FAMOUS! (and not-so-famous): Polaroids by Andy Warhol

January 11 – March 2, 2018

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
“Dolly Parton,” 1985
Polacolor ER
4-1/4″ x 3-3/8″
Gift of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Opening reception Thursday, January 11 from 5 to 7 pm in Cohen Memorial Hall From 1970 to 1987, Andy Warhol took scores of Polaroid and black-and-white photographs, the vast majority of which were never seen by the public. These images often served as the basis for his commissioned portraits, silk-screen paintings, drawings, and prints. Some began as magazine assignments (many for his editors at Interview), album covers for musical artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, and Debbie Harry, or advertising campaigns including those for Absolut Vodka. In 2007, to commemorate its twentieth anniversary, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts launched the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program. Designed to give a broad public greater access to Warhol’s photographs, the program donated more than 28,500 of Warhol’s original Polaroids and gelatin silver prints to college and university museums and galleries across the country. Each institution received a curated selection of more than one hundred Polaroids and fifty black-and-white prints.

This January, the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery will present the largest selection of Warhol’s Polaroids exhibited to date from the gallery’s collection of 104 works. A number of black and white photographs that reveal the more private side of Warhol’s life and his circle of friends will be included in the exhibition. In order to help illustrate Warhol’s working methods, a large-scale screenprint, also donated by the Andy Warhol Foundation, and models of Polaroid cameras like the ones that he used, will be on view.

As the exhibition’s title suggests, the wide range of subjects including famous people—legends such as Dolly Parton, O. J. Simpson, Bianca Jagger (Mick Jagger’s first wife and a well-known human rights advocate] and Georgia O’Keeffe—and less famous people reveals that anyone who was prepared to pay cash for a private commission could be immortalized by Warhol, many of them attempting to elevate their own status by association with the artist himself. More than simply a record of the sitter, photography was a central tool for Warhol to create identity, with the medium often linked to celebrity in such a way that it became part of the process in validating fame.

The second in a three part series on portraiture, FAMOUS! (and not-so-famous): Polaroids by Andy Warhol is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph S. Mella, director, with support provided by the Dr. and Mrs. E. William Ewers Gift for Fine Arts.

Special Program

Picture Me!

January 25 from 4 to 7 p.m.

Students: Take a Polaroid, just like Andy Warhol, and become a part of the exhibition itself!


Text adapted, in part, from “Andy Warhol’s Photographic Legacy,” in The Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, Vol. III of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Twenty-Year Report, 1987–2007 (New York: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., 2007), 4–5.

View this volume as a pdf.

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