Collecting Fame

Andy Warhol meets Old Hollywood in a new show at Corcoran

February 7, 2013

Andy Warhol’s 1974 Polaroid “Unidentified Woman (Young Blonde in Blue Polyester Blazer)” makes a point about the relationship between photography, anonymity and fame.

From an early age, Andy Warhol collected Hollywood publicity stills. On the other side of the Atlantic, so did Robert Hunter, a British devotee of silent cinema. Hunter’s collection was given to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1997. Eleven years later, the museum received a selection of photos taken by Warhol, in which he adopted an Old Hollywood-esque style to glamorize friends, associates and people he met on the street.

“Shooting Stars: Publicity Stills from Early Hollywood and Portraits by Andy Warhol” puts the collections side by side. The Corcoran will display the two sets of photos — supplemented by a few other Warhol pieces — from Saturday through April 21.

The juxtaposition illustrates “the development of a certain iconography of fame, which emerged from the rise of publicity and advertising as media,” says Paul Roth, the museum’s senior curator of photography and media arts. “This coincided with the rise of Hollywood, and then fed into Warhol’s sensibility.”

The Warhol photos, mostly Polaroids from the ’70s and ’80s, include images of unidentified people. Even when shooting nobodies, however, the pop artist always treated them as superstars.

Included Works:

‘Unidentified Woman (Young Blonde in Blue Polyester Blazer)’: In this 1974 Polaroid, above, Andy Warhol depicts an unknown woman in the style of Veronica Lake, a 1940s Hollywood femme fatale. “If you embodied, even in the slightest way, any of the tropes that Andy identified with celebrity, then in his eyes you could be a star,” curator Paul Roth notes.

‘Tom Mix’: The best-known Western actor of his time, Tom Mix starred in nearly 300 films, most of them silents. When this portrait (part of Robert Hunter’s Hollywood collection) was made in 1927, Mix was a hero to young boys. The iconic range-rider also had homoerotic appeal, as Warhol later acknowledged in his own films, including 1968’s “Lonesome Cowboys.”

‘Edward Kennedy’: Warhol discovered the appeal of the nation’s capital — and national politics — in the 1970s. “He even referred to Washington as Hollywood on the Potomac,” Roth says. This 1979 Polaroid was one of the studies Warhol made while planning a series of silk-screen prints that were sold to benefit Ted Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign.

Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW; opens Sat., through April 21, $10; 202-639-1700. (Farragut West)
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Kristen Page-Kirby · February 7, 2013