Skip to Main Content
February 23, 2024

Acquisition: Gillian Wearing, "My Polaroid Years", 1988–2005

Gillian Wearing, "My Polaroid Years"

Gillian Wearing
My Polaroid Years, 1988–2005
148 internal dye diffusion prints (Polaroid SX-70)
overall: 304.8 x 60.96 cm (120 x 24 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of the Tony and Trisja Podesta Collection, Washington, DC
© Gillian Wearing, Courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles and Maureen Paley, London

Conceptual artist Gillian Wearing’s (b. 1963) psychologically intense photographs and videos examine the tensions between self and society in an increasingly media-saturated world. The National Gallery of Art has been given Wearing’s My Polaroid Years (1988–2005) by Trisja and Tony Podesta, whose many gifts have contributed significantly to the contemporary holdings of our museum.

Wearing explores how lens-based media is particularly apt to ask questions about who we are and how we represent ourselves to the world. Drawn from the artist’s personal archive, My Polaroid Years consists of 148 instant Polaroid self-portraits. The project started when Wearing was 24 years old and part of the graduate art program at Goldsmiths College in London and continued until she was 42 years old and working on her major series Family Album. This rare group of photographs is displayed in a wooden vitrine like museum artifacts. Organized roughly in chronological order, the pictures reveal the artist’s experiments with different wigs and hairstyles, makeup, lighting, and poses.

A significant early work, My Polaroid Years reveals Wearing’s growing interest in the performative nature of the self-portrait as it shifts between public and private, documentary and fiction, and raw improvisation and carefully staged actions. Wearing’s careerlong fascination with identity formation and self-documentation is shared by many artists already in the National Gallery’s collection. Her use of Polaroid technology, for example, draws striking connections with artworks and photographs made by Andy Warhol. Both artists examine the human condition in a way that audiences connect with—especially through their instant Polaroid portraits, which resemble today’s selfies.

Contact Information

General Information
For additional press information please call or send inquiries to:
Department of Communications
National Gallery of Art
2000 South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785
phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]

Chief of Communications
Anabeth Guthrie
phone: (202) 842-6804
e-mail: [email protected]

The National Gallery also offers a broad range of newsletters for various interests. Follow this link to view the complete list.

Related Resources