University Archives

Lot 261

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Andy Warhol's Personally Owned Iconic Polaroid Big Shot Camera W. Superb Provenance

The Polaroid camera, aptly named "Big Shot!", made famous for being the camera-of-choice by Andy Warhol who used this perfect instrument to capture the big shots of society. Film stars, celebrities, and high-society types beat a path to his studio to have themselves immortalized on canvas.  With the invention of the Big Shot, Warhol finally had the tool he needed to combine his two great loves; celebrity and mass-produced art, and turn them into a money-making machine.

In Fine condition, 10.5" x 6.25". Accompanied by a letter of provenance which came with the 3 pieces we received, all of which were previously owned by Warhol and then gifted to Baird Jones, an associate and friend of Andy's. A friendship that began in the 1970s and continued until Warhol's death in 1987. The set of 3 pieces were later purchased directly from Baird Jones by Stephen Waldman on December 2, 2006, and then hence to our consignor. The original letter signed by Baird Jones identifying the chain of custody and ownership will accompany this item along with the original signed letter from Stephen Waldman who purchased the pieces directly from Jones.

Although Warhol is generally viewed as an artist, he thought of himself as a photographer, and photography was an integral part of both his artistic work and his life in general. As a child he owned a Box Brownie, a quintessentially simple American camera owned by millions of families. He’d continue to use a variety of cameras throughout his life, many of which factored into his art. But it was this last machine which he used to document his life and his time in the art world. The Polaroid Big Shot revolutionized his artistic output from 1971 until his death in 1986. The Big Shot camera perfectly synthesizes the two major defining features of Warhol as an artist in a single object; his obsession with celebrity, and the mass-production of art. It’s not widely acknowledged but much of Warhol’s art, whether it be drawings, prints or paintings, were based on photographs. While Warhol was a visionary artist, he never possessed the same skills that other fine artists such as Picasso had. The Big Shot camera allowed him to create portraits almost as if they were being produced by an assembly line. 

“I told them I didn’t believe in art, that I believed in photography.” – Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol wanted to be a machine. Beginning in the early '60s, virtually everything he did involved mechanization. To make art an industrial product, he churned out silkscreens in his studio which he dubbed the Factory. One of Warhol’s assistants described how the portrait process worked: 

“The shoots I helped with at 860 Broadway were often centered around a big lunch. A makeup artist would prepare the sitter. Often with aging women they would apply lots of white base foundation to help make clear smooth skin for the silkscreens. 

A half dozen assistants would be running around. Rupert [Jasen Smith, a printer] and Vincent were generally in charge. Vincent was often working shooting videos of the sittings and Factory goings-on on “Andy Warhol TV,” an early precursor to reality TV. Fred and Bob would be around if it was someone of great fame.

Andy would have a table stacked with boxes of Polaroids and a couple Big Shot cameras. He would shoot and shoot, saying things like, “Oh! That looks so greeeeaaat.” An assistant would lay the images out on the table. Many dozens would be shot and they would pick one and send it to the screen maker. The sittings back then in the early 1980s were $25,000 each. They were backlogged with clients for months.”

Warhol took his Big Shot everywhere, shooting celebrities ranging from Blondie to Muhammad Ali. It’s estimated that from 1971 until his death, Warhol produced approximately one thousand silk-screened portraits, the majority of which were commissioned. Almost all of them are the same size, an intentional forty by forty inches. Warhol describes the importance of this uniformity, “They have to be the same size, so that they all fit together and make one big painting called Portraits of Society.”

Shown below is a transcript of the letter of authenticity signed by Baird Jones, followed by the transcript of the letter from Stephen Waldman.

"My name is Baird Jones. I've been collecting art and various items owned by famous people since the mid 1970's. Many of the items in my personal collection has been given to me personally. Andy Warhol is one example. Andy was a dear friend of mine; we attended many parties in New York together from the 70's to his death in 1987. During that time, we also began working together. Besides artwork, the only items I have left that belonged to Andy, which he gave me personally, are the 'Big Shot' Polaroid camera, the antique glasses and the tie."

"I, Stephen Waldman, confirm that I purchased three Andy Warhol owned items from Baird Jones in 2006
-Big Shot Polaroid Camera
-T.T. Johnson glasses
-Rubinacci tie"

Baird Jones Biography in his years with Warhol (1953-2006):

Warhol met Jones in the 1970's NYC party circuit, where Jones was a renowned nightlife promoter. Warhol wrote in his diaries of Jones, noting the lavish parties he threw for "all the rich preppies" at Studio 54 and Jones privileged position as the son of People Magazine founder, Cranston Jones. Warhol and Jones began working together promoting events and gallery shows during the 1980's in the up-and-coming East Village arts scene.

A superb piece of Warhol memorabilia and an historically important instrument representing one of the biggest artistic movements in modern time. In 2015 one of Warhol's personally owned "Big Shots" came to auction attaining a hammer of $12,800

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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June 24, 2020 10:30 AM EDT

Wilton, CT, US

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Bid Increments
From: To: Increments:
$0 $99 $10
$100 $299 $20
$300 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $2,999 $200
$3,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 + $5,000