Archive for Monday, February 5, 2001

Exhibit puts Warhol in focus

Collection of artist’s photographs on display in New York

February 5, 2001


— For Andy Warhol, there were photos and silkscreen paintings, photos and films, photos and prints.

But most of all, there were photos.

There were grisly pictures of car crashes, mundane shots of tuna cans and celebrity images of face after beautiful, vapid face.

For Warhol, the camera was his constant companion. In his lifetime, he took around 100,000 snapshots and Polaroids, and collected many more.

In the first major exhibit to explore the close and complex relationship between his art and a medium that appears as essential to him as eyes or a mouth, "Andy Warhol: Photography" provides a new perspective on a pioneer of the Pop art movement.

The show at Manhattan's International Center of Photography features about 300 photos, including images Warhol used as source material for his famous paintings (and the paintings themselves), photo booth and Polaroid portraits and even grids made up of stitched-together prints of a single image.

To introduce Warhol's obsession with image, the show arranged thematically opens with photographs of Warhol himself. In photos spanning decades of his life, we see him searching for a comfortable "look" of his own at times sweet, in drag, posed like a sort of male Garbo or hiding behind his hands and somehow never finding it.

Later, he turns his camera outward, carrying it with him everywhere.

"He was not a professional photographer. He had no curiosity at all about technique and never had a really fine camera, but he was a passionate amateur and he had a very good eye," says Christoph Heinrich, who organized the show. "The camera became a kind of organ for him. It helped him sense things."

The exhibit focuses on photos as sources for his other work, rather than as artistic works by themselves.

Underlining the intimate relationship between his photos and his work in other media, there are also more than 20 films, prints and paintings. Continuously running are Warhol's films, "Sleep" and "Kiss," as well as his bizarre "Screen Tests" of the 1960s featuring 3-minute moving portraits of Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick and Susan Sontag, among others.

And there is row after row after row of photo booth images. From sheer quantity, he was able to find the quality he wanted.

"He'd send a model into a photo booth and tell the person to take $50 worth of 25-cent photo strips. Or he made 150 or 200 Polaroids of a model before choosing one image to work with," Heinrich says.

Part of the beauty of the exhibit is that by showing so many of the images Warhol used and rejected it allows a glimpse of what he was trying to achieve.

"His films look like still portraits and his photos, particularly his many photo booth images, look like films," Heinrich says. "It's fascinating to see the way he played with images and media."

Examining a wall of photo agency pictures of Marilyn Monroe, you see that the image he selected made famous through his silkscreen paintings was perhaps the most vacuous of them all.

"He had a folder with about 150 photos. He has her looking sexy or sad or happy, and he chooses the one in which her face looks totally empty," he says. "That way, when he changes the color in his silkscreen, he can add something to it. It's a blank slate. He didn't want warmth or emotion, he wanted cool and beautiful."

The show, which was originally organized by Heinrich for the Hamburg Kunsthalle, in Germany, and then seen at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, will remain on view in New York, its third and final venue, until March 18.

It is accompanied by a hefty hardback catalog, "Andy Warhol Photography," with more than 400 photos and eight historical and interpretive essays.

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