POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – People are Beautiful, a new exhibition of close to 100 rarely seen works by Andy Warhol, will be on view January 26 – April 15, 2018 at The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.
The exhibition, curated by Mary-Kay Lombino, explores shifting notions of beauty in the artist’s portraits from 1964 to 1985. The exhibition takes its title from a comment by Warhol about the production of his film portraits: “The lighting is bad, the camerawork is bad, the projection is bad, but the people are beautiful.” Warhol was initially an outsider among his subjects, longing to become liked and accepted by the famous and beautiful people he admired.
“Obsessed with glamor and beauty, an avid collector of celebrity tabloid photos, and plagued by insecurities about his own appearance since childhood, Warhol helped to redefine the term ‘beautiful’ and its parameters over and over during his lifetime,” states Ms. Lombino. He eventually became a consummate insider, celebrity artist, and favorite of the paparazzi but his notoriety never quashed his deep anxiety and self-doubt. People are Beautiful focuses entirely on portraits and investigates such themes as Celebrity and Stardom; The Patron-Artist Relationship; Fashion, Models, and the Party Scene; and the “Most Beautiful” Screen Tests. (View the exhibition checklist.)
Alongside portraits of superstars such as Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, and Jackie Kennedy are portraits from Warhol’s most socio-political series, Ladies and Gentlemen, which features images of trans people of color that he encountered at the New York nightclub, the Gilded Grape. Several large-scale colorful prints and dozens of color Polaroid and black-and-white photographs are on view as well as several portraits of Warhol including one by high-fashion photographer, Helmut Newton; a wall plastered with Warhol’s Self-Portrait Wallpaper (1974); and Self-Portrait with Fright Wig, an iconic Polaroid shot less than two years before his unexpected death in February 1987. This late self-portrait reflects Warhol’s ability to achieve fame by crafting a public persona that rivals the idols he fixated on over a lifetime. A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue will be produced in conjunction with the exhibition. A concurrent exhibition in the Hoene Hoy Photography Gallery features a selection of works from the permanent collection by Billy Name (born William Linich, 1940-2016), photographer and archivist at Warhol’s Factory in the 1960s.
People are Beautiful is supported by the Hoene Hoy Photography Endowment and by the Evelyn Metzger Exhibition Fund.
People are Beautiful is part of Warhol x 5, a series of exhibitions in 2018 organized by five college and university art museums in the region and drawing upon each other’s collections. Each museum focuses on a different theme, and all five exhibitions feature works donated by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. In addition to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, the other four museums participating in Warhol x 5 are the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz, the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College, the University Art Museum at the University at Albany, and the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College. The other exhibitions explore such themes as Warhol’s sustained interest in anniversaries, deaths, and celebrations (Dorsky Museum), his photographic portraits of unidentified subjects (CCS Hessel Museum), his work related to childhood and youth culture (University Art Museum, Albany), and his repetition of subjects across time and media (Neuberger Museum). Each museum will produce a publication to accompany the exhibitions. In conjunction with the Warhol x 5 exhibition series, a symposium will be held on April 12-13, 2018 on the campuses of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY and of SUNY New Paltz in New Paltz, NY. For more information, see events below.
Prints: In 1963, referring to his newfound process of silk-screen printing images repeatedly onto a single surface, Warhol famously told Artnews magazine interviewer Gene Swenson, “I want to be a machine and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.” This act of erasing the evidence of the artist’s hand in favor of a mass-produced, machine-like look, appealed to Warhol perhaps because of his work in the advertising world. Through repetition and by appropriating recognizable tabloid images, Warhol deliberately flattened the emotional impact of the images and presented a critique of the commodification of fame. Colorful prints depicting icons of beauty such as Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, and Alexander the Great are presented here with the candy-colored faces of Warhol’s Self-Portrait Wallpaper. Digressions from the original photograph, including ink bleeding over outlined areas, replacing colors (such as using blue for skin tones on Marilyn), and off-kilter registration lines, might be seen as imperfections by some and trashy by others, but for Warhol, they were proof that even without a picture-perfect image, these faces, already ingrained in our subconscious, read as symbols of beauty.
Photographs: While Warhol is best known for his prints and paintings, the core of his work is formed by photography and the act of photographing. In addition to his use of found photos as source material for his prints and paintings, Warhol shot over 30,000 photographs in his lifetime, possibly many more. Sometime around 1970 he acquired a Polaroid Big Shot camera, which became his favorite tool for capturing portraits. Even though Polaroid stopped making the Big Shot in 1973, Warhol continued to use the camera for many years by acquiring multiple models and repairing them when needed, sometimes with the help of the Polaroid Corporation. This imperfect camera that was prone to breaking down was made specifically to take portraits and had a way of diffusing the flash bulbs’ light which had a softening effect on its subjects’ faces. This appealed to Warhol who always wanted his subjects to look glamorous and beautiful. In addition, it had instant results, ready in sixty seconds, so Warhol could adjust his subjects and repeat his images over and over as he went, often creating numerous shots of the same subject until he was satisfied with the product. Close to fifty of Warhol’s Polaroid portraits are on view in the exhibition.
In addition to his portraits, often taken in the Factory, Warhol took pictures everywhere he went. As a fixture in the downtown Manhattan nightclub scene, he befriended models, fashion designers, actors, athletes, and rock stars he had once idolized from afar. From 1976 on, Warhol could be seen carrying his Minox EL, a small automatic-focus camera, loaded with Kodak black-and-white film, around his neck, snapping candids of the party scene at clubs in New York such as Le Club, Regine’s, Xenon, Le Jardin, Max’s Kansas City, and Studio 54. Warhol said of these snapshots, “My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous. It’s being in the right place, at the wrong time.”
Films: Between 1964 and 1966, Warhol shot around five hundred Screen Tests, silent, black-and-white, 3-minute portraits of his friends, colleagues, and acquaintances on 16mm film. One of his earliest and most ambitious explorations into portraiture and a comment on the subjectivity of beauty, the Screen Tests are now seen as some of Warhol’s truly groundbreaking work. The exhibition includes a selection from two compilations of Screen Tests: The Thirteen Most Beautiful Women and The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys whose titles were inspired by a 1962 New York City Police Department pamphlet entitled The Thirteen Most Wanted, a phrase that could be decoded to refer to sexual desire rather than police pursuit. When read in the context of Warhol’s own sexuality and that of his peers at a time when expression of gay sexuality was illegal, the titles reveal his identification with criminals and other transgressors. By presenting particular films under these suggestive titles, Warhol celebrates male and female beauty according to his own taste and desire while at the same time implying that there is a particular look that can be defined as beautiful.
About The Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program:
2007: The Board of Directors of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts launched The Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, which honored the 20th anniversary of the Warhol Foundation by making substantial gifts of Warhol’s photographic works to 183 college and university museums and galleries across the United States. A total of 28,500 photographs were donated to these permanent collections that year.
Each institution received approximately 100 Polaroid prints and 50 black-and-white gelatin silver prints with the subject matter including images of models, actors, artists, business tycoons, sports heroes, and socialites.
The goal of this gift program was to provide greater access to Warhol’s work, allowing it to be viewed and studied by a broad, diverse public. Taken together, these photographs survey the scope of Warhol’s aesthetic interests and demonstrate the reach of his curious, far-roaming eye.
In 2013 the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts established a second round of gifts of screen prints to universities and colleges, museums, galleries, and art collections across the United States. This gift expanded upon the public access mission of the earlier gift of photographs, providing unique opportunities to examine, research, and view Warhol’s work in printmaking. Vassar was a recipient of eight screen prints.
Opening Lecture and Reception
Friday, January 26, 2018
5:30pm, Taylor Hall, Room 102
Reception, 6:30pm, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Gallery talk with curator, Mary-Kay Lombino
Thursday, February 8, 2018
5pm, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Lupe and Blow Job: Films by Andy Warhol
Thursday, March 29, 2018
6pm, Rosenwald Film Theater, Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film
Reception, 8pm, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Warhol x 5 Displaying Warhol: Exhibition as Interpretation, a symposium focused on the history and significance of approaches to exhibiting Andy Warhol’s work.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Keynote Address: Blake Gopnick
6:00pm, Taylor Hall, Room 102
Reception, 7:15pm, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Friday, April 13, 2018
10am – noon, morning panel on curating Warhol x 5
Panelists include: Alex Kitnick, Mary-Kay Lombino, Corinna Schaming, Jacqueline Shilkoff, and Reva Wolf
Noon – 2pm lunch break
2pm – 4pm, afternoon panel on aspects of exhibiting Warhol’s work
Panelists include: Sheelagh Bevan, Claire Henry, and Anastasia James
SUNY New Paltz
Reception: 4:30 – 6pm Dorsky Museum, SUNY New Paltz
Major funding for the Displaying Warhol: Exhibition as Interpretation symposium has been provided by a State University of New York Conversations in the Disciplines grant, with additional contributions from the participating campuses. The SUNY Conversations in the Disciplines is designed to foster collaboration by bringing together SUNY faculty and visiting scholars from non-SUNY institutions to examine new approaches and trends, and promising research.
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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.