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Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center surveys four decades of Polaroid's influence in fine art photography
André Kertész, October 24, 1979, 1979. Polaroid SX-70 print, 3 1/8 x 3 1/16 in. The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie; © Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY.- To the public, it’s a reminder of a bygone era of instant color snapshots at millions of family gatherings. For historians, it’s an obvious precursor to today’s ubiquitous instant photos. But from the time Polaroid’s famed SX-70 camera was released in 1972, there were those who saw its ability to instantly produce color photos as an exciting new medium for fine art. From April 12 through June 30 the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center will present The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation, a groundbreaking survey exhibition organized by the museum that will bring together Polaroid pictures by 39 artists and collectives from 1972 through the present. Artists represented include such pioneers of instant photography as Ansel Adams, Ellen Carey, Chuck Close, Walker Evans, David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Joyce Neimanas, Andy Warhol, and William Wegman as well as a new generation of artists including Anne Collier, Bryan Graf, Catherine Opie, Lisa Oppenheim, Dash Snow, Mungo Thomson, and Grant Worth.

Several related events will be held, including an exhibition opening lecture by New York magazine senior editor Christopher Bonanos, author of the 2012 book Instant: The Story of Polaroid; a gallery talk by the curator; a campus series screening films about Polaroid photography or where it plays an important role; a program of child-friendly activities in the galleries; and the curator discussing the exhibition catalogue at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

“Instant photography arrived in the hands of artists at a time when the world of fine art photography had recently become fertile ground for artistic experimentation,” writes exhibition curator and catalogue author Mary-Kay Lombino, The Emily Hargroves Fisher 1957 and Richard B. Fisher Curator at The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. “In an examination of the phenomenon of instant photography – in particular Polaroid, a brand known for its innovation and responsiveness to artistic endeavors – we see how it has influenced and inspired amateurs and professionals for nearly forty years. By juxtaposing early experimental work with more recent forays into the possibilities of the medium, The Polaroid Years tells a more complete story of instant photography than has yet been revealed.”

The exhibit is the first of its kind since the founding of the Polaroid Corporation by scientist and inventor Edwin H. Land some 75 years ago, and will highlight milestones in Polaroid’s history. That history is bittersweet, in view of the fact that Polaroid stopped production of analog instant film in 2008. Nevertheless, even today, as Lombino notes, “Polaroid continues to attract new devotees drawn to its luminescence, distinct color, and the happy accidents that occur in the imperfect developing process—not to mention the convenience of instantaneous, direct one-to-one prints.”

The exhibition catalogue (hardcover, 224 pages with 230 illustrations) is being co-published by The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center and DelMonico Books/Prestel, and will be available in March. Highlights will include color images of all works in the exhibition; statements by a dozen of the artists whose work is featured; a chronology from the 1920s to the present of Polaroid technology and its use by artists; essays by Lombino and Dr. Peter Buse, Cultural Theorist and Senior Lecturer at the School of English, Sociology, Politics and Contemporary History at the University of Salford in Manchester, England; and a foreword by James Mundy, The Anne Hendricks Bass Director at The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.

After Vassar, The Polaroid Years will travel to the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where it will be on exhibit from September 20 through December 1, 2013.

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