The WWCC Art Gallery at Western Wyoming Community College will host an exhibit of Polaroid photographs taken by famed artist Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987) early in his career. “The Photographic Legacy,” featuring approximately 150 photographs taken by the artist, runs from Wednesday, Jan. 18, through Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Rock Springs campus. There will be a Gallery Talk and discussion with WWCC Gallery Director and Professor of Art Florence McEwin, Ph.D. on Thursday, Jan. 26, at 12:30 p.m. in the Gallery.
Western’s collection of Warhol photographs was provided to the College by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in 2007 as part of the Foundation’s Photographic Legacy Project. Western’s Gallery was one of 183 college and university galleries to receive an equivalent gift of images by the artist, and was one of very few two-year schools to receive such a gift. The total gift consisted of 28,543 original Warhol photographs, valued in excess of $28 million.
Images in Western’s collection include photos of celebrities, including singer Carly Simon, football star O.J. Simpson, and U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, among others. Other images include Polaroids of anonymous subjects and well-known serigraphs featuring Annie Oakley, as well as four other large serigraphs, from Warhol’s “Cowboys and Indians” series.
While he was a young boy growing up in Pennsylvania, Andy’s older brother opened a photo store. Among the many attractions for Andy at that store was a photo booth that took quick multiple images, with immediate development. In a pre-digital age, this was instant visual gratification. The store was located close to where Andy grew up, in a strictly working-class neighborhood. Since its introduction into the United States at the turn of the 19th century, photography almost immediately become the portrait possibility of choice for an ordinary citizen, as opposed to the oil paintings of the wealthy, which emulated the aristocracy of Europe and elsewhere. Andy Warhol, known as much for his eccentricities as for his artistic brilliance, became, paradoxically, the artist of everyman, using photography’s middle-class immediacy and techniques.
In later years, Andy used the concept of the photo booth – the most mundane form of portraiture – as an art form and tool by which to make a living. Instead of the photo booth, he employed a Polaroid – a type of camera affording instantaneous results using a wet process. Andy would snap multiple images with no attempt to flatter the sitter. He heightened the sense of the camera as machine and attempted to dehumanize and equalize the subject by having them apply white face paint, Geisha-like, to deflect intimacy.
“The majority of works in Western’s collection fall into the genre of these preliminary Polaroids, which would later have been selectively made into an enlarged silk-screened photo image with the vividness and starkness of the preliminary Polaroid translation from ‘reality’,” McEwin explained. “Western is honored to have this collection of Andy Warhol’s making process, which reflects a truly American artist who marked his time and place with an uncanny sincerity and lack of pretense.”
According to Foundation President Joel Wachs, the aim of the Photographic Legacy Program is to provide greater access to Warhol’s artwork and process, and to enable a wide range of people from communities across the country to view and study this important yet relatively unknown body of Warhol’s work.
“A wealth of information about Warhol’s process and his interactions with his sitters is revealed in these images,” said Jenny Moore, curator for the Photographic Legacy Project. “Through his rigorous – and almost unconscious – consistency in shooting, the true idiosyncrasies of his subjects were revealed. Often, he would shoot a person or event with both cameras, cropping one in Polaroid color as a ‘photograph’ and snapping the other in black and white as a ‘picture.’ By presenting both kinds of images side by side, the Photographic Legacy Program allows viewers to move back and forth between moments of Warhol’s ‘art,’ ‘work’ and ‘life’ – inseparable parts of a fascinating whole.”
Western Wyoming Community College is pleased to present “Warhol: The Photographic Legacy,” opening Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the WWCC Art Gallery on the Rock Springs campus. This and all gallery shows are free and open to the public. The Gallery Talk will be held in the gallery at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26. For more information on the Warhol exhibit, contact Professor McEwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.