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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Short Notice: Lauryn Hill Coming to Pittsburgh Wednesday

Short Notice: Lauryn Hill Coming to Pittsburgh Wednesday

It will be the singer's first Pittsburgh show in 17 years.
Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

Pittsburgh Comic Shop Owners Prepare For Free Comic Book Day

For comic book fans, it's the equivalent of black Friday, only much more fun.
Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

The stunning photo of a star trail around Mt. Rainier took two hours to shoot.
Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald say the PUC went too far when it fined the ride-sharing company $11.3 million.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Short Notice: Lauryn Hill Coming to Pittsburgh Wednesday

Short Notice: Lauryn Hill Coming to Pittsburgh Wednesday

It will be the singer's first Pittsburgh show in 17 years.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Time to Get Your Garden Growing

Time to Get Your Garden Growing

The May Market at Phipps Conservatory in Oakland is the largest seedling sale of the season.

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


Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

Lawrenceville's New, Different Nighttime (and Morning) Destination

The Abbey on Butler — part coffeehouse, part restaurant, part bar — could prove to be a major Lawrenceville destination.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

The Bucs’ wild-card failures the last two seasons have cast a shadow of doubt if not impending doom over a season that otherwise ought to be ripe with promise.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Local fashion line Kelly Lane has the perfect dress to kick off your summer style.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Captain America: Civil War is the Best Marvel Flick Yet

Captain America: Civil War is the Best Marvel Flick Yet

The superhero throwdown caps a hot streak for the comic studio. Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

You don’t always need blue skies and sunshine to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. One couple shares their advice on making the most of a rainy wedding day and what to do when the forecast is less than ideal.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation hosts a one-of-a-kind house tour on May 7.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A Week of Education for Adults & Children Alike

A Week of Education for Adults & Children Alike

Remake Learning Days, a program offering new and future-forward educational experiences, is set for various spots throughout the area.

Comments