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Andy Warhol

You can now see Andy Warhol’s wigs in the UK for the first time ever


TextAlex Peters

The Tate Modern is displaying the wigs alongside the artist’s work

Andy Warhol is one of those people who is instantly recognisable. Crippingly self-conscious about his appearance, he created an exaggerated, constructed look including bold, wild wigs which he used to disguise the fact that he had gone bald in his 20s. Now, three of the artist’s wigs will make their UK debut when they go on display at the new Andy Warhol retrospective at the Tate Modern which opens tomorrow.

Talking to The Guardian, co-curator of the exhibition Gregor Muir said the wigs shone a unique light on the artist. “They are incredible objects, which he would have had a say in, in terms of their design … the way they are dark at the back and blonde at the front,” he said. “The wigs are part of Warhol’s persona, and Warhol himself was an artwork.”

Next to the wigs in the exhibition will be one of Warhol’s iconic “fright wig” self-portraits from 1986. “You have to ask yourself, what has given him the fright? It is as if he has seen a ghost,” Muir says. “I get very poetic here but perhaps he is his own ghost.”

During his lifetime, Warhol was so fearful that his wigs would fly off, he would use strong glues to secure them to his head. When, in October 1985, a young woman took her chance and tore Warhol’s silver wig off at a book signing in New York he later described it as “the day my biggest nightmare came true.” “It was so shocking. It hurt. Physically,” he wrote in his diary of the event.

The Tate Modern’s retrospective will highlight aspects of Warhol that have in the past been overlooked in favour of the more glamourous, socialite side of his persona: his family background, his religion and his queerness. The show will also debut dozens of previously unseen erotic drawings done by Warhol in the 1950s before he was famous. According to the Andy Warhol Foundation, when the artist tried to exhibit the drawings in 50s New York, he encountered homophobic rejection from gallery owners. 

Andy Warhol is at Tate Modern from 12 March – 6 September 2020

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