The Philbrook Museum opened its doors last Wednesday evening for a free event featuring renowned author Deborah Davis, who discussed Andy Warhol’s 1963 cross-country road trip on Route 66. The current Warhol exhibition was also open to the public for the night, and the celebration of pop art was really, well, popping.
Andy Warhol has been said to be the most iconic artist of the 20th century, and he remains revered in modern culture. Numerous books have been written about his life and his work, while contemporary artists were and are still inspired by his bold approach to capturing life.
As Warhol’s posthumous net worth keeps climbing, his paintings and films, writings and photographs continue to receive increasing attention by collectors, galleries, art experts and the public alike.
Tulsa is not immune to this “Warhol effect,” as evidenced by the Philbrook Museum’s hosting of an extensive pop art gallery centered around Warhol’s work. The gallery has been immensely popular since its opening in mid-October. The In Living Color gallery will remain on display until January 17 of next year and features many of Warhol’s most prominent works alongside contemporary printmakers’ pieces.
On Wednesday night, I arrived at the Philbrook to find a quite sizable crowd milling about the gallery in anticipation of Deborah Davis’ presentation. Andy Warhol’s supposed favorite cocktail was being offered at the cash bar: the “Factory Soda” was Coca-Cola with Absolut, Kahlua, grenadine and a cherry, all over ice. Reminiscent of cherry Coke, it was nice to sip on as I perused the pop culture-focused exhibit.
Once the audience settled into their seats, a Philbrook Museum representative and then Jeff Martin, the head of Booksmart Tulsa, introduced the evening’s event with a few anecdotes about why Andy Warhol is relevant to our city at all. As it turns out, Warhol and a few friends traveled through Tulsa on a whirlwind trip down Route 66 in 1963; Deborah Davis documented this trip and was going to share it with us.
Her book The Trip details this wild ride by following footprints left behind by Warhol and his buddies in the form of receipts for room reservations and restaurants.
They drove the “hipster’s highway” from New York to Los Angeles over the course of four days, Andy himself doing none of the driving.
This left him open to observe the country as they flew through, and he fell in love with America—and then with Hollywood.
Billboards, generally considered an eyesore and scattered abundantly along Oklahoma’s stretch of Route 66, were so appealing to Andy Warhol that his friend in Los Angeles wallpapered a spacious bathroom with billboard-sized advertisements solely for Andy’s enjoyment upon his arrival, Davis told us. She skirted any history mentioning Warhol’s romantic turmoils, instead focusing on his other sources of inspiration: Hollywood, friends, everyday objects, popular culture and, most of all, color.
The stories Davis shared illuminated the intriguing and memorable persona that was Andy Warhol. Davis’ method of discovering his story by literally taking the same road trip that he did decades ago (without the help of an early form of Adderall that “everybody took in the sixties, including Andy”) was revelatory.
One serendipitous happening found Davis stopping in to eat at a small restaurant along Route 66 that she suspected Warhol may have eaten at. The owner of Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita actually remembers Warhol and friends stopping in for a meal, simply because they were the only ones not wearing cowboy hats and boots; Davis only found that out because on a whim, she inquired about “anyone strange” who may have come through in 1963.
A concluding question period revealed a few more riveting factoids about Warhol: he was a major packrat (this is why Davis was able to dig up his receipts from 1963!), wore dark reflective glasses to obscure his gaze, and had a “very hot” male assistant working alongside him for decades while women came and went. Davis clearly conveyed that Warhol was a brightly painted character on the canvas of the mid-20th century.