Despite his fame, influence and legacy, Andy Warhol was deeply insecure about his appearance. The self-doubt stemmed from his fight with rosacea, a condition causing reddened facial skin, and some hair loss due to stress. To distract from his perceived ugliness, he cultivated his iconic, silver-wigged look and made frequent visits to the “pimple doctor” and the plastic surgeon, getting collagen injections later in life to smooth out his wrinkles. His insecurity led him to develop an obsession with the physical beauty of others.
A new exhibition at the Warhol Museum explores Andy’s relationship with physical bodies. My Perfect Body, curated by Jessica Beck, opens with a room of glass cabinets filled with medications, wigs, and cosmetics, followed by photographic self-portraits of Warhol obscuring or altering his face. Images of plastic surgery and male genitalia adorn the walls. Illustrations of the perfect male physique are contrasted with the twisted bodies of drivers after a car crash, showing the body off in both idealized and grotesque states.
As the exhibition concludes, Andy’s intolerance of his own body wanes; after he was shot in 1968, he underwent intense surgery that left deep scars across his body and forced him to wear corsets—a colorful display of these can be seen at the museum. Although he was deeply ashamed of his body during his formative years, he was highly willing to reveal it for photographers and artists later on in life. He developed a regular exercise regimen and became obsessed with bodybuilders, building on his lifelong love of fantasy perfection – the perfect body, the perfect love, the perfect celebrity.
Warhol loved to be an observer; his gaze was full of love for others, idealizing, glorifying, and catapulting them to superstar status. He didn’t want to be seen, though friends note that Warhol’s ugliness was all in his mind. John Giorno, star of “Sleep”, once spotted Andy as he emerged from the shower: “He had a beautiful body…I was very surprised,” Giorno writes. “What he didn’t see in himself he saw in everybody else […] Whoever attracted him, and potentially every person in the world, had a perfect body.”
Andy Warhol: My Perfect Body continues through January 22nd at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.