PCMA and Williamson Galleries Acquire Warhol Works

Andy Warhol once said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Now, after his death, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts is trying their hardest to stretch Warhol’s allotted 15 minutes of fame into decades.

Through the foundation’s Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, both Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery and the Pomona College Museum of Art (PCMA), along with 181 other college and university museums, have received gifts of Warhol’s works. The first round of gifts in 2008 — 28,543 photographs in all, valued at over $28 million — ranged from Polaroids of celebrities like Wayne Gretzky and Debbie Harry to silver gelatin prints.

This past year, the foundation gave another set of gifts that will be formally announced by the foundation within the next few months. For both Scripps and Pomona, this means seven new screen prints each, dating from 1970 to the late 1980s. The screen prints, which are each more than 90 square inches, are spectacular in both size and quality. Because of the strict scheduling required to plan exhibitions — with each gallery usually looking two to three years ahead — neither PCMA nor the Williamson Gallery currently has concrete plans to exhibit the works. However, a student-curated exhibition at PCMA opening this fall will likely incorporate some of the prints, as will an exhibition of recent acquisitions set to open at the Williamson Gallery this summer.

Gifts have grown the collection of the Williamson Gallery ever since the donation of American paintings and works on paper that helped found the museum.

“We don’t have a fund for acquisitions, but fortunately we have received many wonderful things from gifts, from collectors and artists,” said Scripps art history professor Mary MacNaughton, the gallery’s director. 

In recent years, these gifts have been mostly concentrated in photography, with significant donations of works by prominent photographers Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, and Danny Lyon. The Warhol Foundation’s gifts support these holdings as well as those at the PCMA, who also specialize in 19th- and 20th-century photography. 

Steve Comba, the registrar at PCMA, noted that many of the works at PCMA are also donated. During fiscal year 2012, the collection added 220 objects, 175 of which were gifts. He attributed this fact to the appeal that college galleries have to collectors. 

“They tend to look favorably if a donation went well and is being used,” Comba said, “and that would drive them to want to donate to the same place.” 

The appeal of donating to the college galleries comes from “a knowledge that we are collecting, that we’re on this campus, and that we have an existing collection,” Comba said.

Only occasionally do the galleries seek out specific works; before accepting, however, both institutions carefully consider how donations will impact the collection and the amount of care and conservation they would require, as they have limited storage and exhibition facilities.

“We accept the gift if it’s a good addition to the collection, if it strengthens an area that we are already developing, or it fills a gap,” MacNaughton said.

PCMA also occasionally purchases pieces — the Peter Shelton sculpture in the courtyard in front of the gallery, for example, and Wife by Kirsten Everberg, from last spring’s Project Series 45.

“We try to use [the acquisitions fund] carefully so
that it will continue to throw off money for purchases, but over the years we’ve
used it to buy, for example, a set of Kara Walker prints,” said Pomona art history professor and PCMA director Kathleen Howe. “It was used to buy
the preparatory drawings for the Orozco mural; that was a huge ticket item and
really needed significant funds.”

However, each museum is limited by space as well as the length of the school year. Since students are generally absent during the summer months, visitor numbers decline, and as a result, they often choose to display fewer, if any, exhibitions when school is not in session.

While Comba and MacNaughton both expressed excitement about the Warhol acquisitions, they are realistic about the limitations of time and space. Additionally, considering both galleries serve the colleges’ many departments as learning spaces, exhibitions are driven by academic demands alongside curatorial goals. 

“The collection’s outreach isn’t just for the traditional audiences, like studio art or art history,” Comba said. “We have a lot of other uses.”  

Classes in all areas of history and art history use the collections, as well as more unexpected disciplines like environmental analysis, whose classes have spent time in the extensive Native American art collections. Student interns are also given the opportunity to curate exhibits, which further affects the exhibition schedule.

Lauren Ambielli SC ’14 worked as an intern for Williamson over the summer, where she helped the gallery incorporate another large donation of photographs into the collection. For Ambielli, what makes the gallery unique is their personal touch. She recalled working with the family of the artist to select which works would best enhance the gallery’s collection.

“We selected them by hand and accessioned them into our gallery by hand,” Ambielli said. 

Many school galleries receive donations, yet what makes Williamson and PCMA stand out as institutions is the availability of the works to students and faculty. According to Ambielli, professors at Scripps brought classes to the gallery, where students had the opportunity to experience “up-close and personal” the works that students studied in class. 

MacNaughton echoed the significance of the opportunity to have first-hand experience with actual pieces. 

“Often we have classes that come in to the print and photograph study room to look at works of art in relation to their courses,” MacNaughton said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to learn, looking directly at the work of art.” 

Both MacNaughton and Comba emphasized the importance of owning such a collection and allowing students to study the works in person.

“Most museum experiences seem like they’re dead, dead culture, it’s the past,” Comba said. “Actually, it’s kind of tangible and contemporary.” 

He added that the experience of seeing Warhol works in person cannot be imitated in a traditional museum setting. 

“When they’re framed, the glazing creates a screen that makes you not get a sense of the actual tactility of his process,” Comba said. “When it’s on a table in front of you, it’s as close to the day it was printed that you’ll ever get. And that’s one of the missions of having a museum here, is to allow that up-close and personal.”

As the works may not be on display publicly in the near future, Comba suggested making an appointment to visit the works in person.

“This collection is here for you to visit. You don’t have to wait to be required to visit. It doesn’t have to be part of a formal class,” he said. “Search for a fine object and make a request to visit. It’s by appointment. I’m rarely inundated, although I’d love to be. This is my favorite part of the job.” 

Appointments for PCMA are available online at pomona.edu/museum/collections/study-room.aspx and for Scripps through the gallery’s collection digital specialist, Colleen Salomon, at csalomon@scrippscollege.edu.

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