Fifteen Seconds of Fame: The Andy Warhol Polaroids

Chris Evert,  1977. | Photo: Andy Warhol.
Chris Evert, 1977. | Photo: Andy Warhol.

In partnership with The Luckman Fine Arts Complex. The Luckman Fine Arts Complex is the home of professional visual and performing arts on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles.


A few years ago The Luckman Gallery was fortunate to receive a binder filled with Andy Warhol Polaroids as a gift from the Andy Warhol Foundation. Various university galleries and museums around the country were gifted a curated selection of original Polaroids and silver gelatin prints as part of the foundation's Photographic Legacy Program. From over 28,000 photographs, we received 155. With the exception of two, all the Polaroids are portraits. The personalities range from tennis star Chris Evert, musician Billy Squier, fashion designer Carolina Herrera, British artists Gilbert & George to random unidentified men and women. I remember the box arriving, opening it, lifting the binder out, and thumbing through the Polaroids. I've stood in front of hundreds of Warhols over the years, usually from a foot or two away and the neighboring eyeballs of a gallery guard, but this was different. I was holding art by Andy Warhol in my hands, mesmerized and seduced. Why? Why is it every time there's an Andy Warhol documentary on television, no matter how many times I've seen it, I'm incapable of changing the channel? What is it about that grainy black & white 60's footage of Andy in his studio that never gets old -- the one of him in a Breton striped t-shirt, black jeans, pointy shoes, dark sunglasses, floppy wig, and camera in hand? Then, I was struck with memories of being in an undergraduate student in art school and how Andy was popular in undergrad, yet passé in graduate school. For me, it was the reverse. I rejected Andy at eighteen. His output was so prolific (over 100 paintings within three months), his process so mechanical and contrary to mine, I questioned: at what point does the work stop being art and become simply labor? It wasn't until several years later, when I'd become more informed with his entire body of work, that I realized the labor was the work, or rather, he was the work.

Ron Duguay, 1982. | Photo: Andy Warhol.
Ron Duguay, 1982. | Photo: Andy Warhol.

Fast forward to four months ago: I was confronted with the challenge of how to present this collection in a unique way, especially since so many other galleries and museums have done similar shows. One day my iPod was on shuffle and a song played, which I hadn't heard for years. The song was "Work" from an album by Lou Reed and John Cale called "Songs for Drella." Songs for Drella was a concept album about Andy Warhol. And "Drella" was Andy's nickname, a contraction of "Dracula" and "Cinderella." Hearing the song motivated me to listen to the entire album again, which served as an inspiration for how to present the show, specifically lyrics like the following:


He'd get to the factory early
If you'd ask him he'd tell you straight out
It's just work, the most important thing is work
No matter what I did it never seemed enough
He said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, "How many songs did you write?"
I'd written zero, I lied and said "Ten."
"You won't be young forever
You should have written fifteen"
It's work, the most important thing is work


 -- From the song "Work"

Joey Arias. | Photo: Andy Warhol.
Joey Arias. | Photo: Andy Warhol.

Andy was obsessed with work. I fixated on that idea, and determined the exhibition would emphasize the actual labor involved in his art production. It was important not to misrepresent the Polaroids. Warhol thought of them as sketches. They were one step in many steps to an end result. And so the Polaroids are presented stripped down and autonomous. They lean against the wall, evenly spaced, like a deck of cards. Each subject is treated equally, one not more important than the other. Additionally, we produced a video using archival footage edited to the song "Faces and Names"1, showing how the Polaroids became the basis to other works. Too often people think art is like a Hot Pocket. You put it in the microwave and 60 seconds later you have instant art. Making art is hard. It's significant the video convey that. The exhibition design layout is also minimal and incorporates Andy's early color palette, notably the Campbell Soup paintings and Brillo box sculptures. Interestingly, after the show opened, I came across installation images of Warhol's first solo exhibit in Los Angeles, the debut of his "Campbell's Soup Cans." The paintings were not originally hung in a grid as seen in many reproductions, but rather, sitting on a shelf leaning against the wall in a line. It's installed very similar to the Polaroid's currently on display at The Luckman. This wasn't intentional. However, since the book in which I found these images exists on my bookshelf, perhaps it was subconscious.

Sonia Rykiel | Photo: Andy Warhol.
Sonia Rykiel | Photo: Andy Warhol.

Andy has always been a recurring influence, but always accidental. Every once in a great while he arrives, unannounced, either through a book, the TV, an exhibition, a conversation...I admire his risk-taking and his ability to switch gears effortlessly between mediums. He dabbled in everything. Andy made films ("Sleep;" "Empire;" "Chelsea Girls"). Andy created multimedia installations ("The Exploding Plastic Inevitable"). Andy produced one of the most influential rock albums of all time ("The Velvet Underground" and "Nico"), and an iconic album cover to go with it. Andy founded his own magazine (Interview), which still exists today. Andy created his own television shows ("Andy Warhol's TV;" "Fifteen Minutes"). Andy wrote books ("The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again"). And as far as I know, he's the only artist with an assassination attempt on his or her life. Recently, I learned from Andy to embrace mistakes. His adopted name, after all, originated from a mistake. During his early career as a commercial graphic artist, a magazine publication mistakenly credited him, omitting the "a" at the end of his last name "Warhola". He became "Warhol" ever since. Then later, when he was confronted about the random imperfections in the repetitive images of his "Marilyn" series, he dismissed it and remarked, "I like it that way. It's part of the art."

Carolina Herrera, 1978. | Photo: Andy Warhol.
Carolina Herrera, 1978. | Photo: Andy Warhol.

Some say images have no feeling, I think there's a
Deeper meaning
Mechanical precision or so it's seeming
Instigates a cooler feeling
I love multiplicity of screenings
Things born anew display new meanings
I think images are worth repeating and repeating
And repeating


-- From the song "Images"

Photo: Andy Warhol.
Photo: Andy Warhol.

I wish I was a robot or a machine
Without a feeling or a thought
People who want to meet the name I have
Are always disappointed when they meet me
Faces and names I wish they were the same
Faces and names only cause problems for me
Faces and names


-- From the song "Faces and Names"

Steve Rubell. | Photo: Andy Warhol.
Steve Rubell. | Photo: Andy Warhol.


1. Song from "Songs for Drella" by Lou Reed and John Cale.


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