Saturday, March 19, 2011

Andy Warhol: Photographs

The only show of Andy Warhol's photographs ever exhibited during his lifetime closed three weeks before his death in February of 1987. It was not a showing of polaroids or photobooth pictures, it was an exhibition of 70 black and white prints sewn together in small grids of identical repeating photos. The grids ranged from four images to twelve with the strands of thread linking them hanging loosely in the center. Robert Miller Gallery who showed the work also published Andy Warhol: Photographs and I think its damn good - not just good, damn good.

The central motif of repetition in Warhol's screen prints is obviously present here as are the subjects of celebrity and the mundane. In a few he directly references himself; one with a four image grid of a man opening his jacket to reveal a t-shirt with a portrait of James Dean rendered in the style of Warhol, and another where he has rephotographed a portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong.

The book's order and facing pages are paired to link or contrast the immediate subject or to formally play off of one another; stacks of photo prints are paired with shots of leaves, lines of cars in a parking lot faces a grid of venetian blinds, a grouping of skyscrapers and porn theater posters, ceramic plates and a muscular statue, clouds photographed out a plane window face a white fur coat, the modesty of a young chinese soldier matched with a lingerie clad woman's back.

The act of looking is challenged as our eyes fight to draw themselves from the middle of the grids to see the "whole" and at the same time the individual. The tug and pull of these images makes our focal point dart around the grids searching for a comfortable point to rest - which can be nearly impossible.

The book itself is cleanly designed and edited by John Cheim who ten years later would start the gallery Cheim & Read. The printing is decent but be aware of the binding. After 25 years, the glue in most of these has dried out and the signatures have a tendency to split apart from one another.