When you think of museums in Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Heinz History Center, and The Carnegie Science Center are the first ones that spring to mind. However a trio of lesser-known museums is rapidly becoming popular in their own right. The Mattress Factory, the Andy Warhol Museum, and The Toonseum are distinct and delightful in their exhibits and in their facilities.
The Mattress Factory
The Mattress Factory, located at 500 Sampsonia Way in the historic Mexican War Streets section of Pittsburgh’s North Side, is a contemporary art museum that features room-sized installations. It opened in 1977 and is one of a few museums of its kind anywhere. The galleries are housed in two renovated buildings and exhibit both an ever-increasing permanent collection and groundbreaking new exhibits that change throughout the year.
The installations are created on-site by artists from all over the country and the world who use a variety of media to enthrall visitors. The Mattress Factory hosts an artist-in-residency program whose length of time varies from one week to two months. Artists are supported with living expenses, materials and equipment, skilled and unskilled labor for the installation process, an honorarium as well as an opening reception for the public. To date, more than 500 artists have exhibited at The Mattress Factory, and it enjoys more than 55,000 visitors each year. In addition, The Mattress Factory, a nonprofit organization, hosts an education program that fosters creativity and serves more than 16,000 people annually. It is open on Sunday from 1-5 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Andy Warhol Museum
Located only blocks away from The Mattress Factory is The Andy Warhol Museum. Artist Andy Warhol was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and his hometown has honored his body of work with an eponymous museum, which is also on Pittsburgh’s North Side. It is one of the few museums in the world dedicated solely to one artist. Opened on May 13, 1994, The Warhol is located at 117 Sandusky Street in another former warehouse and is one of the four Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh.
The seven-story museum houses an extensive collection of Warhol’s works and chronicles his illustrious career. Born in 1928, Warhol attended Schenley High School and Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and upon graduation moved to New York City where he began working as a commercial artist. He became an award-winning illustrator and many of his early illustrations are exhibited at The Warhol.
During the 1960s, Warhol began to experiment with painting, basing his first Pop works on comics and advertisements. In 1962, his celebrated Campbell’s Soup Cans series took the art world by storm, making Andy Warhol one of the most well-known artists of the last half of the 20th century. Having become a celebrity himself, Warhol went on to capture other such celebrated Pop icons as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor on canvas. Many of those works are on display at The Warhol. Self-portraits that Warhol created can be found throughout the collection as well.
Andy Warhol also turned his talent to film. In the late 1960s, he created scores of films with other performers and artists. The museum has approximately 350 of his films in the collection. It also has his more than 4,000 videotapes, including his video diaries and episodes from his television shows Fashion, Andy Warhol’s T.V., and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes.
In addition to the films and video tapes, The Warhol museum’s collection includes 900 paintings, nearly 100 sculptures, 2,000 works on paper, 4,000 photographs, and 60 feature films. The Warhol offers special exhibits, live performances, and public events throughout the year. Notables such as Mick Jagger, Bono, Brook Shields and Prince Andrew have made The Warhol one of their must-see destinations when visiting Pittsburgh. The Warhol Museum is open Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Located across the Allegheny River in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District at 945 Liberty Avenue, is one of the nation’s most fun museums, The ToonSeum. The ToonSeum’s mission is to celebrate an oft-overlooked art form: cartoons. Opened in 2007, the ToonSeum had its inception at The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh located on the North Side, with its gallery of comic strips, illustrations, editorial cartoons, and animations.
Due to its burgeoning collection, in 2009 the ToonSeum moved into its own home on Liberty Avenue. Only three cities in the country boast cartoon museums: New York City, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. In those few short years, the ToonSeum has rapidly become one of the most popular museums in Pittsburgh. The gallery has permanent and special exhibits which feature icons such as Mickey Mouse and Mighty Mouse.
While the cartoon is often treated as a step-child in the world of art, nevertheless cartoons represent a beloved art form, a fact that has been borne out by the popularity of the ToonSeum. The museum often hosts special events such as “I Say; I Say… Son,” when Robert McKimson Jr. (Foghorn Leghorn Creator’s Son) Spoke at ToonSeum. The ToonSeum regularly offers lessons for children interested in trying their hand at creating cartoon characters.
The ToonSeum is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pittsburgh is fortunate that within walking distance a trio of distinct museums can be found and enjoyed by visitors and residents alike.
by Jan Palko