Calum Colvin, Professor of Fine Art Photography at the University of Dundee, has followed in the footsteps of pop art pioneer Andy Warhol in creating a portrait of Andrew Carnegie.
Professor Colvin’s work, which will be unveiled at the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Dunfermline on Tuesday 3 March, is the first portrait of the Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Carnegie since Warhol’s famous 1981 effort.
Regarded as one of Scotland’s most distinguished contemporary artists, Professor Colvin is known for creating complex constructions composed of three-dimensional stage-sets, populated by everyday household objects and overpainted with subjects that relate to fine art, popular culture, global history, identity and ecology.
Such diverse items as Carnegie’s Memo to Self,in which he pledged to give away his fortune, and a controversial telegram about the Homestead strike in his steel works, are embedded in the portrait to invite debate around Carnegie and his legacy.
Professor Colvin said, “This was a wonderful project to be involved in. The creation of the work was very ‘public-facing’ with numerous opportunities for dialogue with the public and allowing public access to the genesis of the portrait. It was an added bonus to have so much contextual information on the subject at hand – both to enrich the creation of the work and discussions around it. I am delighted my work will now have such an appropriate and auspicious home.”
Born in Dunfermline in 1835, Andrew Carnegie emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 12. Amassing a fortune in steel and other industries, he eventually became world’s richest man.
While his ruthless approach to business and labour relations attracted criticism before and since, Carnegie would also become known for his unprecedented philanthropy. He gave away $350 million (around $65 billion today) to charities, foundations, and universities – almost 90 percent of his fortune. Carnegie’s 1889 article proclaiming ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ called on the rich to use their wealth to improve society, and stimulated a wave of philanthropy.
The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum tells his story, from the cottage of his birth to the living legacy today. Professor Colvin’s portrait was commissioned by the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust in 2019 to mark the centenary of Carnegie’s death as well as the continuing worldwide philanthropic scope of the institutions he endowed. The process of creation drew on objects and references within the Museum collection.
Kirke Kook, Curator and Manager of the Museum, said, “We were delighted to host Calum at the museum and to give our visitors an opportunity to engage with contemporary art in the context of a history museum. It is something that is quite unusual, but that was really well received.”
Professor Colvin created the installation over a number of weeks within the main hall of the Museum so that members of the public could actively contribute to the process. Further input was facilitated by social media and contact with the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh in the US.
In addition to the actual portrait a separate graphic will be on display to be viewed through 3D glasses, a particular attraction for school groups.