Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea is presenting an exhibition of Richard Avedon’s legendary photographic murals and related portraits.
By the late 1960s, Avedon had worked for more than two decades as a professional photographer. His visionary depictions of couture changed fashion in magazines and his commanding portraits of public figures were among the most venerated in the world. Avedon’s reportage, which he had made since the late 1940s and which included Italian and New York street scenes, had expanded to address cultural touchstones such as the American Civil Rights Movement and the inhabitants of a Louisiana mental institution.
Against the backdrop of America’s social and political transformation, Avedon began to create four
photographic murals between 1969 and 1971 which would be unprecedented in scale and pointed in subject.The murals revealed a striking new format in which subjects were positioned frontally and aligned against a stark white background. This intensity of characterization and confrontational aspect typifies Avedon’s portraits; his subjects exist larger than life, stripped of all artifice by an unflinching eye.
His mural groupings featured emblematic figures: Andy Warhol with the players and stars of The Factory; The Chicago Seven, political radicals charged with conspiracy to
incite riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention; the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his extended family; and the Mission Council, a group of military and government officials who governed the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War.
|Andy Warhol and members of The Factory|
|Allen Ginsberg’s family|
In his large-scale murals and the smaller, related portraits of the 1960s and 1970s, Avedon sought to depict the spirit of the times. The transgendered Candy Darling and the naked Taylor Mead testify to the provocative countercultural behavior of the Factory; the positioning of characters within the mural suggest a complicated group dynamic. The spirit of political rebellion is embodied by the Chicago Seven mural, as well as the individual photos of writer Jean Genet, Weatherman leader Bernardine Dohrn, and former turf gangturned-human rights group, the Young Lords. The expanding definition of the American family is represented
by the mural of the Ginsbergs, while earlier images of Allen in nude embrace with his partner Peter
Orlovsky, were found to be too shocking for most publications in 1963. Finally, the war administrators—the Mission Council—are juxtaposed with victims of the war: Vietnamese survivors of napalm attacks. Powerful and dynamic, Avedon’s images became icons of their embattled times that resonate for the present and future.
|Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky|
|The Mission Council|