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

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

(January 11 – March 2, 2018)

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.  Additionally, 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 such as 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 over 28,500 of Warhol’s original Polaroids and gelatin silver prints to more than 180 college and university museums and galleries across the country. Each institution received a curated selection of over 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. Also included will be a number of black and white photographs that reveal the more private side of Warhol’s life and his circle of friends. A large-scale screenprint, also donated by the Andy Warhol Foundation, as well as models of polaroid cameras like the ones he used, also will be on view in order to help illustrate his working methods.


As the exhibition’s title suggests, the famous (legends such as Dolly Parton, O.J. Simpson, Bianca Jagger, Mick Jagger’s first wife, and Georgia O’Keefe) but equally others that were less so, reveal that anyone who was prepared to pay cash for a private commission could be immortalized by Warhol, often in their attempt 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.


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.


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.