Avedon Warhol : A Disappearing World
“They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.“ – Andy Warhol
Finally back in London for a while after several trips to Europe. I have to admit that it feels so good to travel again… To disconnect, to experience new cultures, meeting new people… These past couple of months have been a tremendous inspirations for me both personally and professionally. My head is buzzing with ideas for my design projects, and my notebook is filled with stories I want to write about… to share with you all on this blog… So let’s begin from the beginning where I left off…
Before the trip to Milan for AW16 Fashion Week, I had the pleasure of visiting Gagosian Gallery in London for the preview of the first major exhibition to pair works by Richard Avedon and Andy Warhol. Although both artists rose to prominence in post-war America with parallel artistic output that occasionally overlapped, I was not that familiar with the photographic portraits by Richard Avedon at all, even though I was a fan of Andy Warhol’s. It actually came to a surprise to me to learn that the majority of Andy Warhol’s infamous pop art portraits of iconic faces were actually based on the black and white photographic portraits taken by none other than Richard Avedon. Hence the concept of this very intriguing exhibition!
Their most memorable images, produced in response to changing cultural mores, are icons of the twentieth century. Portraiture was a shared focus of both artists, and they made use of repetition and serialization: Avedon through the reproducible medium of photography, and in his group photographs, for which he meticulously positioned, collaged, and reordered images; Warhol in his method of stacked screenprinting, which enabled the consistent reproduction of an image. Avedon’s distinctive gelatin-silver prints and Warhol’s boldly coloured silkscreens variously depict many of the same recognizable faces, including Marella Agnelli, Bianca Jagger, Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Rudolf Nureyev.
Richard Avedon was born in New York City in 1923 and died while on assignment for The New Yorker in San Antonio, Texas, in 2004. His work is included in the collections of major museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with countless other institutions worldwide. Avedon’s first museum retrospective was held at the Smithsonian Institution in 1962. Many major museum exhibitions have followed, including those at the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts (1970), Museum of Modern Art (1974), Whitney Museum of American Art (1994), and two at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978 and 2002). A 2007 retrospective exhibition organized by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark traveled to Milan, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and San Francisco. “Richard Avedon: People” was presented at National Portrait Gallery, Canberra in 2013, and traveled to Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth in 2014, and the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne from 2014–15.
Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh in 1928 and died in New York City in 1987. His work is included in public collections worldwide. His first major exhibition was at Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1962. Since then, his work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions in museums and galleries throughout the world, including retrospectives at Pasadena Art Museum (1970, traveled to Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris; Tate Gallery, London; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York); Museum of Modern Art, New York (1989, traveled to Art Institute of Chicago; Hayward Gallery, London; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Palazzo Reale, Milan; and Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris); and Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2001–02, traveled to Tate Modern, London; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles). Recent exhibitions include “Warhol: Headlines,” Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome (2011–12); “Andy Warhol: Shadows,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2014–15); “Transmitting Andy Warhol,” Tate Liverpool (2014–15); and “Andy Warhol: Campbell’s Soup Cans and Other Works, 1953–1967,” Museum of Modern Art, New York (2015).
Both Avedon and Warhol originated from modest beginnings and had tremendous commercial success working for major magazines in New York, beginning in the 1940s. The 1960s marked artistic turning points for both artists as they moved away increasingly from strictly commercial work towards their mature independent styles. The works in the exhibition, which date from the 1950s through the 1990s, emphasise such common themes as social and political power; the evolving acceptance of cultural differences; the inevitability of mortality; and the glamour and despair of celebrity. For instance, The Family (1976) is Avedon’s ambitious conceptual portrayal of sixty-nine individuals at the epicenter of American politics at that time, whilst Warhol focuses on the monumental portrait of the revolutionary Mao Tse-tung, Mao (1972). In both works, little emotion or expression is revealed in the sitters’ faces or postures. Such deadpan was a mark of Pop art ambivalence, more commonly associated with Warhol, but equally applicable in this instance to Avedon.
Both artists sought out individuals who were outside, as well as inside, the mainstream. For Avedon, this resulted in the larger-than-lifesize mural of Andy Warhol and members of The Factory (1969), who represented the heart of New York subculture and incarnated the sexual and cultural revolution. Meanwhile, Warhol memorialized the beauty of drag queens—who he once described as “ambulatory archives of ideal moviestar womanhood”—in his pioneering series of silkscreens, Ladies and Gentlemen (1975).
Celebrity was a topic that was equally explored by both artists: Avedon in his iconic images of Brigitte Bardot (1959) and Audrey Hepburn (1967); and Warhol in his dramatically rendered superstars, such as Double Elvis (1963) and Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) (1986). Driven by their cosmopolitan awareness and mindfulness of the potential for their work to stir change, as well as their diverse cast of modern muses, Avedon and Warhol harnessed the power of images to reflect the revolutionary social attitudes of their time.
Both artists then went on to explore the darker side of human existence, as well as its potential salvation: Warhol’s Skull and Guns paintings, whilst Avedon took photographs of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, known as Brandenburg Gate portfolio.
To be able to look at the body of work of both artists side by side in this exhibition was not only insightful in terms of being able to experience iconic moments as seen through iconic artists’ eyes via two very different mediums from two opposing personas, and what really mattered during their time; but the level of originality that Warhol has managed to achieve from transforming photographic portraits taken by Avedon into his signature Pop Art portraits was astounding. For the first time in my life, I felt that Warhol’s colourful methodical portraits actually possessed a touch of vulnerability, a shyness revealed by the subject when sitting for a formal portrait. A complete opposite of the over confident, over-sharing selfie culture that the general public and celebrities, in particular, are accustomed to these days. It seems to me that although both masters changed the way we looked at the world, that world is long gone.
Photographer: Yulia Jevzikova