Orient Express From Eastern Helsinki (and Eastern Europe) with LOVE

THE UNCANNY POP ART OF MEDCILABORZE

  • Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art, Merzilaborce (Slovakia)
    Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art, Merzilaborce (Slovakia)
  • A Warhol statue outside of the museum
    A Warhol statue outside of the museum
  • Inside the museum
    Inside the museum
  • The Max Ernst exhibition (Max Ernst. An Ornithologist's Dreams) at the International Cultural Center of Krakow
    The Max Ernst exhibition (Max Ernst. An Ornithologist's Dreams) at the International Cultural Center of Krakow

 

I seldom travel for leisure, but when it is possible to slip away from the everyday together with my wife and stepson, I never raise an eyebrow.

 

Late June we flew to Krakow, spending 3 days in this enormous, antiquarian and majestic urban landscape, which I visited for the first time when the conference of the International Association of Aesthetics was held there in 2013. It was still enchanting and we managed to see a great exhibition with surrealist Max Ernst’s early sculptures, which I have kind of been thinking as being some form of proto pop, as the funniest comic stuff is made as early in the 1930s. (See pic 4)

 

As we continued with a mini bus over the Tatras, a way heavier pop shock was awaiting us. After we had landed to the radically beautiful old town of Kosice, where we spent the next three days – before continuing to Bratislava, Vienna, Brno and Prague – we rented a car and went to see one of the most peculiar art museums in the world, the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art in Medzilaborce. Warhol's mother, Julia Warhola, was from the close village of Miková, 16 km to the west from the town center. The museum hosts the second largest collection of Andy Warhol art after Pittsburg’s Warhol museum.
 

My Slovakian friends had for long been talking about this uncanny site, which lies in the middle of nothing. We rented a car and drove a long hot morning approximately 50 miles to the direction of the Polish and Ukranian borders, through gypsy villages and tiny towns, forests, mountains and valleys, to, in the end, find ourselves in the small town.

 

It is the smallest town where I have seen an A class museum. The museum building was fancy, quite dry and very functional (pic 1), but marked a clear difference to the small country houses, which were framing it. It had a real size Andy Warhol statue outside of it. Inside we found 160 original Warhol works and a nice museum shop. The family that was visiting the museum when we came in, left just after our appearance, and so only we remained, alone, for an hour inside this big silent space.

 

Seeing art in this kind of places is not a commonplace and it raised questions. What are urban centers, and even more, what are art scenes for the art you see? How do they affect your experience? If you see contemporary art where it happens, the context outside of the site somehow supports it, and this is something you do not really think of. It is also different to see environmental art in a distant forest, than to see just normal modern or contemporary art works, even more iconic ones, in a place where they float around without a context. We are actually working on an article on aesthetics and scenes with Jozef Kovalcik and this museum was for me one of the key moments when I found a strong need to continue writing the text. Scenes are important.

 

It happened to be the 25th anniversary of the museum. Following this, the local TV interviewed me – as we were the only customers in the museum. As I thought the local cultural enthusiasts would need some back-up, I described how great the museum was, so that the local politicians would be more favorable for it. Later on I heard, though, that the museum is actually a private one, put up by Warhol’s family after his death and after the iron curtain had been removed. Warhol’s brother, the main motor behind establishing the museum, had still been born in Medzilaborce, but Andy himself never visited Slovakia. According to one story he was told in Austria that he could see to Slovakia from the hotel balcony, but he only pissed on the floor (towards Slovakia). A softer version tells us that he just turned his back to the country.

 

Anyway you can see the museum as a true early 1990s product, which popped up during the fragile and energetic years which followed the end of the Warsaw Pact. In their wildest dreams, the Warhol family had even plans to fly visitors to Medzilaborce straight from Berlin.

 

Driving out we were lost, but happened accidentally to drive through Miková, the village where the family had actually lived – the village where over half of the population share the surname Warhola. It was not hard to guess where we were as there was only an enormous Andy Warhol face welcoming you when you drove through. After that we saw only goats and sheep. This just added spice to the surreal experience, which stayed for long in my mind as I tried to find our way back to a descent road.

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