opinion against wiretapping.
An earlier archives show consisted of correspondence relating to Warhol assistant Gerard Malanga's (successful) attempt to sell his own work (an image of the slain Che Guevara) as Warhol's in 1965, after a peeved Warhol stranded Malanga in Venice.
Sokolowski says Warhol's art benefits from the context the archives can provide.
"It needs this kind of introspection, even though it seems to be so facile, and seems to be so much on the surface," Sokolowski says. Archive shows, he adds, are "like going into the brain cells of the artist."
The Andy Warhol Museum 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $12 ($9 seniors/$8 students/kids). 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org