There’s a feast of exhibits that have just opened at Seattle’s Frye Museum for the summer. I’ve just posted on the Structure and Ornament show from local artist Leo Saul Berk. Meanwhile, a series of small-scale exhibits explores the concept of the portrait, of self-portrayal and presentation.
Two of these exhibits represent polar opposites from the image-obsessed Andy Warhol. In an alcove-like room you can see the contents of Warhol’s Little Red Book #178 — examples from the tens of thousands of Polaroids he snapped to document his work and life in the 1970s. #178 is one of the collections Warhol organized into red Holson Polaroid albums. It contains nineteen pictures featuring such friends and collaborators as Jane Forth and Michael Sklar. Each is displayed in a separate frame.
These ephemera sometimes capture a revealing moment, sometimes seem too posed, and at times are even outright failures. But Warhol wanted to document it all. They emanate a ghostly presence that’s fascinating to compare to the glib instant-click instant gratification of our smartphone selfies.
Snapshots of fleeting moments versus the studied gaze of the Screen Tests: the Frye is showing a collection of 12 of the latter, made between 1964 and 1966 at the Factory. The reference to Hollywood auditions to check out an actor/actress’s potential motion picture charisma is tongue in cheek.
Warhol’s rolls of 16mm black and white film (using an entire 100-foot roll for each subject) are intended as a goal in themselves, their slow motion prolonging the self-conscious projections of self chosen by each subject. Notes the Frye’s description:
During the 1960s, these films were rarely shown in public, but were often screened at The Factory. Some of the Screen Tests were used by Warhol in projects such as “Thirteen Most Beautiful Women” and “Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys.” Programs of individual Screen Tests were also projected as part of the light show for “Up-Tight” and the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” Warhol’s 1966–67 multi-media happenings. For these events, The Velvet Underground and Nico provided live accompaniment; the Screen Tests were filmed without a soundtrack.
Along with the young Bob Dylan, the screen tests gathered here are of personalities like Susan Sontag, Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, and Edie Sedgwick (transferred to digital files). See them in succession and try to decide who’s more self-conscious at trying to seem unselfconscious…
Work your way through this Warholiana and then head to American Portraits: 1880-1915, an intriguing selection from the Frye’s original collection of art focused on that turning-point era.
The angle here is one of Frye Director Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker’s specialties: the influence of developments by German artists in particular in the late 19th/early 20th centuries on their American peers. The selection here considers works by John White Alexander, William Merritt Chase, George Luks, and Frank Duveneck, all of whom studied and spent time in Germany. Also included are portraits by ex-patriate artists Charles Sprague Pearce and John Singer Sargent and the “Ashcan School” maverick Robert Henri.
Birnie Danzker has placed Eakins’ strikingly naturalistic portrait of Maybelle Schlichter (wife of the boxing referee he painted in his famous Taking the Count) in a position that immediately catches the eye as you cross over from the Warhol Screen Tests. She notes that the subject portrayed by Eakins uncannily anticipates the unguarded character found in some of Warhol’s work — the glamour of the real.