Andy Warhol at Stanford

The Cantor Arts Center opens exhibit with online component for binging on pop art photos
Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and Diane de Beauvau in a limousine in 1976.

With its latest exhibit, "Contact Warhol: Photography Without End," the Cantor Arts Center has come up with an alternative to binge watching. Instead of spending hours with Queen Elizabeth and her corgis on Netflix's The Crown, you can pore over a newly acquired digital archive of Andy Warhol's photographs online.

And just like an evening lost to streaming movies and endless TV series, you never have to leave your house or change out of pajamas to enjoy the approximately 130,000 photographic exposures collected in sets of contact sheets and negatives.

These black-and-white photographs date from 1976 until Warhol's death in 1987. That's essentially the length of the Carter and Reagan administrations. But instead of populating his lens with jaunts to politicians' houses in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Warhol went to parties in New York City. He went to clubs and galas, always surrounded by glamorous, fabulous people whose names now register as ghostly presences on the internet. He used a 35mm single-reflex camera to capture their images and their fleeting minutes of fame.

Even when the shots are badly composed, and they often are, Warhol and his companions look like they're thoroughly enjoying themselves. In 1979 at the Carlyle Hotel, Jerry Hall sticks her tongue out at the photographer while she makes a peace sign over the writer Bob Colacello's head with one of her long, gracefully extended arms. Her lips are as glossy as her dress. As he takes a swig of beer from the bottle in his hand, Mick Jagger's eyes are closed to indicate his indifference to the scene. Warhol himself is sitting in the background, his face partially hidden, his body reclining back into the hotel suite sofa. The light at the center of the image shines so brightly it creates a blur. This is what star power looks like on film.

On the Cantor website, you can scroll through two categories: "Negatives" or "Contact Sheet." You can enlarge each one, but the negatives are more immediately rewarding. You don't have to dig very far in order to find celebrities like Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson posing in profile at the wedding of model, actress and 1970s It Girl Marisa Berenson. An enchanted Huston stares into Nicholson's eyes and he stares back with his vulpine half-smile. Tucked behind her ear is an enormous tropical flower. They look at each other the way that actors do when they're playing a part, but Huston's act is more sincere. The camera captures them as they're about to kiss but the movie they're in fades to black before their lips can touch. The photographer lets us imagine what comes next.

When Warhol made the rounds of Studio 54, he embraced the festive debauchery. There's an open bottle of Cazanove champagne that he pairs with a powdery substance strewn across a tabletop. Revelers dance in and out of their outrageous costumes. He returns to three young men in tight jeans, feathered hair parted in the middle. Young women show their skin in slip-like dresses, unfurling their wavy hair. Everyone is inebriated, stumbling about and squinting. And we see friends of his like James Curley Mellon (d. 1994) and the designer Halston's partner Victor Hugo Rojas (d. 1993). In 1978, the photographer and the partygoers alike are blissfully unaware of AIDS.

There's plenty of similarly ecstatic homoerotic content like this throughout the collection. For example, in Young man seated at windowsill at 860 Broadway, Warhol poses his model in a square of sunlight, getting him to look pensive or to smile back at the man behind the camera. In another series, this young man also appears at a dinner party where he looks at the photographer with affection. On Oct. 21, Richard Meyer, an art history professor and co-curator of the exhibit, will present a "Queer Warhol" lecture in the Cantor Auditorium. He'll discuss gay culture in the 1970s and then lead a tour through the galleries. It might be worth your while to get out of your pajamas, turn off your computer and see the collection in person. Meyer might even reveal the identity and history of that beautiful young man seated in a sunny windowsill.

Contact Warhol: Photography Without End
Thru Jan 6, Free
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford

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