Monday, August 6, 2012

Richard Avedon, Murals & Portraits @ Gagosian Gallery

I take a lot of shots at Gagosian, mostly because it’s a behemoth that is slowly morphing into a small, dull museum, and, of course because they deserve it. But real does have to recognize real. The Avedon show was fantastic and I have never had any interest in Avedon’s work, but the curating of the show and the excellent installation built for it, sold me on the work. There are Four giant portraits, each of a politically and culturally relevant group of the late 60’s and early 70’s, printed at a scale that if put into a square would be bigger than the floor space of my apartment. Each giant group portrait is next to large walls, forming a triangle that makes it impossible to see all four group shots unless you’re in the center of the room. This forces you to connect the group portrait of, say, Warhol and artists from the Factory with the Vietnam Mission Control directly across from it, while hiding the other two group pictures. Limiting the sight lines creates a strong connection between 60’s / 70’s cultural and the political climate that impacted it and visa versa.

I still have issues with Avedon’s work. The pictures are lovely and commanding time machines, but they still never manage to puncture the surface of things: art people look like this, military people look like that. But in the Gagosian, show compartmentalizing walls are hung with supporting pictures and ephemera that flesh out the larger pictures. Seeing Avedon in Vietnam in military issue fatigues and his pictures of awkward soldiers on dates against a portable white backdrop gives a whole other level of emotion to the rather rigid Vietnam mission control. It is also fun trying to explain who the Chicago Seven were to those who didn’t grow up in the 80’s when the romanticism of the 60’s was in full bloom. All an all, an excellent show, which will no doubt be followed by an exhibition of Italian speedboats once owned by George Clooney.

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