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Richard Avedon

19 October 2008 - 19 January 2009

mgb_08_avedon2_LISTEQUER.jpg
Richard Avedon,
Self-portrait, Photographer,
Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980
© The Richard Avedon Foundation
 

Richard Avedon
Photographs 1946–2004
19 October 2008 to 19 January 2009

This is the first retrospective exhibition of the work of the American star photographer Richard Avedon since his death in 2004. Many epoch-making and pioneering pictures are on show: the picture of the famous model Dovima, posing amidst sawdust and hay between elephants in an haute-couture creation, was revolutionary and ground-breaking in 1948; the 9.5 x 3 m. group portrait of “Andy Warhol and the members of the Factory” from 1969, where Avedon was able to bring out the individual personalities in the group; and the picture of Charles Chaplin, forming devil’s horns on his forehead and waving goodbye to McCarthyism’s USA with his gaze. Also included are Avedon’s characteristic dancing model shots with the most fêted photo models of the day, for example Twiggy and Veruschka.

Especially interesting for the venue in Berlin, in the year of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, Avedon’s series from New Year’s Evening 1989 will be shown in the exhibit. Avedon traveled to Berlin on the sole purpose of photographing this extraordinary historical situation and the reaction of the people.

For more than 50 years Richard Avedon was one of the biggest names in the fashion industry, with a star status that he maintained throughout the years, and he was the first to break down the barrier between so-called serious and non-serious photography. He made a name as early as the 1950s as the world’s leading fashion photographer and was employed by the American magazine Harpers Bazaar, later by Vogue, then in 1992 ended up as the weekly New Yorker’s first regular staff photographer.

In parallel with the fashion photography, Avedon also worked with dark, emotionally charged portraits, and along with the photographer Irving Penn transformed portrait photography in the twentieth century; but whereas Penn’s portraiture was considerate and attentive, Avedon’s was radical and intense.

Avedon created an endless succession of portraits of statesmen, artists, actors and actresses. And wherever one usually has a fixed image of a person, with his photographs he shatters the picture-postcard icon and shows a portrait that provides food for thought – it may be of legendary film stars like Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe or the great stars of the silent film – Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin – or of personalities ranging as wide as Karen Blixen, Truman Capote, Henry Kissinger, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Edward Kennedy, The Beatles and Francis Bacon.

The Exhibition
The retrospective exhibition features more than 200 photographs, demonstrating the scope of Avedon’s production, from the glamorous world of fashion through the more psychological portraits to reportage-oriented shots. The first photograph in the exhibition was taken in 1946, when Avedon went to Rome and Sicily just after World War II, and the last photograph in the exhibition is of the singer Björk, taken less than four months before Avedon’s sudden death.

In general, the presentation of the photographs in the exhibition is chronological, drawing selectively on picture series where Avedon concentrated on a particular range of themes, subjects or events – from travel pictures to almost registrative pictures of his dying father. Photographs from the “New York Life” reportage series from 1949 – a work commissioned by Life magazine, which Avedon at the time ended up not submitting to the magazine, and from which he first showed selections forty years later in his own book “An Autobiography” – can be seen in the exhibition.

The series points forward to other reportages shown in the exhibition as well as portrait series for which Avedon has later become famous, including “In the American West”, photos from 17 of the USA’s westernmost states in the period 1979–84, a work commissioned by The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Out of 752 portrait shots Avedon selected 124 black-and-white photographs of people who fall outside the normal social order. While it is usually politicians, celebrities and well-off people who are portrayed in the tradition of the representative portrait, the powerful have here been replaced with the powerless. Richard Avedon was awarded the Swedish Hasselblad Prize for photography in 1991.

The exhibit has been shown at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebœk, the International Centre for Photography, Milan, and the Jeu de Paume, Paris. Following the Martin-Gropius-Bau, the exhibit will be shown at FOAM Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam and at the SFMOMA, San Francisco.

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