Andy Warhol (1928-1987) who began his career as a commercial illustrator became one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, Warhol established himself as a leader of the pop art movement; he is best known for his paintings of the Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Warhol also cultivated an entourage of underground celebrities that collaborated on art films and socialized at some of New York’s most notable nightclubs, like the infamous Studio 54. It is within this electric and eclectic milieu of celebrity, art, cinema, music, and partying, that Warhol gave us his most memorable quote: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
Although Warhol was always in the spotlight for so many things as previously mentioned, there is one aspect of his life that hid in the shadows: Warhol was a hoarder. The Andy Warhol Museum, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, houses important Warhol art in addition to all the crap he collected over several decades — including 610 Time Capsules, containing more than 300,000 items contained in 569 cardboard boxes, 40 filing cabinets, and one large trunk. The museum politely refers to this as Warhol’s “possession obsession.” Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder, elaborate: “[Warhol] was an accumulator of epic proportions. The man loved to shop, and he did whenever and wherever he could — five-and-dime stores, antique stores, high-end galleries… the artist crammed his Manhattan home with so much stuff — pearl necklaces, Miss Piggy memorabilia, Bakelite bracelets, Lichenstein drawings — that ‘you had to climb over things’ to get around, one visitor told New York magazine after his death… By his own admission, the artist had trouble getting rid of anything… [He stashed] everyday items that he swept off his desk: lunch receipts, ticket stubs, doctors’ bills, letter, postage stamps.” Warhol would have his assistants fill up cardboard boxes and once they were filled they were shipped off to storage.”
Kalb continues: “A tireless shopper, Warhol hit every kind of marketplace — flea markets, antique dealers, galleries, Saks Fifth Avenue. One of his favorite targets was Lamston’s, the old Manhattan variety store, where he’d buy a 30-cent shopping bag and see how much he could cram in. At home, he’d lay out the contents on his bed and rub the prices off with Comet. ‘Then, the minute you’ve put all the stuff away,’ he wrote, ‘you want to go shopping again.” Said, like a true, compulsive hoarder.
“So why did Warhol become a hoarder?” you ask. Excellent question. Warhol had a difficult childhood, straight out of a Dickens novel. His family grew up poor, struggling through the Depression. On top of that, Warhol lost his father, a coalminer, when he was only 13 years old. Warhol was a sickly child (he was diagnosed with Sydenham’s chorea, a nervous system disease), shy, and socially isolated. One of his favorite pastimes was to lose himself in movies, comic books, drawing, and celebrity magazines. He enjoyed making scrapbooks out of newspaper and magazine clippings of celebrities. He picked this up from his mother who was artistic — she was a talented illustrator and made handicrafts out of crete paper and tin cans. (She passed away in 1972, when Warhol was 44). Warhol’s hoarding began when he was in his early 20s. Like most hoarders, Warhol developed strong emotional attachment to things and used this as a way to relieve the anxiety he was experiencing in his life — a coping mechanism that worked well for him as a child, trying to deal with the trauma of his sickness, isolation, and poverty. But of course, the paradox of hoarding is that although accumulating things relieves anxiety, it also produces anxiety. As Gregory Jantz notes in his article “The Psychology Behind Hoarding” for Psychology Today: “The more hoarders accumulate, the more insulated they feel from the world and its dangers. Of course, the more they accumulate, the more isolated they become from the world, including family and friends. Even the thought of discarding or cleaning out hoarded items produces extreme feelings of panic and discomfort.”
For further reading: Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb