Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Museum of Art University of Chicago
Warhol at Work: Portrait Snapshots, 1973-1986
May 10 – August 21, 2011
Over the course of his career, Pop Art pioneer Andy Warhol took thousands of photographs that were never intended to be seen by the public.
In the 1970s, at the height of Warhol’s extraordinary fame as an artist and filmmaker, he bought two automatic cameras that he carried with him everywhere. Using a small 35mm camera he took countless black and white snapshots of his immediate environment—parties, art studios, and New York City streets. Meanwhile, Warhol restructured his artistic practice around the Polaroid Big Shot camera: he produced carefully staged Polaroid portraits of friends and celebrities, many of which he used as the basis for his iconic prints and silkscreen paintings. The Polaroids follow a standard format, with the subject posed against a blank wall, close to the camera, their features abstracted by the strong flash and, often, heavy white makeup. The search to capture just the right image often resulted in up to a hundred slightly varied pictures of each sitter—an approach that reveals Warhol’s eye for detail and obsession with photography as an all-consuming process.
In 2008, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts donated 152 of the Polaroid and black and white photographs to the Smart Museum through the Andy Warhol Legacy Program. Featuring over sixty of them—many of which are being displayed publicly for the first time—Warhol at Work offers an almost voyeuristic glimpse into Warhol’s world, where experimental play, business, and art mix freely. The exhibition will illuminate both the identity of many of the sitters and establish their relationships to the artist and his work. It will also spotlight one example of Warhol’s characteristic use of photography by displaying Witch, a screenprint from his 1981 portfolio Myths, alongside its source—a Polaroid portrait of Margaret Hamilton, former star of the Hollywood classic The Wizard of Oz (1939). Such a pairing allows a concrete understanding of the sort of mechanical and creative transformations that characterize Warhol’s most important work.