An intriguing show, especially in terms of America's parallel fascinations with celebrity and “the common man,” is on view at the University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, 555 Elm Ave.
Called “The Cult of Personality: Andy Warhol, Harold Stevenson and Portraiture,” the exhibit contains photos by Pop artist Warhol and large facial portraits done by Stevenson in his hometown of Idabel.
On display along with Polaroid photos by Warhol, given to OU by the Warhol Foundation in 2008, is a group of offset lithographs from Warhol's “Multiples Portfolio: Artists and Photographs” series.
Multiple, full-color head shots of Marilyn Monroe as mega movie star are “canceled out,” in a way, by the same image in black-and-white, in a Warhol diptych from the series, done in 1962, the year she died.
Deep blue shades become a metaphor for grief in a 1964 photo of “Jackie” Kennedy, looking sober and serious, from the same Warhol series, done the year after President Kennedy's assassination.
Other iconic portraits from the Warhol series include one of “Liz (Taylor) as Cleopatra” in 1962, and a 1964 image of a young Elvis Presley, times three, drawing and pointing his gun at us, in a Western movie role.
The mostly black-and-white Polaroid photos from the Warhol Foundation portray their famous or “unidentified” subjects in “candid camera fashion,” whether caught off guard, posing for all they're worth, or both.
Modern dancer Martha Graham turns to say something to an “unidentified man” at a formal dinner, while writer Anita Loos makes a remark to painter Jamie Wyeth in two photos that make us “wish we were there.”
Displayed together, in groups of nine, are small color pictures that might have been taken at a photomat booth of such celebrities as singer Lorna Luft, artist R.C. Gorman and ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky.
Equally engaging are black-and-white pictures of “unidentified” people, objectified by the camera's all-seeing eye, like the human equivalent of a “U.F.O.”
One of two or more “Unidentified Models” bends forward in an awkward, glaringly lit pose she probably wouldn't want to be caught dead in, in an undated photo from the Warhol collection.
Other Polaroids are more like celebrity party pix, capturing couples of the same or different genders in an impromptu moment, enjoying part of what Warhol once called their 15 minutes of fame.
More haunting and telling is a June 19, 1979, photo of an “Unidentified Young Man,” who looks lost in thought, or maybe just lost, his light shirt standing out dramatically against a dark background.
Supplying a nice counterpoint to the photos are ten (of a total of 90) large mixed media facial studies, done by Stevenson in 1966 in his hometown of Idabel, a contemporary of Warhol in the Pop Art era.
Up close, and closely cropped, but strangely impersonal, and straightforward rather than satirical, the monumental but anonymous Stevenson portraits of “the common individual” have a strong, cumulative impact.
Typical — and memorable — are Stevenson's depictions of a young woman of Asian ancestry and of a bespectacled, middle-aged, Middle American man eyeing us intently, to name two cases in point.
Giving us something more to think about as we leave the show are two smaller, untitled, mixed media works by Stevenson.
One Stevenson drawing portrays a horse from behind, viewed over a giant hand in the foreground, and the other depicts a kind of Everyman, whose lack of facial features turns him into an enigma of sorts.
The “Cult of Personality” exhibit is highly recommended during its run through Sept. 9.
— John Brandenburg