For American artist and impresario Andy Warhol, shopping wasn’t just a pastime – it was a way of life. He did it daily, picking out all manner of esoteric (some would say useless) objects and squirrelling them in his house. By the time he died in 1987, just two rooms in his five-storey Upper East Side home were habitable. The others were filled to the brim with artworks, souvenirs, art-deco furniture, dental moulds, white wigs and signed photographs of Hollywood starlets. But when Sotheby’s began sifting through all this tat, they found something far more frightening than biscuit jars and old taxidermied owls.
Warhol’s obsession with consumer culture is right there in his art. Think about his most iconic pieces: portraits of Campbell’s soup tins and Day-Glo renderings of Hollywood icons. Warhol dissolved the distinction between individual works of transcendent beauty and mass-produced household items, crafting his era-defining pop artworks not from a sun-dappled studio but from a New York warehouse known as The Factory.
This is hardly breaking news. Warhol is the most written-about artist of the 20th century; his story is the stuff of high school art classes. What those world-weary art teachers tend to ignore is that Warhol was also a renowned foot fetishist. His commercial catalogue included countless popular shoe illustrations, and many of his personal sketches are of women’s feet. It may also come as a surprise to learn that, from 1974 until his death, Warhol assembled the detritus of his working day into innumerable “time capsules”. By 1987 he’d managed to fill 570 cardboard boxes, 40 filing cabinets and one large trunk, leaving a vast three-dimensional diary of his last 13 years on earth.
Following his death, the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh started cataloguing these items, leading to some rather shocking discoveries. Warhol museum archivist Matt Wrbican once recalled opening one box to find a mummified Egyptian foot. “At first, we didn’t really know what it was – it was just a brown lump in a nice white gift box,” he told The Guardian. Then we looked at it closely, and we could see it had toes, very curled up ones, and the realisation was very shocking. To be blunt, it was gross.”
The foot was just one of the 400,000 objects collected by Warhol, sitting alongside pornographic pulp novels, restaurant bills, gay magazines, mountains of American folk art, LPs, airline tickets, photographs of Warhol with Truman Capote and Pope John Paul II, and cards from Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger and Edie Sedgewick. For Warhol, there were no secrets – only art.