While the spring semester greets students with a new round of classes, text books and early morning routines, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art also offers two new fresh and intriguing photography exhibits: Basquiat/Warhol and In Focus: Photographs From the Permanent Collection.
Both exhibits showcase the strength and diversity of Bowdoin's photography collection, including staples from the permanent collection and recent acquisitions.
Basquiat/Warhol, the striking new installation in the Becker Gallery, showcases a monumental canvas by Basquiat along with a series of Polaroids that Warhol shot as part of his artistic process. One hundred and fifty-nine Polaroids were donated to the College in 2007 by the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, a division of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The program distributed over 28,500 Warhol photographs to colleges and universities around the country.
While the Becker Gallery is traditionally used as a space to display artwork associated with class curriculum, the Basquiat/Warhol installation marks a change in this routine.
"A break in the schedule of classes allowed for the installation to come together," said Museum Curatorial Assistant Katherine Herlihy. The new installation allows for a different use of the Becker Gallery, which was painted bright hues of red and yellow to accent the boldness of Basquiat's canvas and the glamour of Warhol's Polaroids.
The Basquiat canvas is on long-term loan to the college and presented the perfect opportunity to showcase the Warhol photographs.
"We've been waiting for the right moment to show the polaroids," said Herlihy, citing the well-known camaraderie of the two artists that inspired their respective bodies of work. The two artists are known to have collaborated extensively as friends and colleagues.
Basquiat started his career as a graffiti artist in New York City and befriended Warhol only after he became successful. Unfortunately, his artistic career was cut short by his untimely death in 1988, as he had only been discovered a few years previously in the early 1980s.
The bold, expressive canvas acts as a striking centerpiece to offset the flashy Warhol Polaroids, which depict celebrities such as Sylvester Stalone, Jane Fonda, designer Carolina Herrera, actress Pia Zadora and producer Rick Ocaseck. According to the Foundation's Web site, the photographs distributed through the program were often used as guidelines for Warhol's commissioned works.
Warhol "would take hundreds of Polaroids to tease out the right image—often he would let whoever was sitting for him pick the image that they wanted," said Herlihy. The images shed light on Warhol's artistic process and the glamour of the era that he wished to depict.
The Warhol Polaroids, however, are but a recent addition to the college's strong permanent photography collection.
In Focus, the exhibit recently hung in both the Halford Gallery and the Bernard and Barbro Osher Gallery, celebrates this extensive collection of photographs.
"The Bowdoin College Museum of Art's photography collection spans from daguerreotypes—one of the earliest photographic processes—to works by contemporary artists including Cindy Sherman and Bowdoin graduate Abelardo Morell '71," Herlihy said.
"This exhibit concentrates on photographs from the 20th century, celebrating the breadth of our collection, from abstract to documentary, landscape to portrait," she added.
A highlight of the exhibit is the installation of 25 black and white images from Lewis Baltz's San Quentin Point series hung at the far end of the Halford Gallery.
"This series creates a dramatic entrance into the freshly installed museum," Herlihy said. "Baltz was included in the groundbreaking 1975 New Topographics exhibition, which explored manmade landscapes through photography. Baltz transformed the aesthetic of photography and influenced many photographers who came after him, including Edward Burtynsky, whose newly acquired Silver Lake Operations hangs in this exhibition as well."
While many of these photographs have resided in the permanent collection for years, In Focus provides a rare opportunity for the museum to display these celebrated photographs all together.
While both Basquiat/Warhol and In Focus are currently up for viewing, the museum has planned their Winter Open House appropriately for next Thursday to welcome students back to campus and allow them the opportunity to take a closer look at these photographic gems.
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art will hold this Winter Open House Thursday, February 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Refreshments will be served prior to a welcome address from Museum Director Kevin Salatino. The event is free and open to the public.
- Rachel Goldman contributed to this report.