If you think you know Andy Warhol but haven't seen his work in person, think again. That was the lesson I learned when visiting the Whitney Museum of American Art in the West Village to see "Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again."

It's a rare opportunity to see so much Warhol in one place. The exhibition is the first Warhol retrospective in New York City in nearly three decades.

I've seen reproductions of Warhol's most famous works – in books, magazines, documentary films – but getting up close and personal with Warhol's works changes the way you see them. His iconic "Campbell's Soup Cans" are actually 32 individual paintings, each with subtle differences.

The exhibition also features lesser-known pieces from his early days growing up in Pittsburgh, to the many phases of his career in New York.

"Living Room" is one work that gives visitors an insight into Warhol's roots.

"You see a very particular household; the crucifix on the mantle, as he is from a Catholic family, and very lived-in furniture," curator Donna De Salvo said. "Even then, he could give an inanimate object a sense of personality."

What struck me most about the exhibition is the scale of the pieces. The famous portrait of Chairman Mao, which Warhol painted after President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, is painted on a canvas that's nearly 15 feet tall. Other works are equally as stunning to behold in person.

"I think that Warhol understood scale," said De Salvo. "So he could work with tiny little flower paintings, but also the scale of the 'Mao' is like the scale of the portrait in Tiananmen Square. It just stops you in your tracks. Plus, Mao looks like he's wearing rouge and eye shadow. So, you know, it just sort of destabilizes your perception."

And that's the whole point of bringing Warhol to the Whitney. De Salvo hopes museum patrons will get to know more about the man he was – the gay son of immigrant parents who survived an assassination attempt and went on to become the most famous pop artist of all time.