Before Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, there was Andy Warhol. "The way he treated photography was like a visual diary. I think he was very prophetic and anticipatory of a lot of the communications phenomenon like sharing images over the Internet," said Gregory Gilbert, the guest curator of a Warhol photography exhibit on display at Augustana College.
Likewise, the pop artist may have invented reality television.
"You know his quote of 'Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,' and he said that long before reality television," Gilbert said. "He prophesied a lot of the treatment of mass media."
The artist's (1928-1987) quote is the basis for "Beyond Fifteen Minutes of Fame: Andy Warhol's Photographic Legacy," on display through the end of the month at the Rock Island campus' art museum.
Augustana was one of 180 colleges and universities nationwide that received several years ago a portion of an estimated 180,000 photographs taken by Warhol.
"They wanted to get the images out there and encourage the museums to start researching the photographs," Gilbert said.
Augustana received about 150 photos, and one-third of them are on display.
They are everything from somewhat formal portraits of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, The Cars lead singer Ric Ocasek, singer-actress Pia Zadora and designer Diane Von Furstenberg to candid pictures of nightlife at Studio 54 and New York street scenes, as well as Polaroids of Warhol's male paramours.
"The Polaroids in 30 years are going to be gone. They're chemically unstable," Gilbert said. "The Polaroids are fugitive."
Warhol was a very public person who kept a private reputation, Gilbert said, and the photographs are "almost like a visual diary."
"He was obsessed with recording his personal life, but only on a superficial level. The photographs are an extension of him recording his daily life," Gilbert said. "He kind of plays with the idea of photographs as a documentary form, a realism form. Photography can reveal reality in a different way."
As a curator, Gilbert said it is his job to select works that will help represent a topic or a critical idea.
"You want to pull together, bring together those works that will represent a historical issue or an art issue," he added.
The Warhol exhibit is somewhat an introduction of Gilbert to the Quad-City community. Besides being guest curator for the Augustana exhibit, he was hired late this summer as senior curator of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.
The 51-year-old, who was born in Kansas and raised in several spots around the United States as an Army brat, has been the director of the art history program at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., for the past 14 years.
He became acquainted with the Figge after being asked to serve on a museum advisory council two years ago and was offered the job this summer by Figge executive director Sean O'Harrow.
"I always thought that having an academic appointment and a museum position would really be the ideal combination," said Gilbert, who is spending three days a week at Knox and two at the Figge. "It took me a while to get there, but I finally have the opportunity."
Gilbert and O'Harrow said it is rare for a museum and an institution of higher education to share a person in such a way unless it's a museum already connected to a college or university.
"Some of the best art museums I've encountered have been university museums, and the best museums I've encountered are where the curators and the professors are the same people," O'Harrow said. "It's all about teaching, and that's what museums do best - or should do best."
Having someone who is already an instructor gives them familiarity with lectures and knowledge, plus approachability, O'Harrow said.
"Our view of the perfect presenter for art to the public is a person who has one foot in the museum world and one foot in the academic world," he said. "We feel that the 'Art 101' approach, if I can call it that, is appropriate for the public. It doesn't assume the public knows a lot about the specific work of art, so it starts at the beginning and doesn't talk down to people."
The Figge is, in turn, loaning its Warhol painting of a Campbell's soup can and its screen print of his Elizabeth Taylor portrait to Augustana for the exhibit.
While works such as those are how most people know Warhol, Gilbert said the photos give new insight.
"It was very hard to get to know Warhol as a person, a personality," he said. "The photographs kind of reveal a personal side of the artist."