Big Shots: Andy Warhol’s Portraits of Celebrities @Danziger

JTF (just the facts): A total of 38 color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung in the single room gallery space. All of the works are unique Polacolor Type 108 Polaroid prints, each roughly 4×3; the images were taken between 1971 and 1986. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: By now, it’s common knowledge that Andy Warhol used photography as an intermediate process step in making many of his paintings, particularly his commissioned portraits. This small show gathers together a selection of his head shot Polaroids from the 1970s and 1980s, capturing the biggest celebrities of the times from the worlds of fashion, music, art, and politics, reflected in the glow of his own massive fame.

While these pictures were originally taken as source material for later manipulation and appropriation, they have a compelling and unmistakable style; Warhol clearly had a aubtle eye for the composition of photographic portraits and imposed that originality on his subjects, making them his own. Given that the images would later be pared down to lines and then screen printed, the compositions needed to have strong formal outlines. To heighten the contrast, many of the women were made up in bright red lipstick and white foundation, or have billowing explosions and swirls of hair; Diane von Furstenberg, Diana Ross and Jane Fonda all look particularly extreme. The men are often seen from the side or in profile, sometimes with a prop, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bulging arm or Truman Capote’s fedora.

As I have seen more and more of these portraits over the years, I have come to the conclusion that while his signature style has become overexposed and ubiquitous, we discount Warhol’s talents at our own peril. Think about what he accomplished with these pictures: he took the most famous and most photographed people of the decade, sat them down, and in a matter of moments, transformed them into something completely new with a seemingly simple head shot. Perhaps we can call this a situation where his fame superseded that of his sitters (an amazing feat of its own), but I remain impressed by his ability to consistently place his carefully controlled artistic mark on rock stars, presidents and other icons who would normally resist such treatment. Try this test when you’re in the gallery: block out who the famous person actually is and just look at the way each portrait is structured. Yes, this show is a parade of incandescent stars, but in the end, it’s Warhol on display, not his subjects.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $10000 and $15000. Warhol’s Polaroid portraits can be regularly found in the secondary markets, with prices ranging between $3000 and $21000 in recent years, mostly based on the relative fame of the person pictured.

My favorite image(s) in the show were the group of four images each entitled Self Portrait in Fright Wig, 1986; they’re on the right in the bottom installation shot. The background for these pictures is black, so Warhol, his wild wig and big black sunglasses emerge from the darkness; when he later turned them into two color paintings, the portraits became even freakier.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Review: Flavorwire (here)
  • Exhibit: @Nasher, 2009 (here)

Big Shots: Andy Warhol’s Polaroids of Celebrities
Through February 26th

Danziger Projects
534 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 color and black-and-white photographs, framed in white/black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller ... Read on.

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