05/09/2012 09:03 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2012

Enough Of Avedon?


Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, poets, New York, December 30, 1963

Courtesy Gagosian Gallery and The Richard Avedon Foundation

In "Richard Avedon: Murals and Portraits," Gagosian has staged one of the most alluring curatorial arrangements of the season. As if exhibiting all four of the artist's monumental murals together for the first time since 1994, complimented by an assortment of thematically related portraits, wasn't enough, the gallery has enlisted starchitect David Adjaye to create what the release refers to, and is indeed, a "dramatic spatial composition."


The Mission Council, Saigon, South Vietnam, April 28, 1971

Courtesy Gagosian Gallery and The Richard Avedon Foundation

Known as one of the 20th century's leading fashion photographers and portraitists, Avedon retained an uncanny ability to garner quite unique, sublimely frank expressions from his subjects who varied from the severest of 20th century poets, anti-Semite Ezra Pound to desegregationist Dwight Eisenhower, The Beatles to members of "the Mission Council" assembled on April 27, 1971, a spry Brooke Shields to a weathered Willem de Kooning. Much like Ruscha matching meaning with a color scheme and the shape of his words or phrases, the tone of Avedon's portraits reveal with all sincerity, the fundamental character of the sitter.


Photo by Robert McKeever, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Mounted at Gagosian's cavernous 21st Street space, each of the four murals serve as anchors hung behind glass on the gallery's structural walls. Adjaye, in accordance with the Avedon Foundation and Gagosian director Kara Vander Weg, has directed the installation of four V-shaped constructs that form miniature alcoves each curated according to the theme or characters depicted in the associated mural.


Photo by Robert McKeever, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Gallery "A" contains a slathering of Warhol's factory trannies and denizens Viva, Gerard Malanga, and Taylor Mead alongside Avedon's shot of Warhol's post-Solanas mangled torso. "B" follows with images associated with "The Chicago Seven," a group of activists criminalized during the riots of 1968 concurrent with the Democratic National Convention. Keeping in turn with Avedon's lesser-recognized but profoundly important politicized work, "C" uses "The Mission Council" as a point of departure juxtaposing American officials with soldiers and victims of strife alike. The final enclave pays homage to the freedom of expression Americans hold dear with a mural of Allen Ginsberg and his extend family complimented by a series of portraits and contact sheets featuring Peter Orlovsky, Ginsberg's lover and fellow poet. After all, Avedon embodied an American spirit taking pride in and, in some capacity, also taking responsibility for the country's tumultuous development during the '50s, '60s, and '70s.


Abbie Hoffman, Yippie, New York, September 11, 1968

Courtesy Gagosian Gallery and The Richard Avedon Foundation

By capturing both the conservative and the violent, the mistakes and triumphs, the flamboyant and the creative, Avedon gave equal opportunity to a scattered and unified American culture to build an identity and become immortalized in images of true gravitas. Avedon's photographs, however provocative, refuse to depart from the human condition, never truly aggrandizing or mythologizing sitters but rather honing in on their roots. Whether it's Andy's stomach, freshly stapled, or Ginsberg caught in the rapture of Orlovsky's arms, the sitters remain themselves, individuals not merely signifiers for a character type or sociocultural movement.


Andy Warhol and members of The Factory, New York, October 9, 1969

Courtesy Gagosian Gallery and The Richard Avedon Foundation

Richard Avedon Murals & Portraits is on view at Gagosian Gallery, West 21st Street through July 6, 2012.


Photo by Robert McKeever, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Correction: An earlier version of this post listed the Avedon Foundation as the Avedon Estate. We regret the error.