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A new collection of artist snapshots from the American Archives of Art (All images are from ‘Artists Unframed: Snapshots from the Archives of American Art’ by Merry A. Foresta, published by Princeton Architectural Press 2015)

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.

Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Villon, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon with dog Pipe in the garden of Villon’s studio, Puteaux, France, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn Family papers and Armory Show records.

Jackson Pollock cutting the hair of his father, LeRoy Pollock, 1927. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner papers.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán, Mexico. Photograph by Chester Dale, Chester Dale papers.

Grant Wood putting the finishing touches on his ice wagon, ca. 1933. Edward Beatty Rowan papers.

Ansel Adams, 1936. Katharine Kuh papers.

Pablo Picasso and his daughter Maya, ca. 1944. William and Ethel Baziotes papers.

Gertrude Abercrombie kissing an unidentified individual in a Photomatic booth, ca. 1945. Gertrude Abercrombie papers.

Andy Warhol and Corinne Kessler on Fire Island beach, ca. 1949. Photograph by Philip Pearlstein, Philip Pearlstein papers.

George Tooker, Daniel Maloney, and William Christopher, ca. 1951. William Christopher papers.

Ben Shahn looking at postcards in a museum in Italy, 1956. Ben Shahn papers.

Fairfield Porter with his dog Bruno, ca. 1972. Fairfield Porter papers.

John Waters at a party, 2000. Colin de Land collection.

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...