It would have been difficult to miss the five-tiered cake in the lobby of the Whitney Museum in New York at noon today. Not only was it decorated with the pattern from Andy Warhol’s Flowers series (1964–70) and surrounded by a bevy of balloons in many colors, it was also partially encircled by members of the press, ready with their cameras and recorders. Unsurprisingly, a crowd of curious visitors joined them, snapping photographs on their phones.
Today would have been Warhol’s 90th birthday, and the Whitney was marking the occasion with both the cake and the start of ticket sales for its Warhol retrospective, “Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again,” which opens November 12. Scott Rothkopf, the Whitney’s chief curator, and Donna De Salvo, senior curator and curator of the upcoming Warhol show, were on hand to toast the event.
“We have somewhat conflicted hearts today because we’re celebrating Warhol’s birthday, but we know that this is something he would not have wanted us to do,” Rothkopf said. “We know that he hated his birthday—he hated his birthday so much that he told people in his office that if they even mentioned his birthday, they would be fired. So, Andy, if you’re looking down at me, please don’t put a jinx on our show.”
Rothkopf read an excerpt, dated August 6, 1984, from the artist’s diary. Warhol wrote, “The unmentionable day. I told everyone I didn’t want to hear the world ‘birthday.’ “
De Salvo, too, shared a diary entry from Warhol. This one detailed a Van Cleef and Arpels bracelet box that the artist received on his birthday one year. The all-but-empty box contained a card that read, “Andy Warhol wants nothing for his birthday.” Warhol wrote, “Because that’s what I told a magazine was the best present—nothing.”
“Our present to Andy Warhol is this retrospective,” De Salvo said earnestly.
It is a big one. “Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again,” the first retrospective for the artist in New York in 30 years, will present more than 350 works, and it will be the largest show the museum has staged for a single artist since moving to its Meatpacking District location in 2015.
De Salvo said she believes that the show will inspire viewers to look past the persona that the artist cultivated during his lifetime, and added, “I hope what people will take away from this retrospective is also an incredible sense of pleasure and discovery in seeing how Warhol used emerging technologies to create an entirely new language of art making.” He may not have enjoyed his birthday, but one can only imagine he would have loved photos of that cake flowing through social networks and onto screens around the world.