Big Shots: Andy Warhol Photography of the '70s & '80s
January 12, 2011 – April 3, 2011
In 1970 Andy Warhol purchased a Polaroid Big Shot camera, a bulky, somewhat unreliable piece of equipment that had a fixed focal length of just three feet. The quiet, voyeuristic artist turned his lens on all he knew, from celebrities to the visitor from next door.
“Big Shots: Andy Warhol Photographs of the ’70s & ’80s,” includes selections from 100 Polaroids and 56 gelatin silver black-and-white images donated to the museum in 2008 by the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, a division of the Andy Warhol Foundation in New York. The donation was part of a larger gift of 28,000 photographs to nearly 200 U.S. institutions in recognition of the foundation’s 20th anniversary.
From his childhood Warhol was obsessed with fame and beauty. He collected many photographs of celebrities. After 1976 he was never without a camera. He took nearly a roll of film a day, leaving over sixty thousand photographs in his estate. The Beach Museum of Art’s photographs were made by Warhol between 1971 and 1987, the year of his death. During this period the artist was at the height of his fame and business success.
The Pittsburgh native began his career in commercial advertisement in New York and was instantly recognized for his unique style. Nearly all of the screenprinted images of celebrities and commercial products (soup cans and Coca Cola bottles) for which he became known were based on photography, whether taken by him or found in newspaper archives and magazines. The importance of Andy Warhol as photographer has until recently been overlooked.
The Beach Museum of Art gift aptly illustrates the artist’s practice as a cameraman, from his request that his Polaroid subjects sit in a chair in his studio and wear a thick coat of white make-up; to his habit of hiding behind a mobile camera at social events; to quieter moments when he trained his lens on inanimate objects such as a pair of shoes (the subject of an early commercial art assignment).
One Polaroid in the Beach Museum of Art collection shows Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in MGM’s 1939 The Wizard of Oz, in costume. Hamilton was one of Warhol’s famous neighbors. Another black and white print presents party companion Bianca Jagger, whom Warhol met in 1971 after she and Mick were married. Warhol described her as, besides himself, one of the most “socially diseased” people he knew, always wanting to go out and to make a big, dramatic entrance.