There’s something delightful about seeing famous artists in settings completely unrelated to their art. Consider a 1948 picture of Andy Warhol licking an ice cream cone in his college mess hall. Or another showing Jackson Pollock carving a turkey in his mother’s kitchen in 1950. We generally imagine these men creating away in the studio, but here they appear much more fascinated by food than by paint.
Artists Unframed: Snapshots from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art by photography specialist Merry Forest breaks through the glamorous public personas of some of the 20th century’s greatest artists. One 1956 photo of Ben Shahn spies him perusing the postcards in an Italian museum gift shop. A 1972 one of Fairfield Porter catches him wearing a speedo while bending to scratch the head of his glossy Irish Setter.
It’s tempting to equate these images with the casual snapshots many contemporary artists post on Instagram these days. Takashi Murakami’s account features snapshots of his dog, while Ai Weiwei’s includes pictures of his gym workouts. But the pictures in Forest’s book somehow feel much more intimate, as the artists in them aren’t performing for a vast digital public. Rather, they’re unassumingly engaged in the ordinary stuff of life that fed their art.
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