This ‘Vanity Fair’ Hollywood Exhibit Puts Visitors on the Red Carpet

The show collects the glossy mag’s iconic celeb shots–and creates an Oscar night experience inside the museum

The Vanity Fair: Hollywood Calling exhibit–on view at the Annenberg Space for Photography from February 8 to July 26–promises to be more than a collection of really awesome photos of celebrities. It was designed to feel as if you’re attending the glossy magazine’s legendary Oscar night after-party.

Museumgoers will enter on a red carpet with a projection of paparazzi snapping pictures of them (first selfie op). Then they will wind their way through the maze of 125 photographs, gatefolds, and projections, and a 20-minute film by Alex Horwitz about the history of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood coverage and the making of its 2020 Hollywood issue. At the back a facsimile is set up of the studio photographer Mark Seliger creates at the annual Oscar night party, where winners pose with their awards or just engage in general tomfoolery (second selfie opp).


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“Movers & Shakers of Color,” Vanity Fair 2018 | Photo by Mark Seliger

We sat down with the exhibition’s co-curator, Vanity Fair’s creative development editor David Friend to give us a sneak peek of show’s highlights.

How did this exhibit come about?

It was Wallis Annenberg’s idea. She called me out of the blue and asked. “It’s going to be our 10th anniversary would you want to curate something?”

It’s the 26th anniversary of our Hollywood Issue. We already have a partnership with them—we hold our Oscar night party at the Annenberg, our Vanity Fair Summit is held at the center. So we said, “let’s do this.”

How were the photos chosen?

Susan White, former director of photography at Vanity Fair and I went through every page starting in March 1983 when the magazine launched, and went through every single unbound issue. We broke down a couple of color Xerox machines printing out images. Eventually we came up with 125 pictures. It took us a year. And it was really just the tip of the iceberg.

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Lady Gaga & Mark Ronson, Vanity Fair April 2019 | Photo by Mark Seliger

Any standouts?

We found some diamonds in the rough—photos that have never seen the light. There was a photo of Quentin Tarantino, he was young and not well known, writing Pulp Fiction at the time. Reservoir Dogs had just come out, so there was a little bitty picture of him in the mag, recreating a scene from a film that Luis Buñuel and Dali had made called An Andalusian Dog, and one of the classic scenes involved a razor blade cutting open a human eye. It feels very Tarantino-esque. So we’ll have obscure pictures at the exhibit and some of the more well known photos.

Obviously the Demi Moore cover, right?

That image will appear twice in the show. A print next to the cover to show why it works. That picture became really important because it showed the sensual allure of fertility. Some stores refused to sell it unless it had a white sleeve covering it. People cancelled their subscriptions over it. They thought seeing a seven-months pregnant woman without clothes on was blasphemy. But for some it changed our perception of motherhood. And it was also a very empowering photo. Both Demi and Annie [Leibovitz] have spoken on that subject.

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Spike Lee, Vanity Fair April 2019 | Photo by Mark Seliger

Speaking of Annie, I’d expect to see lots of her photos.

She has the lion’s share for sure. You know, Annie Leibovitz was hired before the magazine even existed. In 1982 she was at Rolling Stone, and we lured her away. But there are lots of great photographers featured in the exhibit. Like Norma Jean Roy, she shot Hilary Swank running on the beach at sunset with the sunlight on her, she’s caught in mid-air and the shape she makes feels almost like a hieroglyphic. Also photos by Emmanuel Lubezki will be on display. He was the cinematographer who shot The Revenant and Gravity.

So, is the exhibit an exploration of Vanity Fair as the lens through which the rest of the world sees Hollywood?

It does but in a context that isn’t all about the dreamscape. Hollywood is a business, so you’ll see portraits of the moguls, photos that show high and low culture, crime and scandal. We also explore its relationship to Washington and politics. There’s a photo in the exhibit of the Reagan’s dancing. Back then a lot people were confused: He was a Hollywood actor and now, he’s the President? Harry Benson shot it, he had 5 minutes so he put on Nancy’s favorite song, “Nancy With The Dancing Face” by Frank Sinatra. He knew they’d dance. Ronnie was in black tie grinning straight at the camera and Nancy was in a sequin gown, kicking up her heels. The photo looks like a film still. It appeared on the cover of the June 1985 issue and it was a best seller, huge success. It was the intersection of Hollywood and the White House. And it became an icon. That’s what happens when journalism, portraiture, and fine art come together—you get the iconic.

More images from Vanity Fair: Hollywood Calling below:


RELATED: Annie Leibovitz Looks Back on Her “Very California” Early Years

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