Where best to remember the work of Andy Warhol, who died 25 years ago this February? Forget New York – get on the next plane to Slovakia.
Andy Warhol once claimed that he "came from nowhere". And
Medzilaborce – Slovakia’s self-styled "Warhol City" – is slap-bang in the
middle of nowhere. An eight-hour train ride east of Bratislava, this town near
the Polish border is the unlikely home of the world’s second-largest collection
of Warhol’s art.
In a region better known for its wooden churches and WWII
history, it’s a little surreal to find two huge, concrete Campbell’s Soup cans
outside a Communist-era cultural centre on Medzilaborce’s main street. Cashing
in on its claim to fame – Warhol’s parents emigrated to the US from the nearby
village of Miková – the town’s Warhol makeover has, in the last few years,
added a statue of the artist and a soup can-styled bus shelter.
When I visited the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art, I was greeted as the gallery’s first foreign
visitor that year and shown around by the director himself. As in many
provincial museums of eastern Europe, cloth overshoes are compulsory. Gliding
around the polished parquet like an ice skater, I admired original Warhol works
including the Communist themed Red Lenin and Hammer & Sickle, plus
Campbell’s Soup II, portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Mick Jagger and self
Yet just as intriguing were the family photographs and
personal possessions – his snakeskin jacket, his first camera, a pair of
sunglasses, a christening robe – displayed in glass cases like holy relics in a
chapel. Warhol, whose work is said to have been partly inspired by religious
icons, would surely have approved.
Neil Wilson has co-authored the Lonely Planet Czech and Slovak Republics guidebook. He lives in Scotland.
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.