By Laura Werling
The Gagosian Gallery in New York has presented a stunning collection of murals and portraits by the legendary photographer Richard Avedon, which was curated from and in collaboration with The Richard Avedon Foundation. Since I first saw Avedon’s work in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue in archives from the late 1940’s all the way to the late 80’s, I have been moved and touched by Avedon’s skill. Beyond his revolutionary work in fashion photography, Avedon’s portraits and journalistic work in cultural exploration are what fascinate me most.
The exhibition consists of four photographic murals Avedon created between 1969 and 1971, and their related portraits. Avedon captured people on camera who were all playing major roles in the political and social changes happening in America at the time. The scale of the murals is commanding and powerful; each one spans between 20 and 35 feet wide, and are shown in a space in which the viewer is very small by comparison. Then, each of the corresponding portraits are displayed to continue the story the mural has begun. Each mural shows a different grouping of people, all of them symbolic of a certain political or social movement. Andy Warhol and his followers and fellow creators at the The Factory; The Chicago Seven, a radical political group charged with conspiracy at the 1968 Democratic National Convention; the Mission Council, the assembly of ranking government and military officials who determined the United States involvement in the Vietnam War; and the Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, and his large family.
With each mural, Avedon created a work of art that spoke louder than any words could. The photos need no captions; being feet away from such exquisite work allows the viewer to feel the essence of the issue in exploration. For example, the portraits corresponding to the Mission Council mural are photos of survivors of napalm attacks in Vietnam; a juxtaposition of the war leaders and the war victims. In the Ginsberg family mural, the ever-changing American family dynamic is contrasted with images of Allen Ginsberg, standing naked with his partner Peter Orlovsky, which were considered too scandalous for publication in 1963. Each photo in the exhibit has more intensity than the last; each one capturing iconic moments evocative of the times.
The Gagosian Gallery is located at 522 West 21st Street, New York, NY. RICHARD AVEDON: Murals and Portraits runs through July 6th, 2012.