Shooting Stars: Publicity Stills from Early Hollywood and Portraits by Andy Warhol
Shooting Stars features promotional photographs of early Hollywood film stars alongside Polaroid portraits and black-and-white images by Andy Warhol. Made half a century apart, these two bodies of work illustrate some of theways photographers have contributed to our understanding of celebrity and fame. The exhibition explores the transition from America’s early cinematic star system to the Warholian reinvention of fame, which allowed anyone to become—however briefly—a public personality.
During the 1920s heyday of silent cinema through the 1930s introduction of sound and color, studios like MGM and Warner Bros. distributed headshots of actors and still photographs of film sets, promoting their “picture personalities” to a rapt audience. This exhibition includes images of such luminaries as Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, and Lon Chaney—the work of anonymous studio cameramen. In the high-flying 1970s and 1980s, Warhol drew on this same tradition to create his own iconography of fame, making commissioned portraits of aristocrats and businessmen, socialites and politicians, athletes and models. Embracing a liberal notion of celebrity, Warhol used poses and compositions perfected by Hollywood’s silent-film era publicity machine, transforming well-known figures like Senator Ted Kennedy and underground legends like Factory “superstar” Jackie Curtis. Through the lens, Warhol’s subjects became worthy entrants to a decadent pantheon, stars for a starstruck time.
In 2008 the Corcoran Gallery of Art was gifted a significant group of Warhol’s photographs by The Andy Warhol Foundation’s Photographic Legacy Program. The film stills included in this exhibition are principally drawn from the private collection of Robert Hunter, a British fan of silent cinema; they were donated to the Corcoran in 1997.