The murals are society portraits. In them, Avedon assembles giants of the late twentieth century—members of Andy Warhol’s Factory, architects of the Vietnam war, and demonstrators against that war—who together shaped an extraordinarily turbulent era of American life. Presented in one gallery, their enormous portraits will stage an unlikely conversation among historically opposed camps, as well as contemporary viewers. The formal innovations of Avedon’s high style—of starkly lit bodies in an unsparing white surround—are best realized in these works, where subjects jostle and crowd the frame, and bright voids between them crackle with tension. Uniting the murals with session outtakes and contemporaneous projects, the exhibition will track Avedon’s evolving approach to group portraiture, through which he so transformed the conventions of the genre.
In 1969, Richard Avedon was at a crossroads. After a five-year hiatus, the photographer started making portraits again, this time with a new camera and a new sense of scale. Trading his handheld Rolleiflex for a larger, tripod-mounted device, he reinvented his studio dynamic. Instead of dancing around his subjects from behind a viewfinder, as he had in his lively fashion pictures, he could now stand beside a stationary camera and meet them head-on. Facing down groups of the era’s preeminent artists, activists, and politicians, he made huge photomural portraits, befitting their outsized cultural influence.
Image: Detail from Richard Avedon (American, 1923–2004), Andy Warhol and members of The Factory, New York, October 30, 1969 / courtesy of The Met