Back in April 2008, reading the Sacramento Bee, I saw an article mentioning that UC Davis and Cal State University at Sacramento that had just received donations of Andy Warhol photographs. They were two of 180 nationwide colleges and universities chosen.
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. in New York made these donations as part of their “Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Project.” The Bee article explained that Warhol snapped thousands of photographs in the 1970s and 80s during his reign as one of the central figures of New York Pop Art. Some of the donated photographs were black and white prints, snippets of Warhol’s daily life recorded with a simple Leica camera that he carried with him at all times. But the donations mostly included Polaroids taken as preliminary images for commissioned portraits of celebrities, socialites, executives and art collectors. The article finally mentioned that the Warhol Foundation tried to choose photos that would relate to the two Sacramento schools, like a Polaroid of the current California First Lady Maria Shriver. I started to wonder about how these 180 schools got chosen in the first place.
Why not ARC? American River College has an enrollment of over 32,000. It has an on-campus art gallery, a permanent art collection, and a non-profit foundation, the ARC Foundation, that could accept a donation. Through an internet search I found Jenny Moore, the contact person for the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Project. I e-mailed her and laid out the reasons why they should consider us for a donation as well.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” I asked, “Would they just ignore the request?” And they did just that for the next year and a half. But while checking e-mails one morning, there appeared a response from Jenny Moore at the foundation. She asked for more specific information about our ARC Foundation and some details on its non-profit status. There was no promise of a donation, but we figured they were considering one. ARC Foundation director, Kirsten Du Bray, compiled all the necessary information and we sent it along to the Warhol Foundation.
Months went by with no response, until I sent an ever-so-nice follow up inquiry in the spring of 2010. Ms. Moore responded that the Warhol Foundation was confused about the separate status of our college foundation versus the greater Los Rios Foundation. She wanted some kind of legal clarification about which of the two non-profit foundations, exactly, would be receiving the donation.
For almost another year our back-and-forth e-mails tried to resolve confusion. We recruited ARC President David Viar to write a letter to the foundation. The president’s letter struck a resonant chord, with a subtext that seemed to convince them of our worthiness as an educational institution. Then in February of 2011 Ms. Moore sent the word:
“Thank you for your diligence,” she wrote. “I trust everything will work out in the end.”
That was our first indication that we were indeed being seriously considered. Ms. Moore also mentioned that their foundation made all decisions about donations “during the spring.” Once again we were asked to remain patient. “That makes me a little nervous,” said Du Bray. But reading an article about the foundation years ago, I told Kirsten they had a reputation for being persnickety about everything.
“Spring doesn’t officially end until June 21st," I said, "so I am going to wait until the first day of summer and e-mail them one last time.” Before that could happen, on June 14th, we received notification that a donation was just around the corner. Bibi Kahn, who had just replaced Moore at the Warhol Foundation, e-mailed the following:
“I am trying to work out with our lawyers that we have all the paperwork in order, after that,
I will mail the contracts. Thank you very much for your patience.”
One week later a six page contract and an inventory list arrived. The contract covered copyright issues, de-accession restrictions, specifics on framing, storage, publication on the internet and related concerns. We would be required, for example, to scan all 150 photos and send them back a CD within six months. There was a requirement to exhibit at least some of the photos within the following ten years. There was even a stipulation allowing us to trade or sell some of the photos, but only to acquire a “comparable Warhol.” At the bottom of the contract my name appeared next to the signature line as the official “grantee.”
Only then did I believe the donation was really going to happen. We were the only 2-year college in California, and one of the only ones in the nation, to receive a donation. We would receive 150 photographs in all; 50 black and white prints and 100 Polaroids. The inventory list included celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Dolly Parton, Maria Shriver, Mary Tyler Moore, Liza Minnelli, Truman Capote, Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall (Mrs. Jagger #2), British artists Gilbert and George, and a compendium of models, nudes, socialites, art collectors and people in Warhol’s circle.
President Viar grabbed the inventory list and drove over to the Los Rios district offices to wave it in front of the chancelor. As we went about scanning the works and framing 32 of them for an exhibition, there wasn't much additional interest among school administrators. The Current newspaper ran a story, and the Los Rios district newsletter plastered Warhol polaroids across their front page, although none of the images were the ones we got. And the Warhol "cover story" they touted was a single paragraph on page three.
The college didn't have a good place to store the framed photos until we got them hung around campus. A heat wave made them too fragile to keep in an un-air conditioned office. So before David Viar left ARC for a college presidency in Glendale, he agreed that I should keep them at my house, until we could hang them around campus. Yes, my climate-controlled house. In two giant plastic containers we had 32 framed Warhols staying in the bedroom. A few at a time, we found places on campus to hang the works.
Then the district brought in an appraiser. Mandy Sabbadini, who valued the entire collection of 150 photos at $1.6 million, and all hell broke loose.
"Where are the Warhols?" asked the ARC Vice President. When told where they were being stored, she asked for them all to be returned, then locked them up in a vault in the business office. The administration was finally paying attention, but the Warhols had just been sequestered.
"Free the Warhols!"
Soon after we got a new president, Pam Walker, who took control of the situation. She arranged a meeting of all the main players and mandated the schooll to find suitable, climate-controlled storage space for the entire ARC Permanent Art Collection. She gave us enough funding for a safe and storage racks. Most importantly, she ordered the framed Warhols all to be rehung with security mounts. Walker was only there as president for a few months (she was soon after appointed to the California Community Colleges Cancelor's Office by Governor Jerry Brown), but she did the most to ensure that ARC would value and protect the works.
Update to summer, 2016
In the summer of 2013 I received another letter from the Warhol Foundation in New York. They decided to make another donation to all 181 colleges. This time the works were unsigned silkscreens, off-edition serigraphs from Warhol's many limited-edition runs. We received five large pieces: An Annie Oakley, a Sitting Bull, two Hans Christian Andersens and a piece with champaigne glasses called "Committee 2000."
For the next two years we photographed them, framed them, researched them, and hung them in four different locations on campus. In spring, 2016, all five silkscreens and 26 additional photos were exhibited at ARC's Kaneko Gallery. Since the original donation, ARC has framed over 60 Warhols, had two exhibitions, and produced a catalog titled "Warhol's New York." Today, you can walk around the college and guide yourself through a Warhol exhibition of your very own. -Ken Magri
Ken lives in Sacramento and writes for the Capital Cannabis Guide in the Sacramento News and Review
In "Receiving our Warhols" ARC Journalism student Emily Rabasto filmed Ken Magri and Dan Bernick as they retrieved five Andy Warhol photos from the school's vault and hung them in the offices of the ARC Current newspaper. Filmed in March, 2015.
How I got 155 Andy Warhol Originals Donated
to American River College
by Ken Magri
M.A. in Art History from CSU Sacramento -B.A. in Art from CSU Chico -Attended California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland
Ken taught at American River College, Cosumnes River College, National University,
Westland College, and California State Prison at Folsom
Ken's art and photographs have shown in galleries in Northern California and Germany.
His articles have appeared in regional and national publications
-Ken jumps boulders in the Sierras, rides Harleys, collects memorabilia, and runs an unauthorized art gallery near Kyburz.
More Andy Warhol photos and silkscreens from American River College.
"ARC Presents Warhol's New York" is a 2012 film by Jessicah Pratt that documents how Ken Magri, Kirsten Du Bray and David Viar finally secured a donation of 150 Andy Warhol photographs to American River College in 2011, and now prepare for their exhibition at the James Kaneko Gallery.
Videos from YouTube:
ONE PERSON ART EXHIBITIONS
2016 "Recent Fridge Magnets" at the 35 Milestone Gallery, Kyburz
2006 “Homeland Security” street art works in London, Brussels and Amsterdam
1997 “This Way to the Internet” street art works in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Prague, San Francisco, Vienna, and Zurich
1990 American River College Gallery, Sacramento
1988 Accurate Gallery, Sacramento
1985 Zebra Gallery, Carmichael
SELECTED GROUP ART EXHIBITIONS
2005 Sacramento City College, Sacramento
2004 Center for Contemporary Art, Sacramento
1999 Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco
1997 Gallery SoToDo, Sacramento and Berlin, Venice Bienalle, (unauthorized)
1996 Center for Contemporary Art, Sacramento
1994 Gallery SoToDo, Sacramento and Berlin, Nelson Gallery, Davis, KVIE Art Auction, Sacramento
1989 Gallery SoToDo, Sacramento, Fine Arts Center, Sacramento
1987 Amador County Open, (Best of Show), Gallery SoToDo, KVIE Art Auction, Sacramento
1983/84 Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento
SELECTED MAILART EXHIBITIONS
2006 Sacramento Metro Arts Commission, Nachtsonne en der Kunstkammer, Switzerland
2000 Gallery SoToDo, Sacramento
1997 “Mailart Against Racism”, Vienna, Austria
1994 Center of Picture Archives, Aragon, Spain, Taller Del Sol, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
1993 Orde van Architecten, Limburg, Belgium
1990 Mayworks Art Festival, Toronto, Canada, Village Gallery, New Delhi, India
KEN'S ARTWORK IS IN THE COLLECTIONS OF:
American River College, Craig Lovell , Carol and Neil Alen, Dawn Manning, Retah Barnes, David Marquis, Gloria and Walter Burt, Peter and Marquis, Teresa Fox-Magri, Jo Morvay Susan Himsworth, Dee Oldham, Lauren Kloos, Steve Peterson, Sara Langworthy, Mick Sheldon, Josephine Liles, Loralee Taylor, Penny Hanscom , Karen Porier-Brode
ART EXHIBITIONS CURATED BY KEN
2015 “PostMODERN Extinction” at the Kaneko Gallery, Sacramento (with Mick Sheldon)
2012 “Warhol’s New York” at the Kaneko Gallery, Sacramento (wrote "Warhol's New York" catalog)
2005 “Fridge Magnet Show and Sale #2”, at American River College, Sacramento (a fundraiser for the Student Art Purchase Fund)
2004 “Izzy’s Van Go 4”x6” Invitational” Sacramento, (with Dan Samborski)
2000 “International Mailart Exhibition and Exchange”, at Gallery SoToDo, Sacramento
1989 “Intertnational Mailart Exhibition”, Village Gallery, New Delhi, India (with Kim Scott)