Saturday, April 5, 2014

15 Minutes Are Over

The pictures above and below are installation views of my one-day exhibition "15 Minutes: Andy Warhol's Photographic Legacy," which was held outside the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia yesterday, April 4th. I blogged about this here a few weeks ago. I decided to make the exhibition more archival and less traditionally "museum"-like in its arrangement, largely because the more I looked at the Polaroids and black-and-white silver gelatin prints (156 total in the collection), the more ideas about what the images said to the viewer and to each other struck me as an interesting way to display them. For instance, I juxtaposed works that questioned aspects of masculinity and femininity, incorporating photographs of a woman with her baby and Halston's lover Victor Hugo carrying a beach ball under his robe simulating pregnancy. I incorporated one Polaroid of a drag queen named Kim from the Ladies and Gentlemen series. I also played with ideas of age and beauty, laying out a not-so-flattering collection of Polaroids of Lola Jacobson beside a runway fashion show photograph. And then I explored fame through Polaroids of well-known individuals in the collection, including Princess Caroline, Dolly Parton, and Dorothy Hamill (see below), but I also included elsewhere "unidentified" people to suggest how his photographs gave unknowns an equal amount of 15 minutes of fame. My staff in Art Properties (Larry & Lillian) deserve due credit for working hard on mounting the boards and creating the labels.

The public program was a great success. We wound up standing-room-only (200+), which was a fantastic surprise. My talk lasted 5 minutes (see below), then Deborah Cullen introduced each of the Warhol speakers, who couldn't help but go on longer than 15 minutes, although they all managed to introduce in their allotted time interesting thoughts about the significance of Warhol and his work, in its historical day and now. Blake Gopnik explored the mysterious origins of the quote attributed to Warhol on "15 minutes of fame," suggesting there is little evidence (or is there?) for Warhol ever having said it. Neil Printz gave a fantastic talk on Warhol's art work and brought in the Polaroids a lot to demonstrate how they related to Warhol's different projects. Larissa Harris spoke about the upcoming Warhol exhibition at Queens Museum of Art, and Tom Kalin discussed his own film projects and the influence of Warhol on him and his work. All in all, it went well, and the I think we were all satisfied with the results and feedback. I admit I was a little dismayed that by the time I got to the reception there was no more wine left (!!!!), and, since I had to take down the exhibition, it was getting late, etc., I did not get a chance to hear the chat between Peter Brant and Urs Fischer, but I was told it was another full house. Considering I am in no way a Warhol expert, let alone a contemporary art specialist, overall I think I can say things turned out pretty well. Below is the text of my "5 minutes" of fame. Admittedly parts of it only make sense in reference to the PowerPoint presentation I showed, but I think you get the basic gist of what I was trying to say.

15 Minutes: Andy Warhol's Photographic Legacy
Roberto C. Ferrari

Good Afternoon. As the Curator of Art Properties at Columbia University, I also would like to welcome you to this program today, and tell you how excited we are to be able to showcase a curated selection of the photographic works by Andy Warhol from our permanent collection. Art Properties is based in Avery Library, and our department acts as the steward for the approximately 15,000 works of fine and decorative art that have been donated to Columbia since its foundation over 250 years ago. The exhibition component of our program is located in display cases outside the Wallach Art Gallery. If you have not had a chance to see the exhibition, you will have time after the round-table discussion. I would like to thank my staff in Art Properties, as well as my colleagues in Avery and the Wallach Art Gallery, for their assistance in making this exhibition come together. And, as a reminder, be sure to engage with all forms of social media using #WarholColumbia this afternoon. If he were alive today, Warhol likely would have been a prominent Tweeter and shot numerous digital photos with his iPhone.

Indeed, our technology-driven social world is arguably linked to our obsession with pop culture, celebrity, and glamour. The opportunity for fame through reality television, selfies, Twitter, and Instagram owes much of its success to the cult of celebrity spawned by Andy Warhol. The artist reportedly once said, “in the future everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes,” and through his art Warhol ensured that everyone—the famous, the infamous, and the mundane—all had 15 minutes of fame. Our exhibition echoes this time-based ideology as a one-day event, giving you, the public, a mere glimpse—a snapshot, if you will—of Warhol’s photographs at Columbia. These works in our collection were a gift from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts as part of their Photographic Legacy Program, which began in 2007 when the Foundation made the decision to disseminate to Columbia and numerous other institutions selections of photographs in an effort to share Warhol’s artistic legacy. Columbia received 106 Polaroids and 50 black-and-white silver gelatin prints, and I am pleased to announce that this year we also acquired an extension of this gift with six large silkscreen prints. Among these is this image of Martha Graham, which Warhol created from a 1940 photograph by Barbara Morgan, demonstrating Warhol’s interest not only in his own photography, but that of others, as sources for his artistic interpretations.

Warhol shot Polaroids during the 1970s and ‘80s, primarily as studies for the portrait paintings he made at that time. An artist-friend of mine recently commented that Warhol used his camera like a drawing instrument, and certainly in utilizing photographs as studies for paintings he was following the historical legacy of painters since the Renaissance. Art historians see drawings as glimpses into the artist’s mind at work; similarly, Warhol’s Polaroids allow us to emulate what he saw through the lens of his camera. Individually, his Polaroids personify idealized types: models and movie stars, royalty and rock stars, swindlers and socialites, all of them ready for their proverbial close-ups, posed and displayed as emblems of glamor, fame, and fortune. Collectively, however, these same photographs reveal the mechanics of an artist at work, as if on an assembly line. They show all the ticks and quirks of the sitters, and they do not always flatter them. The instantaneity of the Polaroid allowed Warhol to act spontaneously and waste film in an effort to find the right image that he ultimately chose as worthy of becoming one of his squared portraits, painted in multiples in a hyperbolic display of colors, all churned out by Factory assistants.

Unlike the glam of the Polaroids, Warhol’s black-and-white prints seem more documentary in nature. They reveal snippets of Warhol’s quotidian existence…touristy pictures and vapid interiors…candid paparazzi shots and scenes of yet another party. They have their own aesthetic, and certainly warrant further study. But what strikes me most about these prints and Polaroids are the messages they send when shuffled and juxtaposed against one another. These are some of the themes you will find in the exhibition upstairs. For instance, why is aging so ugly, in need of white cover up? And why is young and blonde so idealized and beautiful? How does society judge femininity? What exactly ‘makes’ a man? And how do you judge those who are somewhere sexually in-between? Are these charming socialites or elitist snobs? And are there any limits as to who or what can win fame, or even how one achieves it?

We live in a society where glamor, fame, and fortune are pandemic, but they can only flourish because of the image. Paparazzi or selfie, it is how one maintains celebrity. Warhol understood this and utilized the image above almost everything else to propagate the cult of celebrity, for without a face, anyone is just another name. Warhol’s photographic legacy is the cult of celebrity, an enticement for all of us to strive for our own 15 minutes of fame. Thank you.

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