Polaroids have power. Andy Warhol understood that perhaps more than any other modern artist.
Though in the past few years Polaroids have become popular among millennials and Generation Z, Warhol used the medium in a much more focused and intentional way than many who try to recreate the now vintage photography style.
At the University at Albany's University Art Museum, visitors are getting an unusual view of Warhol’s Polaroids this summer with "Younger Than Today: Photographs of Children (and sometimes their mothers) by Andy Warhol.”
“[The] Polaroid images that Warhol took of children have a very different style to them. When one thinks of Warhol, one doesn’t think of how complicated he was,” said Corinna Ripps Schaming, interim director and curator at the museum.
Warhol spent much of his childhood feeling like an outsider. He was often ill and was separated from other children, spending much of his time in hospitals and at doctor's appointments. However, the way he depicts childhood in this exhibition reveals a compassionate, at times nostalgic view of that time. His portraits of children feel intimate and authentic, not posed or directed.
There are more than 50 photos on exhibit at the University Art Museum, many of which were donated by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in 2008. While Warhol’s work was often ironic and sometimes took a cold view of the world, his Polaroids reveal what Scamming calls a more tender side of the artist. They’re also not star-studded, unlike many of his other works. Taken in his studio, known as "The Factory,” between 1974 and 1985, he photographed people who came to visit him.
In “Corine Arslanian with Sevan and Vahakn,” Corine looks above the camera, perhaps at Warhol himself, as one child squirms out of the frame and the other looks directly into the camera. “Heather Watts with Unidentified Child,” shows Watts, in Audrey Hepburn-esque style, sleeping peacefully next to a sleeping child wrapped with care in a blanket.
“They have a very candid quality to them, less stylized,” Schaming said.
And although his celebrity portraits aren’t the focus of the show, there are a few worth highlighting.
In “Diana Ross" and "Tracee Ross,” both crane their necks to look straight at the viewer. Tracee, who is very young in the photo, stands in a more open position than her mother. The portrait of Diana was used to create the album cover of her “Silk Electric” album.
Beyond the Ross portraits, there’s a melancholy Polaroid of Jade Jagger, holding her teddy bear. “ . . . Taken the year of Mick and Bianca Jagger’s divorce, Warhol's camera serves as a distancing mechanism that ultimately reinforces the underlying sadness inherent in the child-toy relationship,” writes Schaming.
“Younger Than Today: Photographs of Children (and sometimes their mothers) by Andy Warhol” is part of “Warhol x 5," a collaboration among five university art collections, including, in addition to UAlbany: The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College; the Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase; the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz; and the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College. The institutions borrowed Warhol pieces from one another to zero in on different aspects of his life and work.
Schaming hopes that “Younger Than Today,” will make visitors consider a side of Warhol they might not yet be familiar with.
“[To] think about Warhol beyond the one-dimensional way he’s seen,” Schaming said.
Beyond the Warhol exhibition, two other exhibitions recently opened at the museum: “Mickey Mouse has grown up a Cow” and “Triple.” The former works largely in relation to the Warhol exhibition. It’s an exhibition of videos that touch on parenting and on the representation of children. It brings together videos by Kalup Linzy, Yoshie Sakai, Frances Stark and Abbey Williams.
The other exhibition, “Triple,” is quite distinct from the other two exhibits in terms of content. Artists Alex Bradley Cohen, Louis Fratino and Tschabalala Self depict intimate portraits of friends, lovers and bold characters in a style outside traditional figurative painting.
All three exhibitions will run through Sept. 15. For information, visit albany.edu/museum.