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Hello, Edie: Warhol’s Outer and Inner Space.

Picturing His Days

By Nadine Wasserman

Andy Warhol: Portraits from the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program

Andy Warhol: Outer and Inner Space

Look This Way: Photographic Portraits from the University Art Collections

University Art Museum, University at Albany, through Dec. 21


Obsessed with celebrity? Think you should be one? Blame it on Andy Warhol. As a pioneer life-blogger, Warhol sought to make even the most mundane aspects of his life seem significant. That’s not altogether a bad thing, but most of us aren’t generally interested in what average people are doing every second of their lives. Aside from their not being all that compelling, we’re busy dealing with our own lackluster banality!

In reality, Warhol’s interest in celebrity was not as crass as it is often portrayed. His obsession with stars and society people was part of a larger inquiry into American pop culture that infiltrated all aspects of his work. Using multiple mediums, Warhol reproduced the world around him, and photography was crucial to his art making.

Warhol took some 100,000 photographs between 1977 and 1987. On display on the second floor of the University Art Museum are 102 of his Polaroids and 51 of his gelatin silver prints. Given to the museum by the Andy Warhol Foundation’s Photographic Legacy Program, these images attest to the artist’s commitment to recording his surroundings. They are a visual record of Warhol’s milieu, the people he encountered, the places he visited, and the day-to-day aspects of his life as artist and archivist. He explained that “a picture means I know where I was every minute. That’s why I take pictures. It’s a visual diary.” Warhol used the camera much like he used a tape recorder, as a surrogate, a mediator, and as raw material for his paintings, silk-screens, films, and novels.

In this exhibition, the photographs are configured into groupings based on either staged Polaroid portraits or more spontaneous black-and-white images. While the Polaroids are more intimate, the black and white images are more casual. Some depict social settings in which groups of people such as celebrities, models, socialites, and powerful business people interact, while others are street scenes or studies of a single gem or a hotel bathroom. Driven by curiosity about other people’s lives, Warhol was fascinated with portraiture. The Polaroids, which often were used as visual aids for his silkscreen portraits, are composed of “sittings” in which people are posed for the camera. Many depict well-known celebrities and business tycoons while others are of casual acquaintances or the children of patrons. Some individuals are presented in multiple head shots while others, mostly celebrities, are represented by just one single image. Examples include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pia Zadora, Diana Vreeland, Carolina Herrera, and Georgia O’Keeffe with Juan Hamilton. The inclusion of single celebrity shots fails to capture Warhol’s process. Given his fascination with repetition and reproduction, the multiple images of the same person are far more revealing.

The double-screen video work titled Outer and Inner Space is also presented as an example of Warhol’s pioneering efforts at film and video portraiture. In it, Edie Sedgwick converses with her own video image. The viewer watches Sedgwick watching herself while keeping up an incessant and mostly inaudible commentary. The quadruple image is haunting, sad, and endlessly fascinating. It is a great balance to the static images surrounding it.

Downstairs are equally compelling photographic portraits from the museum’s permanent collection. There are recognizable images by Edward Steichen of Greta Garbo, Alfred Steiglitz, Lillian Gish, and other celebrities of the silver screen. There are also portraits by Lucien Clergue of the artists Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau and portraits by Helmut Newton of the artist David Hockney and the fashion and jewelry designer Paloma Picasso and even of Warhol. Newton’s images of fashion and celebrity parallel those of Warhol’s upstairs. Also mirroring his more candid style are photographs by Larry Clark and Mary Ellen Mark. Perhaps the most interesting correlation between the two shows are the photographs by Larry Fink that capture social interactions using dramatic light and shadow.

Both exhibitions offer much to contemplate about what makes a captivating image. If you don’t get your fill of Warhol here, you can look forward to seeing more of the Legacy Program photographs at two other area venues that also received gifts, Union College and Skidmore College. But if you just can’t wait, you can head up north to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to see Warhol Live: Music and Dance in Andy Warhol’s Work or head over to London to see Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms. I hear the dollar is up against the pound.

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