When David Bowie released the song Andy Warhol in 1971 on his album Hunky Dory, referencing his desire to be “a standing cinema”, the white-wigged artist was already an icon. During the 1970s and 1980s, Warhol was in a unique place to capture the cultural elite, which is revealed in a show of photographs by the artist documenting the New York glitterati of those decades.
The museum-worthy group of 60 Warhol Polaroid photographs (priced from around £15,000) will be on display from February 2 to April 13 at Bastian, a well-established European gallery launching its new Mayfair space with the exhibition. The Polaroids capture the artist’s take on self-portraiture, alongside images of the famous and fantastic who crossed his path at places like Studio 54. The camera became a way to engage without having to really interact. Warhol was always the observer. The artist is both detached and firmly part of the world he depicts.
These Polaroids often became the basis for silkscreen portrait works – where the singularity of everyone from Diana Ross to Debbie Harry was flattened into colourful printed reproductions. The Polaroids, however, capture people in a more intimate, immediate way. The show features photographs on view for the first time, including images of artists Richard Hamilton and Joseph Beuys, as well as better-known photos of John Lennon, Jane Fonda and David Hockney.
Throughout this period, Warhol’s camera of choice was a special Polaroid Big Shot with an integrated flash, viewfinder and fixed focus. Nonetheless, the artist continued to experiment with different Polaroid films and processes, and the largest piece in the show is a rare 1979 self-portrait, measuring 81.3cm x 55.9cm. Warhol’s discomfort at being in front of the lens is mixed with his fascination with reproduction and image. What the show demonstrates is how this consumerist, rapid medium was the perfect match for an artist pulling apart our relationship with fame, money and art itself.