Richard Avedon, Avedon 100 @Gagosian

JTF (just the facts): A total of 151 photographic works (including some multi-image sets and portfolios), variously framed and matted, and hung against white/black walls in a large gallery space with multiple nested dividing walls. Installation designed by Stefan Beckman.

The following works are included in the show:

  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1957/1994, sized roughly 40×114 inches, out-of-edition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1974, sized 14×11 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1993, sized roughly 20×16 inches, engraver’s print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1947/2002, sized 26×26 inches, in an edition of 12+2AP
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1946/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1945/1994, sized 20×16 inches, out-of-edition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1949, sized roughly 11×14 inches, engraver’s print
  • 2 gelatin silver prints, 1960/1962, sized 14×11 inches, in editions of 12
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1958/1958-1960, sized 53×42 inches, in an edition of 4
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1949/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1947/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1948/1997, sized 20×24 inches, in an edition of 25+2AP
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1950/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1955, sized roughly 16×19 inches, out-of-edition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1956, sized roughly 18×18 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1953/1981, sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1957, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1957, sized 18×14 inches, in an edition of 75+10AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1959/1997, sized 20×24 inches, in an edition of 25+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1955, sized 85×65 inches, in an edition of 10+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1949, sized 14×18 inches, in an edition of 75+10AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1959, sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 35
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1964, sized 20×16 inches, engraver’s print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1955, sized 18×14 inches, exhibition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1959, sized 20×16 inches, out-of-edition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1958, sized 20×16 inches, out-of-edition print
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1955/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1956/2002, sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 9+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1962, sized 20×16 inches, out-of-edition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1952-1955/1953-1955, sized 41×66 inches, in an edition of 12
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1958/1962, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 9
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1957/1957-1960, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1957/1980, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1949/1993, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 7
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1949/1993, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 5
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1949/1993, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 7
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1955/1993, sized 75×50 inches, in an edition of 3+1AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963/1963-1970, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 8
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1965, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 13+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1960/1993, sized roughly 24×19 inches, in an edition of 9
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963, sized 40×47 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963/1964, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 6
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1961, sized 8×10 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1964/1993, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963/1963-1964, sized 16×20 inches, in an edition of 12
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1969/1975, sized 120×375 inches, in an edition of 2+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1969/1982, sized 14×11 inches, in an edition of 10+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1961/1999, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 30+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1969, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1969/1975, sized roughly 59×48 inches, in an edition of 10+1AP
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1963/2023, sized 16×20 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963/1964, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 7+2AP
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1963/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1963/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963, sized 44×39 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963, sized 49×58 inches, in an edition of 7+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1955/1955-1958, sized roughly 32×36 inches, in an edition of 2
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1975, sized 41×32 inches, in an edition of 10
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1975, sized 50×40 inches, in an edition of 10
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1976, sized 36×28 inches, in an edition of 10
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1966, sized 72×30 inches, exhibition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1971/1975, sized 10×8 inches, in an edition of 50
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1970/2023, sized 16×20 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1975, sized roughly 23×26 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1995, sized roughly 27×22 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1969, sized 10×24 inches, in an edition of 50
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1971/1975, sized 10×40 inches, in an edition of 50
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1998, 20×16 inches, out-of-edition print
  • 1 set of 4 dye transfer prints, 1967/1990, each sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 6+3AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1988, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1982/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1998, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1961/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 2004, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 11+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1974, sized 14×11 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 2003, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1986/2002, sized 20×20 inches, in an edition of 14+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1971, sized 79×61 inches, exhibition print
  • 1 portfolio of 7 gelatin silver prints, 1969-1973/1980, each sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 10+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print in two parts, 2004, sized 16×40 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963/1964, sized roughly 22×18 inches, in an edition of 5
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1975, sized 36×28 inches, in an edition of 10
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1969/1975, sized 28×36 inches, in an edition of 10
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1966/1981, sized 20×24 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 2003/2023, sized 8×10 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1966, sized roughly 16×12 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1963/1980, sized 40×30 inches, in an edition of 11
  • 1 portfolio of 69 gelatin silver prints, 1976, each sized roughly 14×11 inches, in an edition of 25
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1976, sized roughly 14×11 inches, in an edition of 25
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1976, sized roughly 14×11 inches, in an edition of 25
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1976, sized roughly 14×11 inches, in an edition of 25
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1967/1981, sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1996/1997, sized 20×16 inches, in an edition of 4+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1981/1982, sized 38×52 inches, in an edition of 200+6AP
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1965/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1967/1981, sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1994/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 2004, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1970/1993, sized 16×20 inches, engraver’s print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1979/1993, sized roughly 49×76 inches, in an edition of 8+1AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1979, sized 50×80 inches, in an edition of 10+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1979, sized 8×10 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 2003, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1998, sized 20×16 inches, engraver’s print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1994, sized roughly 40×58 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1994, sized roughly 40×68 inches
  • 1 set of 24 iris prints, 1995, each sized roughly 21×17 inches, in an edition of 16+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1979/1985, sized roughly 50×39 inches, in an edition of 3
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1979/1984-1985, sized roughly 50×39, in an edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1994, sized roughly 40×113 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1961/1962, sized 14×11 inches, in an edition of 13
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1962, sized roughly 20×16 inches, out-of-edition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1975, sized 41×32 inches, in an edition of 10
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1975, sized 36×28 inches, in an edition of 10
  • 1 exhibition reproduction 2002/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1967, sized roughly 16×23 inches, engraver’s print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1966, sized roughly 11×12 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1972, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1972, sized 20×16 inches, engraver’s print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1968/1981, sized 20×24 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1967, sized 53×38 inches, exhibition print
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1972, sized 20×24 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1968/1981, sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1977, sized 36×27 inches, exhibition print
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1996/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1973/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1978/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1995/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1979/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1977/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 color coupler print, 1994, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 color coupler print, 1992, sized 24×20 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1969/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1980/2023, sized 16×20 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1961/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 exhibition reproduction, 1993/2023, sized 20×16 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1968/1981, sized 24×20 inches, in an edition of 50+5AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1981/1984-1985, sized roughly 50×39 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print mounted on aluminum, 1980/1984-1985, sized roughly 50×39 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1979/1984-1985, sized roughly 60×47 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1979/1984-1985, sized roughly 60×47 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1982/1984-1985, sized roughly 60×47 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1983/1985, sized roughly 50×79 inches, in an edition of 3
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1981/1984-1985, sized roughly 60×47 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1980/1984-1985, sized roughly 60×47 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1980/1984-1985, sized roughly 60×47 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1982/19841985, sized roughly 44×35 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1980/1984-1985, sized roughly 60×47 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1981/1984-1985, sized roughly 60×47 inches, in an edition of 6+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1970/1993, sized roughly 106×252 inches, in an edition of 3

(Installation shots below.)

A catalog of the exhibition has been published by the gallery (here). Softcover (11 x 12 1/4 inches), 318 pages, with over 275 illustrations. With essays by Derek Blasberg, Larry Gagosian, Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, and Jake Skeets, and short texts by various image selectors. (Cover shot below.)

Comments/Context: On the centenary of Richard Avedon’s birth, Gagosian Gallery has organized a celebratory gallery show for the master photographer that essentially takes the form of a lavishly effusive cocktail party, where more than 150 special guests have been given an invitation plus one. In this case, the plus one isn’t the ability to bring an additional guest, but the ability to choose one favorite (or otherwise meaningful) photograph made by Avedon, of seemingly any subject or from any point in his long career. The resulting show, and its accompanying catalog, bring together all of the choices in a swirlingly grand purpose-built installation in the gallery’s cavernous 21st Street location.

The selector list for Avedon 100 runs far and wide, including family members, celebrities and models who were the subjects of Avedon’s pictures, critics, curators, fashion designers, writers, fellow artists and photographers, and a range of other current influencers, bold-faced names, and famous people (the list of all the selectors is reproduced above). While this approach certainly creates both some breadth of perspective as well as some reflected star power, it has an understated drawback – the lack of one central curatorial or editorial voice means that the selections don’t coalesce into any particular point of view. Instead, we essentially get 150 “my favorite Avedons”, which have been loosely grouped together and turned into an easy-to-like tops-of-the-waves exhibit, an inclusive commemoration rather than an incisive assessment of Avedon’s aggregate influence and specific artistic legacy.

As we might have expected, this survey makes stops at most of the usual Avedon destinations: fashion photographs, celebrity portraits, his friendship with James Baldwin, the oversized murals (recently reviewed here) and few more political pictures, and a healthy collection of images from In the American West. These images have been wrapped into a telescoping installation that moves physically from outside in (with a very faint sense of chronological and thematic progression), with two of the large murals, a big “Dovima with elephants” print, and the four image Beatles portfolio installed at the four axis points of the gallery. Like three nesting dolls, the spaces build up from the largest space at the outside walls in to a small room in the middle (with black walls and spot lighting), with prints hung on both sides of the dividers; the walking flow is therefore round and round, ultimately ending up in the center. The often insightful and thoughtful thinking that supports the choices of the selectors has been buried in the catalog, with only the selector’s name printed in small type on the wall labels; this makes Avedon the central focus (as he should be), but the logic and commentary behind the choices (the “why this one”) will largely be lost on the casual visitor, aside from the frequent “I’ve chosen a picture that Avedon made of me or my family member” examples, which are more self-evident.

While many (if not most) of Avedon’s greatest hits are generally to be found somewhere in this large gathering of work, there are some less than expected finds, rarities, and variants on view that will certainly reward a slower, more patient review of the offerings. Portraits and self-portraits of the artist span several decades, starting with hybrid Photomat portrait with a James Baldwin paper mask in 1964, jumping into the 1970s with a shaggy self-portrait and half-out-of-the-frame shot with Francis Bacon, moving into the mid 1990s with a more hollow eyed and aging version of the photographer, and on into the mid 2000s in a comfortable, glasses-on-the-forehead embrace with Twyla Tharp. Other well-known faces felt infused with more subtlety and conflicted emotion than I remembered – an eyes-closed Ezra Pound, a pensive Samuel Beckett looking down, a cautious Jasper Johns, the weary but steadfast Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the wary Picasso children, a grizzled Stephen Sondheim – with that consistent inward reserve then balanced by the effusiveness and contagious energy of Tina Turner, Prince, Florynce Kennedy, and Lena Horne, among others.

This is very much a content driven show, with the recognition of who is in pictures generally coming before the meticulous photographic aesthetics of how they are seen, but there are a few works that highlight some smart experimentation by Avedon. I had forgotten how many standout portraits Avedon made using full or at least partial blur; images of Brigitte Bardot, Charlie Chaplin, Malcolm X, Louis Armstrong, and Twiggy with a wild swoop of hair all leverage blur to imply motion or shifting elusiveness. The show also includes three multi-image panoramas Avedon constructed in 1994, one each of Marilyn Monroe (made from outtakes from the same shoot where he famously caught her with a downtrodden face), Cindy Crawford, and Claudia Schiffer. These works are playful and vibrant, with bodies moving, dancing, posing, and strutting with abandon, all contained within one collapsed moment, like variants of personalities. Other intriguing rarities to be discovered include an original 1967 photocollage featuring multiple Audrey Hepburn heads (arranged on mylar), and a reversal of the iconic Dovima with elephants setup, with Dovima now in a white dress with black sash and the two elephants doing a foot-raised performance.

Perhaps it is simply the nature of the architectural setup here, but the natural flow of presentation eventually leads to a string of images from Avedon’s In the American West series in the center of the space, that seem to be offered as a kind of capstone. There’s nothing wrong with this as an idea, as the images from the series are among Avedon’s strongest and most searingly direct, and the prints are large, giving them a heft and physical presence different from many of the smaller prints found elsewhere. Ten of the prints from the project are housed in the dark inner sanctum at the center of the show, with four more installed flanking the doors at the ends of this room. The tough gritty truth of these photographs, with their dirt, oil, mud, and blood, bracingly steps beyond the shimmery glamour of the rest of the show, like a kind of intensification or amplification of Avedon’s eye. These pictures pull us into the worlds of oil field workers, drifters, truckers, and slaughterhouses employees with brusque, uncompromising clarity, exposing a late 1970s America quite different from shiny fashions and celebrity culture that Avedon was better known for previously. As installed, the show slowly builds to this powerful interior crescendo, before ending there, leaving us to wander back out to easier and more comfortable fare.

As samplers go, Avedon 100 is consistently impressive and engaging, the photographer’s eye skipping across genres with grace and inventiveness. While this isn’t a scholarly retrospective with a particular argument to be made about Avedon’s place in the photographic pantheon, this show does successfully celebrate many of his unique points as an artist, as well as his engagement with his subjects, in ways that feel rich and expansive. This is a show both by and for the fans, filled with a welcoming mood of admiration and respect.

Collector’s POV: Given the expansive scope of this exhibition, and its broad inclusion of loans, engraver’s prints, exhibition prints made for his 1978 retrospective at the Met, out-of-edition works, and reproductions, we will forego our usual discussion of specific prices for the individual works.

That said, Avedon’s work is routinely available in the secondary markets, as many of his most famous images were made in editions and portfolios of 50, 75, 100, and even 200 prints. The artist’s fashion images and portraits are relatively equal in price at this point, with the iconic images generally finding buyers in six figures, and most other images priced in five figures. A new auction record for Avedon was set in 2020 with a print of Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, selling for $1815000.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by MACK Books (here). Hardcover, 17 x 21 cm, 192 pages, with 87 color and black-and-white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and ... Read on.

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