INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR PHOTOGRAPHY, NEW YORK
Andy Warhol is to photography as Shakespeare is to words, Freud to cigars, and Lagerfeld, fans. How impressive then that one not-too-huge exhibition has taken on such a whopper so adequately. The ICP show, which originated in 1999 at the Hamburg Kunsthalle, includes photos of Warhol shot by himself and by others (Avedon, Mapplethorpe, etc.), sources for his paintings, his insider-paparazzo snaps, and photos qua photos. A blowup of the pallid Pop prince dwarfs entering viewers: Nosferatu-ish yet modern, Warhol warily clutches rosary beads, eyeing Cecil Beaton, the dapper shutterbug reflected in the mirror behind him. Producing by reproducing, the Factory cranked out media-created Superstars in a profoundly shallow world--ours--that confused identity and image, original and copy. Warhol vampirized everything from Jackies to soup cans into Warhols, in a now-familiar orgy of "branding" where star and voyeur, name and nobody became one.
He lived the dream that glamour is contagious. Like a great movie you've seen several times too many, if Warhol's issues feel tired, it's because they've so infected our style bloodstream--you try to reawaken them by appreciating details. His fiesta of boundary-blurring glamour so permeates our fashion unconscious that the famous Avedon portrait of the draped and undraped, rainbow-gendered Factory hipsters seems to anticipatorily plagiarize the "grunge"-era Gap ads that ripped it off.
Photos of the famed celebreholic reveal his tics: We see him as a tot in a photo-booth (the machine); as ingenue posing Garbo-like among pansies (the fairy); as bewigged Factory auteur among hench-freaks (the Superstar); as replicated by Warhol look-alikes (identity issues); and as torso seamed with Frankensteinian scars from the botched assassination (celebrity = death). One is struck by the disparity between Warhol's image obsession and the lamentable raw material he was saddled with; between his media-machine glamour fantasy and the body that defies aesthetic mastery. Reflecting undead Superstars, Fame, and Nothingness, Warhol's "look" is uncannily corpselike. In one shot, he's a lumpy-faced wreck in a duet with his own shadow. In Self-Portrait in Drag, 1981-82, his bushy white eyebrows show fuzzily under carefully drawn-on glamour arches. He's heavily spackled like his portrait subjects, the better for the camera to fudge "flaws." In Self-Portrait, 1979, a large-format Polaroid pitilessly bares his mottl ed skin in a strangely candid-seeming close-up. His gaze seems to mirror our own as he mouths an expression of distaste at what he sees. Yet just a few years later, Warhol would totter down runways as a professional Zoli model. Finally living his "working girl" fantasy, he looks moribund. His self-portrait paintings in camouflage and black-on-black are great-looking icons, redeeming bleh flesh through extreme stylization.
The show traces Warhol's early use of photo sources for the death-tinged paintings of Stars (widowed Jackie) and Disasters (Car Crash), with examples from his stash of tabloids and Hollywood publicity shots. A photo of Shirley Temple poignantly autographed to "Andrew Warhola" establishes the Pittsburgh-born waif's precocious yen for celebrity relics--and now is a Warhol relic itself. His Marilyn hangs next to his equally fetching portrait of art dealer Holly Solomon; reflecting a world where image is reality, he "Factory-produced" his client's real fantasy of herself as a Hollywood-style glamour puss: "I wanted to be Brigitte Bardot," Solomon said. …