Andy Warhol’s Polaroid Pictures – Grace Guan ’20

London is home to many unmissable museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Gallery. My favorite of the more famous museums was the Tate Modern–I visited it five times during my five-month stay in London. However, I just as much appreciated London’s intimate, secret art scene–“secret” because I could not locate information online about the hidden gem that are the galleries on Davies Street in Mayfair, London.

While Mayfair is primarily known for being the most expensive area to stay in the world (correspondingly, Mayfair is the most expensive property on British Monopoly), it has also been recognized as an international art hub due to the presence of the Royal Academy of Arts. Yet a visitor would pass gallery after gallery walking down side streets, especially the tranquil Davies Street. From the Gagosian to Sadie Coles HQ to Belmacz to JD Malat to Inigo Philbrick, the free-entry, one-room galleries seamlessly blend into a bizarre mix of expensive residential properties and small businesses.

The most striking exhibit was in The Bastian, a new, Berlin-based gallery. The Bastian’s inaugural exhibit Andy Warhol – Polaroids 1971-1986 presented polaroid photographs by Andy Warhol, taken in his New York studio, the Factory. Acquired directly from the Warhol Foundation, Warhol’s pictures of celebrities and artists like Yves Saint-Laurent, John Lennon, and Jean-Michel Basquiat at first seemed out of place in the hidden, wealthy enclave of Mayfair. I realized this was the mission of pop art: to elevate consumerism into fine art.

Warhol’s polaroids resemble his screen prints, such as Blue Marilyn (1962) in the Princeton University Art Museum. In Blue Marilyn, the process of silk screening served to flatten and de-animate Marilyn, removing any personality or emotion from the piece. The means Warhol used to create the polaroids, the Big Shot camera, served the same purpose. Created by Polaroid for snapping portraits, Big Shot integrated flash, viewfinder, and fixed focus to capture subjects separate from their individual.

The largest polaroid, Self Portrait (1979), features Warhol looming into the camera. The image is tense and estranged, personal yet impersonal. Perhaps Warhol is looking for his next screen print subject, but it is impossible to know for certain: Self Portrait is as constructed and superficial as the other polaroids and screen prints.

Despite its lack of depth, Self Portrait wasn’t quite the same as Blue Marilyn. Many visitors to the Princeton University Art Museum take selfies with Blue Marilyn, which ironically perpetuates the mass media effect Warhol sought to criticize. When I tried to take a selfie with Self Portrait, it didn’t have the same effect. The selfie is eerie and startling, and reads as if Warhol is chasing me out of the secret galleries on Davies Street.