“Warhol Snapshots: 1973-1986”
Through Oct. 25
The rhythmic clicking of an overhead projector; students sprawling across vintage couches; The Velvet Underground spewing from old-school speakers. “Warhol Snapshots: 1973-1986,” on display at the University’s Museum of Art through Oct. 25, is not your ordinary, sacred art gallery. Instead, it’s a space to unwind after the stresses that come along with the first weeks of classes and a unique opportunity to spend some time with one of the most influential artists of all time: Andy Warhol.
“Warhol Snapshots” isn’t a typical Warholian exhibition. It doesn’t ask the frustrating question “What is art?” and it doesn’t connect consumerism with art. Brillo boxes and Marilyn Monroe are nowhere to be seen. Instead, candid photos and portrait-like Polaroids offer a more intimate depiction of Warhol in the later years of his life.
“It was a more personal side to Andy Warhol and I think you’re definitely getting more of a glimpse into his private thoughts,” said Christina Chang, a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Art Department and Guest Curator of the gallery. “Those candid shots or those photographs that he took while walking down the street, those are evidence of what he found interesting, what caught his eye. You kind of get a sense of looking through his eyes through the photographs.”
The gallery is broken down into three main parts: black-and-white photographs of individuals and landscapes, color Polaroids and silver gelatin prints. All of these are projected onto a wall to be enjoyed in a lounge-esque space.
“I kind of decided to downplay Warhol as Warhol and (decided to focus on) how does one relate to photographs, how does one look at photographs, how does one engage them, why are photographs taken?” Chang said.
The subjects of the pictures range from glamorous (Liza Minnelli) to disgusting (a man picking his nose) to flat-out silly (a man comically eating a banana).
In a way, viewing the photographs and Polaroids in the gallery is akin to skimming through a Facebook photo album. As Chang explained, the audience is undefined and unknown, but the subjects are consciously putting themselves out there.
“You’re also kind of spying on these people,” Chang added. “On Facebook you can sort of have this interaction with people without ever having them know that you’re interacting with them by looking at their photo albums. I definitely think there’s that aspect where there’s a sneakiness to looking at these photographs.”
In fact, walking through the gallery proves to be strangely similar to the modern phenomenon of “Facebook stalking.” Instead of clicking a computer key, however, you’re transferring your eye from picture to picture.
“I think that photographs are so part of our everyday experience,” Chang said. “We’re so adept at processing photographs now that we can just scan them.”
Many pictures are titled “Anonymous” and have no description labels. This creates a more immediate experience for the viewer and reinforces the intimate connection between viewer and artist.
Adding to the feeling of flipping through a photo album, the steady cadence of the projector in the background helps keep a sense of pace, not allowing viewers to get stuck on a single photograph.
In reference to the Polaroids, Chang explained, “Since there are so many of the same person but in different poses, we’re essentially scanning them until our eye picks up an interesting detail and then we’ll pause. I think the photographs just kind of ask that.”
For example, a Polaroid of a lobster and three legs wearing high-heeled shoes break the train of the posing subjects. Aside from these random pictures serving as an aesthetic break in the sequences, the former is also a nuanced statement from Andy Warhol as a gay artist.
“If you look closely, the middle foot is a man’s foot,” Chang said, commenting on “how hairy that guy’s leg is.”
The manageable subject matter allows for a more accessible Warhol, an artist that some find difficult to grasp.
“I think these photographs give people a different picture of Warhol,” Chang explained. “Everyone knows the Campbell’s soup cans and the idea that he’s drawing his source imagery from popular culture.”
“Warhol Snapshots” stays clear of this typical pop-art expectation.
But it’s also the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere of the space that separates “Warhol Snapshots” from other Warhol exhibitions. The lounge area is tastefully presented and allows for contemplation, education and relaxation. Carefully chosen music selections are displayed on a flat-screen TV, books are spread out on a table and comfy couches are placed near the wall projections that provide tidbits of information.
“I was definitely thinking in terms of how can we not make this not such a white cube sort of exhibition and have it intersect with people’s everyday lives,” Chang said. “We’re asking you to do something instead of just stand there and look.”
Falling in line with what Chang refers to as the “fresh new vibe that (UMMA) is trying to cultivate with the community,” the exhibit has some special events to draw in students.
Films about Warhol will also be shown in UMMA’s Sterns Auditorium, including “Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol” and “Scenes From the Life of Andy Warhol” on Sept. 26; “Painters Painting: The New York Art Scene 1940-1970,” “End of the Art World” and “The Cool School: How LA Learned to Love Modern Art” on Sept. 27; and “Nico Icon” and “A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory” on Oct. 3.
Additionally, a photo shoot will take place in conjunction with the University Musical Society’s presentation of indie-rock outfit Grizzly Bear at the Michigan Theater. Ticket holders for the Sept. 26 concert are encouraged to dress up for their 15 minutes of fame. According to UMMA’s website, “Pictures will be uploaded onto both UMS’s Facebook page and UMMA’s Flickr page, and may even be included in the installation of UMMA’s ‘Warhol Snapshots.’ ”
The next time you think about logging onto Facebook to look at candid pictures, head over to UMMA instead to see a side of Andy Warhol not often seen. A space as well thought-out and attractive as “Warhol Snapshots” should not be overlooked.