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Block winter exhibits show Steichen and Warhol examinining American class and society
Andy Warhol, Unidentified Models, undated, gelatin silver print. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, 2008.1.147. © 2013 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

EVANSTON, IL.- The exhibition “Steichen | Warhol: Picturing Fame” pairs Steichen’s photographs with those of Andy Warhol, the Pop artist whose work some 50 years later reflected and transformed the conventions set down by Steichen.

“Steichen’s photographs captured the public’s imagination in the United States and shaped the visual language of celebrity-worship that Warhol would simultaneously glorify and undermine many years later,” said exhibition curator Elliot Reichert.

Steichen established himself as the premier portrait and fashion photographer in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States. Shooting in sharp focus with dramatic lighting before stark backgrounds, Steichen distilled the essential characteristics of his subjects’ personas. The parade of performers, writers and public figures who posed before his camera is staggering: Fay Wray, Eugene O’Neill, Carl Sandburg and Greta Garbo are just a few whose portraits are featured in the exhibition.

Steichen photographed the wealthy for commissioned portraits and the society pages of Conde Nast publications. Warhol also created images of high-paying patrons, including icons like golfer Jack Nicklaus and singer Carly Simon, in the manner of his iconic silkscreen paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. “Steichen | Warhol“ displays the preparatory Polaroids Warhol shot for these portraits, alongside Steichen’s images of stars, fashion models and socialites, examining the ways that Warhol and his subjects both borrowed from and subverted the styles defined by Steichen.

“Steichen | Warhol” brings to light a remarkable link between the artists -- drawings a young Warhol traced from a 1955 cover of Life magazine that featured a photograph of Greta Garbo taken by Steichen.

“Warhol’s copies of the Garbo portrait preceded his Monroe silkscreens by nearly a decade, but these inkblot drawings show that he was already beginning to realize the enormous power and appeal of the celebrity image,” Reichert said. “Steichen | Warhol” will include the Life cover that inspired Warhol, three of his drawings and Steichen’s original 1928 photograph of the actress.

The exhibition also includes a set of photos documenting Warhol’s social life in the 1970s and 1980s -- candid shots of nightclub impresario Steve Rubell, writer Fran Lebowitz, fashion designer Paloma Picasso and others -- that are contrasted with the carefully composed portraits Steichen created in his era.

“Steichen | Warhol” presents two major gifts of art to the Block Museum. It highlights the donation in 2013 of vintage Steichen photographs by collectors Richard and Jackie Hollander to the Block, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition also showcases gifts of Warhol photographs and prints made in 2008 and 2013 by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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