message from the dean:
The social mission of the arts and humanities at UC San Diego is
central to a great public university. They teach us how to read and write and
show us ways of teaching others to live fully and creatively in society…
Office of the Dean
Division of Arts and Humanities
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive # 0406
La Jolla, CA 92093-0406
tel: (858) 534-6270
fax: (858) 534-0091
On view at the Office of the Dean
Literature Building, room 410
December 3, 2012 - February 5, 2013
Source: Begovich Gallery, Cal State Fullerton
Curated by Visual Arts PhD candidate Matthew Jarvis
Student Curation Fellowship funding provided by Dean of Arts and Humanities/ Visual Arts Department
I somehow always reach a state of confusion when visiting Warhol’s work. On the one hand Warhol seems so “done” so overly iconic that everyone, even those who have no knowledge of art, can muster up soup can or Monroe in relation to the name Andy Warhol. However, what of the other Warhol? The man I think of now is the pre-Sixties Andrew Warhola. This was a gay man who drew little pencil drawings of nude men at Serendipity Two, a Manhattan sweet shop, as well as lavish and ridiculous shoes for department store ads; a skinny, awkward man with horn-rimmed glasses and wearing a tweed suit having spent his early life growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The temporal enjoyment of a fleeting world and the inherent alterability of public persona are present in the works of Andy Warhol that bookend his career. The pencil drawings would be replaced, in the Seventies, by polaroids -- endless, endless polaroids. And what can we say of them? Why should we address them as art and not documentation of a life and an artistic practice?
To begin, we should consider the polaroid for what it is and how its process works. Polaroids are not the medium of fine art. No. They are the ready, on hand device of birthday parties and summer camp. In their tiny frame the polaroid captures, in an instant, a moment that has already past. More importantly, however, unlike film the polaroid gives instant feedback as to how the moment will be recorded. If you are unhappy with the image take another and another and another and still another, continue on and on until the image and the memory are recorded perfectly.
We have lost this repetition to some extent in the digital age. We now have phones that are faster than polaroids. Still, the polaroid, by virtue of its tangibility, must be dealt with in ways that digital images are not. In a phone we click a button and the image leaves forever. The decision must be made with a polaroid to destroy a physical object. So, here we have another record: a record of the destroyed and the altered presentation of the moment. The unique quality in Warhol’s obsessive recordings -- both on audiotape and polaroids -- is that we see a man who never sees waste nor need to disregard the imperfect. Instead, all documents are kept as a record of an instant of time. In no other circumstance do we have a visual or auditory experience so thorough as we do with Warhol. We can literally relive years of Warhol’s life if we so choose through an auditory and visual experience.
Another point I would like to address in relation to polaroids in general and Warhol in particular is the means in which the image is birthed into existence. Polaroids come from black, they come from nothing. In essence polaroids are little voids into which a moment is waiting to be inscribed. Returning for a moment, then, to the idea of a party we can easily imagine those terrible times when the music stops and conversation ceases and time stands still. Here is where the polaroid lives. In this dark aberration. Polaroids stop time. And, to make matters worse, once they have stopped time they then have the audacity to immediately leave behind a reminder of the moment they stopped. Awkward expressions and glazed eyes are plastered as remembrances for all to see. And it is this strangeness, this queerness if you will, that differentiates Warhol’s work from other art. If we need proof we have to look no further than Marilyn Monroe’s lips to find something not right, something off-center. From the black comes the unrecognizable self. The polaroid is an uncanny representation of, perhaps, who we truly are / were. As a mode, then, of portraiture it would seem to be somehow more truthful and objective than any other artistic medium. Moreover, The whole of a person is reduced in an instant to a snapshot — but not a singular snapshot, one of many, hundreds, thousands. To sit for a Warhol photograph was to be the same as all who came before and would come after. Merely, the sitter lasts in relation to Warhol: we do not look at the picture because of who the subject is, we look at the picture because of Andy Warhol.
The final aspect of polaroids is of course their temporality. Famously, Warhol declared that everyone would have his or her fifteen minutes of fame. The transitory nature of fame seems perfectly expressed in a polaroid. As stated, the images come from nothing, emerge and then are gone, quickly marginalized by the next shot and a new memory. Moreover, Warhol’s general and most sustained set of polaroids came in the mid-Seventies when he was using his polaroid camera to take pictures of society women in order to make silkscreens. This of course was a commercial enterprise which made Warhol very wealthy. Yet, in the overall context of my earlier points we see that, in fact, a darker analysis emerges. The taking of the images captures the moment of personal fame and wealth in a hyperreal manner. The Warhol image rises from the black polaroid film seemingly emergent in a chemical fog. Here, now, we have a document. A recording of a blip in time, now lost to us. But what of the time between the taking of the photograph and the present? Somewhere we lose time. The fame fades and the polaroid turns in hue. The society woman ages and dies. The bright star slowly vanishes as daily new stars emerge.
For our part as modern viewers, we elevate these images into the canon of art by virtue of Warhol’s stature within the art community. However, it is impossible to place the countless images Warhol created. Who are these faces that surround us now? Is my memory somehow like the polaroid in reverse, clear at one time but now muddled and sinking into darkness? Moreover, how leaden do those moments seem to us now in retrospect? Or is it that we now look upon this work in our contemporary time with a distant nostalgia. We romanticize the age of Warhol much like we fetishize the sterilized Warholian persona. Other moments in Warhol which would and mostly likely should upset our sensibilities are washed away. They do not make the picture. Instead we preserve our memories as perfected accounts. So much so that Warhol’s images, even something so common and banal as a polaroid of an unknown person, still have the ability to seem avant-garde in our contemporary, jaded, over-mediated culture. -- by Matthew Jarvis
Gallery location: The Dean’s office, 4th floor, in Warren College at 410 Literature Building.
For maps and directions visit: