New collection at MU shows process behind Warhol's work

Sunday, November 9, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:50 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 9, 2008

COLUMBIA — MU's Museum of Art and Archaeology was recently chosen by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to be the recipient of more than 150 "working" photographs from its collection.

The foundation's "interest isn’t just to get Warhol seen but to try and explore more of his legacy," museum director Alex Barker said.

Barker wanted to make sure people understood exactly what the museum had received. "These are working photographs that would be used to generate other prints," he said. "They're a combination of silver gelatin prints — about 50 or so silver gelatin prints — and a larger number of Polaroids.” 

The MU museum was one of several museums to receive sets of working photographs; the foundation was looking for museums such as MU's that do research.

Warhol loved to work from Polaroids. In fact, Polaroid kept a specific camera in production just for the iconic artist.  

"The Polaroids are of celebrities ... they look like preparation for some of his larger works," Barker said. "The silver gelatins are mostly environmental shots of unnamed people and geography."  

The celebrities include rock musicians Debbie Harry of Blondie and Ric Ocasek of The Cars.

"These works are largely for a process exhibit where we want to be able to talk about how he created his works," Barker said.

Warhol "worked from photographs and then did printing of the photographs in color to bring out certain things, and he had a very distinct method for doing this," Barker said. "He started with smaller-scale photographs and photographic studies and then increased their size and chose new colors for different sets of prints."

Warhol's biography at says that after graduating from the Carnegie Institute of Technology with a degree in pictorial design, he was a successful commercial artist. He was an illustrator for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and The New Yorker and also did advertising work and window displays for retail stores. 

Warhol's success was built on this past.

"He understood how to use new and emerging media in order to communicate who he was, and make himself an icon," Barker said. "He knew how to commercialize his art. He came out of a commercial and advertising background, and he understood how you could make yourself well known.

 "Warhol’s activities were less focused on advertising his art and more focused on advertising the artist, so that the works became important but by virtue of being a Warhol."

This is an important collection and something the museum is proud to have, he said. 

The small size of the Polaroids limits display possibilities. "It's a huge challenge for us because there aren't pieces that lend themselves to exhibition," Barker said.

Plans for the collection aren't concrete, but a large joint show with other museums is not out of the question. The museum has a self-portrait of Warhol that is an example of what these working photographs were used to produce, but it is not currently on display.

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