|Andy Warhol’s Polaroid of Joe Kennedy (1986). (THE ANDY WARHOL FOUNDATION FOR THE VISUAL ARTS)|
Fame and focus, frozen in the moment
Andy Warhol and Harold Edgerton, in their very different ways, are crucial to understanding 20th-century visual history. One helped alter our sense of subject, validating fame as an aesthetic property unto itself. The other created a new way of seeing. Through Oct. 6 they share the space at Simmons College’s Trustman Art Gallery, in the amusingly titled “Glam plus Bam: Warhol and Edgerton.’’
Both men were masters of the photographic instant. Andy you know about. His was the instant of celebrity, that overpowering now when nothing matters so much as being recognized by many and known to none. Edgerton pioneered stroboscopic photography: the instant as truly instantaneous, paring now to its kinetic essence.
Twenty of the 26 Warhol pictures in “Glam plus Bam’’ are color Polaroids. He took them as studies for silk-screen portraits, with the sitters’ faces whitened and lips rouged. Emotionally blank, a bit blanched, slightly unreal: The images are like calling cards from the void. They’re not much bigger than calling cards, either: 3 5/8 inches by 2 7/8 inches. The Polaroid format suited Andy very well. He liked quick. He liked easy. He liked efficient. He was the proprietor of the Factory, after all, not the Rectory or Florist Shop.
Casual in approach, these portraits were clearly anything but casual for the sitter. Being photographed by Andy was an event. In the kingdom of fame, he was recording angel and courtier rolled into one. And that Andy event - however fleeting, however insubstantial - was no less eventful if the sitter was already famous: the fashion designer Gianni Versace; singer Carly Simon; “Doonesbury’’ cartoonist Garry Trudeau; Joe Kennedy, the year he was elected to Congress, 1986.
Occasionally, Andy would alter the format. We see New York Ranger Rod Gilbert with his hockey stick, Chris Evert with her tennis racket. Usually, though, it’s just look at the camera, please, and leave the cookie jars alone. Zip, zip, zip. The liveliest Warhol image here shows a selection of shoes. Perhaps he felt a connection with his past. As a commercial artist in the ’50s, he was without peer as an illustrator of footwear. There’s more feeling to that Polaroid than there is even to a black-and-white photograph Warhol took of his ’80s companion, Jon Gould. Fame can’t exist in private. Love can.
There are 10 Edgerton photos, all 20 inches by 16 inches or 16 inches by 20 inches. Size isn’t what matters with them. Motion is. Either we see multiple exposures of some action, as with “Pigeon in Flight’’ or “Moving Skip Rope, ’’ or the tiniest fraction of time arrested, as with the fracturing glass a bullet leaves in “Death of a Lightbulb.’’ Edgerton’s titles can be very funny. Another example would be “Bullet Through Apple: Making Applesauce at MIT’’ (Edgerton was a fixture at the university for decades). Even funnier, a spent shell doubles as plinth.
Edgerton might be said to have reworked Andy’s deathless statement about everyone in the future being famous for 15 minutes. For him, the pertinent duration is 15 milliseconds, or fewer. “Glam plus Bam’’ has two other nods to Andy, presumably curatorial in origin. In “Ouch (Archery, 1934)’’ the archer, with his eyes fetchingly closed and the veins in his forearms all abulge, could be a bit of beefcake from a Warhol underground film. As for “Bullet Through Banana,’’ it recalls the famous Velvet Underground LP cover Andy did.
The picture makes you wonder about something else: how different it would look had Edgerton used a green banana. Same ballistic result, surely? Maybe, maybe not. As somebody once said, ripeness is all.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.