Art Without Borders

Living up to its eccentric name, the Warhol Museum is gearing up for its 13th season of the hard-to-define Off the Wall performance series.




 

Since opening in 1994, The Andy Warhol Museum has established itself as a home for misfit art. Not just the work of its namesake and his contemporaries. And certainly not just visual art, either.

Forms of creative expression without natural settings tend to float toward the North Side landmark. Long before indie rock was big business, the likes of Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear jumped at the opportunity to play inside The Warhol’s walls. Before the Oaks and Hollywood theaters were screening repertory curiosities, the museum was playing silver-screen anomalies in its intimate cinema.

And since 2000, the Off the Wall series has been showcasing works so unusual that they often defy categorization. Theater? Music? Performance art? Monologue? Improvisation? Off the Wall is all of the above — and probably some additional terms that haven’t been coined yet.

“It’s a mixed bag,” says Ben Harrison, series creator and curator of performing arts. As Off the Wall has evolved, he’s been asked to define it many times — and that’s no easier today as a 13th season begins. “It’s not a dance series. It’s not a playwright’s festival,” he points out. “It’s hard to find a lot of continuity to it — and that’s the point.”

What can be said is this: Soon after The Warhol opened, there was a push to “become more than a museum.” The motivation, especially with a figure as distinct as Warhol, was to “combat and counter this idea of a single-artist museum in Pittsburgh — where it’s a stagnant mausoleum and nothing changes,” Harrison says. That movement gave rise to the indispensable and ever-evolving Good Fridays series. And it was also the spark for Off the Wall.

The series has returning performers, like the avant-garde playwright Young Jean Lee or the controversial monologist Mike Daisey. Bigger names from the world of music, like They Might Be Giants and Henry Rollins, have appeared in the lineup, performing works that wouldn’t fit at Mr. Small’s or Stage AE. But from year to year, the only constant is variety, and that presents challenges.

“Logistically, it was just very difficult. What you were doing is creating a small theater space within a gallery,” Harrison explains. The varied concerns of staging a show, protecting the artwork, accommodating artists and serving the audience proved taxing.

So to help the series grow, The Warhol began working with other local institutions and venues (including collaborating with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to renovate the New Hazlett Theater). In recent seasons, roughly half of the series has taken place outside the museum walls; for 2013, however, the series ventures to the Byham, the New Hazlett and (in a new partnership) the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.

The series opens this month with Chelsea Mädchen, a buzzed-over work by artist Tammy Faye Starlite. Much like the series itself, Starlite defies categorization; Rolling Stone was trying to be concise when it dubbed her a “New York alternative-country-and-cabaret singer.”

In Chelsea Mädchen, the artist performs as the late Warhol “superstar” Nico, the one-time singer for the Velvet Underground and troubled chanteuse. One of the most Warholian of all the various personalities orbiting Andy’s Factory, Nico was defiant, brooding and affected. Starlite’s work not only includes renditions of Nico gems like “Femme Fatale” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” — as well as Nico’s famous interpretations of Rodgers and Hart, The Doors and more — but also a staged conversation with a reporter, culled from an interview the singer gave shortly before her 1988 death.

“[Starlite] has done the show for a few years now, and it’s received such great reviews,” says Harrison. “She’s really talented — but also just really genuine.”

Later this year, Young Jean Lee’s company will return for a fourth Off the Wall effort. A partnership with the Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania will bring the Seinendan Theater Co. and Osaka University’s Robot Theater Project, which is just what it sounds like: theater performed by a mixed cast of humans and high-tech androids. Actress and comedian Sandra Bernhard will perform a one-woman show. Every night of the series, though, is meant to challenge, engage and affect.

“They’re pushing buttons — and they’re pushing boundaries,” Harrison says. “It’s at the same time smart, thoughtful and unsettling.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

#pixburgh: A Photographic Experience features images from the Sen. John Heinz History Center vault, which contains close to 1 million images. The show features a sampling of 400 images from the 1850s through today — including landmarks, fun, folly and floods.
In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.
Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Umami sets the bar for izakaya openings in Pittsburgh. But its owners still have steps to take to keep raising the standard.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Trees around the campus of the University of Pittsburgh are filled with nesting crows, and many students are wondering why.
Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Four of the world’s best poker players are playing 120,000 hands of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold’em against Libratus, the poker-playing bot created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists.
See How Chess Made Le’Veon Bell a Better Running Back

See How Chess Made Le’Veon Bell a Better Running Back

Watch the video that reveals Bell’s talents that go beyond the football field.
RMU President Named to College Football Playoff Committee

RMU President Named to College Football Playoff Committee

Chris Howard will help decide which four teams will vie each year for college football’s national championship.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

#pixburgh: A Photographic Experience features images from the Sen. John Heinz History Center vault, which contains close to 1 million images. The show features a sampling of 400 images from the 1850s through today — including landmarks, fun, folly and floods.
In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.
Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Umami sets the bar for izakaya openings in Pittsburgh. But its owners still have steps to take to keep raising the standard.
Daytripping: Have Musket, Will Travel

Daytripping: Have Musket, Will Travel

The rest is history at ye olde Colonial Williamsburg, the former capital of Virginia and now a restored revolutionary war-era village.
Talk of the Tahn: The Consequences of Trespassing

Talk of the Tahn: The Consequences of Trespassing

I snuck into a steel mill. Bethlehem, Pa. I’d been bragging about how big Pittsburgh’s industrial ruins were when a woman in a bar told me, “Bethlehem’s are bigger.” Size matters.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Trees around the campus of the University of Pittsburgh are filled with nesting crows, and many students are wondering why.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Restaurant Industry Fundraiser to Aid Injured Chef

Restaurant Industry Fundraiser to Aid Injured Chef

Zach Behm was chef de cuisine at Cure in Upper Lawrenceville at the time of a July car wreck.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


The Trendy New East Liberty Hangout ... Primanti's?

The Trendy New East Liberty Hangout ... Primanti's?

The latest outpost of the popular local chain is housed in the former Verde space in Garfield.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Tomlin Needs to Be Tomlin Against Brady, Belichick

Tomlin Needs to Be Tomlin Against Brady, Belichick

The Steelers are going to have to attack the game to survive it, to grab it by the throat and choke it to the desired conclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Check out the chic decor from Pittsburgh-based artist and designer Janice Nelson.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Shyamalan's Split is Troubling For the Wrong Reasons

Shyamalan's Split is Troubling For the Wrong Reasons

Reviews of "Split," "20th Century Women" and "The Founder," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Real Pittsburgh Weddings: Why All of the Guests Got a Gift

Real Pittsburgh Weddings: Why All of the Guests Got a Gift

This couple wanted to make sure all of their guests felt as included as possible.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Urban Fit Co. Opening Flagship Shop in Sewickley

Urban Fit Co. Opening Flagship Shop in Sewickley

The locally owned active wear boutique is slated to open in March. Plus, get all the details on Pittsburgh’s new luxury residential real estate firm, Piatt Sotheby’s International Realty.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Gun Violence Target of Carlow's Social Justice Institutes

Gun Violence Target of Carlow's Social Justice Institutes

The University will conduct research and offer scholarships to victims.

Comments