by Sam Whiting | DateBook
The first time the San Francisco Art Institute exhibited its gift of 100 Polaroid pictures by Andy Warhol, it was for only 15 minutes in 2009, to honor Warhol’s birthday on Aug. 6.
The exhibition was untitled, unannounced and in the campus library, with the images stuffed into a display case, then removed and put away.
Ten years later, those Polaroids are finally getting out of the library and into the light once more — and this time it is for longer than 15 minutes of fame.
“From the Tower: Andy Warhol” showcases 40 Polaroids, each one unique the moment the exposure spits out of the camera, in the bright Main Gallery at the Art Institute’s graduate campus at Fort Mason.
The personalities in the Polaroids are large — hockey great Wayne Gretzky, rock star Debbie Harry, movie legend Sly Stallone, pro tennis player Chris Evert — but the campus gallery on a waterfront pier is larger.
To fill it, the Art Institute is also showing its entire Warhol collection of seven poster-size screen prints for the first time, including “The Nun, Ingrid Bergman” (1983), “Sitting Bull” (1986), and a still life “Hammer and Sickle” (1977). There are also five black-and-white gelatin silver prints, documenting Warhol’s adventures visiting John and Sean Lennon and a trip to the beach with movie publicist Jon Gould.
“This was an incredible gift from the Warhol Foundation, and when you look at it all together you get a glimpse of every type of persona Andy embodied, from domestic to the high-end art world,” says Kat Trataris, manager of exhibitions.
There was no special relationship between Warhol and the San Francisco Art Institute. It was one of 180 academic institutions to receive an unsolicited gift of 100 random Polaroids and 50 gelatin silver prints from the Andy Warhol Foundation in 2007, which marked the 20th anniversary of his death. The stipulation was that they be exhibited within a specified time frame, hence the 15-minute show a decade ago.
In 2013, a second gift of seven screen prints arrived. This is finally their debut.
As an artist who marveled at his own mass production, Warhol would be pleased with his market saturation. Last fall, Cantor Art Center at Stanford University mounted a major show of his photographic contact sheets.
In late May, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art plans to open “Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again.” The show will be on three floors. The catalog is 400 oversize pages.
The current Art Institute show, which opened last week, has small-time charm by comparison. The Main Gallery is not a confined space but the hallway at the entrance to the school. It can be seen without much detour from the Sunday Fort Mason farmers’ market.
The hallway separates the outdoor masses from the studios where graduate students produce art, making it the ideal transition for viewing Warhol, says Gordon Knox, president of the Art Institute.
“We really see Warhol as one of these geniuses working at the intersection of art and society, (and) that is where the San Francisco Art Institute exists,” Knox says. “We identify with the transformative quality of Warhol’s work.”
The screen prints are on one wall, and the Polaroids are on the wall facing it. Walk through the hall, turn around and walk out and the entire exhibition can be seen in one round trip, 20 minutes tops.
Polaroids were always meant to be quick, and that is how they treat them at the Art Institute, said archivist Jeff Gunderson.
“We don’t take them seriously,” he says. “We just treat them as fun objects.”
“From the Tower: Andy Warhol”: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Through March 24. Free. San Francisco Art Institute Fort Mason Campus, 2 Marina Blvd., S.F. 415-749-4563. www.sfai.edu