Andy Warhol Time Capsules: The art of documentation

For the better part of a decade, specialists in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have been painstakingly cataloging the contents of over 600 cardboard boxes.

In the boxes are hundreds of thousands of records that collectively detail the life of the iconic 20th century artist Andy Warhol. Interestingly, it was Warhol himself who packed the boxes.

andy warhol time capsules quote

When you think of 50-year-old records, do you think of art? In today’s world, there is assuredly something nostalgic about a telegraph or a handwritten letter. But what about a tube of hemorrhoid cream or a box filled with fingernail clippings and dead bees? This is barely a fraction of a snapshot of the peculiar ephemera contained within the Andy Warhol Time Capsules, which, despite a rather banal origin, would become both his most extensive and most personal work of art.

Warhol began the Time Capsules series in the early 1960’s. On an ongoing, almost daily basis, he selected and stored a vast, eclectic array of effects from his everyday life, sealing them in nondescript cardboard packing boxes. He did this for nearly 3 decades, right up until his death in 1987.

A notorious collector bordering on compulsive, Warhol kept his four story townhouse and studio in Manhattan packed to the bursting point with a mammoth collection of what was often simply referred to as “Andy’s Stuff.” Allegedly, Warhol started Time Capsules as a result of moving his studio to “The Factory,” as it became known. He had left the moving of his expansive archives to his staff members, one of whom suggested piling them into boxes and calling them “time capsules,” which could be added to and worked on forever if Warhol so desired. This appealed to Warhol, who adopted the process as an artistic pursuit, with the end goal being a finished piece of work.  From then on, he kept a cardboard box at his desk, adding documents and items as he saw fit. When finished, the artist intended to auction off each box individually, all at an identical price, the contents within unknown to the buyer entirely. Unfortunately, this never came to fruition and today the boxes reside permanently at the Andy Warhol Museum, where they are occasionally put on display.

The museum has mentioned that in cataloging the contents of these boxes, the records will all be made digitally searchable in the near future. In the meantime, there is one box that has been entirely digitized and turned into an interactive online exhibit titled Explore Time Capsule 21.

andy warhol records room

Records room in the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.

andy warhol records display

Display of sample Time Capsule contents in the Time Capsule exhibit.

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