Top image: Richard Avedon ‘Charles Chaplin’, actor, New York, September 13, 1952
Richard Avedon and Andy Warhol – two innovative and iconic artists that captured the cultural transformations of the mid twentieth century – are being showcased alongside each other in a London exhibition.
Gagosian Gallery presents the first major pairing of works by the two, which explores the relationship between celebrities, the evolving acceptance of cultural differences, and social and political power, themes which interlock and permeate the fabric of both artists’ work.
Avedon, the celebrated fashion photographer helped define America’s image of style and beauty in the postwar years while Warhol, an emblem of New York City subculture, incarnated the sexual and cultural revolution.
Each gallery juxtaposes works that emphasize these themes, beginning with Avedon’s The Family (1976) – a conceptual work which portrays sixty-nine individuals at the center of American politics at that time, together with Warhol’s monumental portrait of the revolutionary Mao Tse-tung (1972). We spoke to the exhibition’s curator Kara Vander Weg about the comparisons between both artists.
Richard Avedon ‘Audrey Hepburn’, actress, New York, January 20, 1967. Photograph by Richard Avedon © The Richard Avedon Foundation
Ray Kinsella: It’s exciting to see two such highly influential, iconic cultural figures being presented alongside each other in London. Can you tell us a bit about the themes of the exhibition?
Kara Vander Weg: Through the portraits displayed, the exhibition presents the artists’ views regarding social and political power at the time, the nature of difference – whether ideological or biological – their perspectives on death and transcendence, and the glamour and despair of celebrity.
RK: Both Avedon and Warhol captured the revolutionary transformation of modern culture. How important was their work in defining gender, and inspiring social and political change in postwar America?
KVW: It was a time when all of these attitudes were in constant flux, and both artists were part of this moment. Certainly their images, and the mainstream outlets through which they were seen, were important influencers.
RK: Did both artists embody similar aesthetic and cultural ideals?
KVW: They both believed in the power of images to incite change and promote ideas. Avedon was very focused on bringing forth the unique personalities of his sitters through their poses or expressions. Warhol was interested in portraying icons of the time, and his portraits tend to say less about the individual than they do about society at large.
RK: Why are the themes of Warhol and Avedon’s work significant today?
KVW: We remain a culture that is transfixed by images, and they are a primary component of how we communicate-perhaps never more so than now. Just imagine how both artists would have utilised Instagram!