Friday, July 06, 2012

When I wrote this I'd forgotten that by 2004 Kimmelman had changed his tune.

Richard Avedon in the NY Times. Michael Kimmelman 1994
Has there been an exhibition that generated more noise before it opened than the Richard Avedon show that is now at the Whitney Museum of American Art? Not this season, anyway.

First came the collective groan after David A. Ross, newly installed as the museum's director, proposed it as one of the largest retrospectives ever contemplated at the Whitney. Those who knew that Mr. Ross had enjoyed successes with two previous Avedon exhibitions at museums he headed, in Berkeley, Calif., and Boston, weren't surprised. But more than a few people were taken aback that his first move at an institution dogged by charges of trendiness was a gigantic display of the work of a master of fashion photography and celebrity portraiture. Since then, despite being scaled back, the show has caused an alarming buzz around the museum, like an approaching V-1.

...Ms. Livingston seems to have gone out of her way to comply with Mr. Avedon's desire that he be taken seriously as an artist, and not thought of as a fashion photographer: out of 200 photographs in the retrospective, 10 are fashion shots. If you expect Dovima and the elephants at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris, forget it. Forget Sunny Harnett leaning over the roulette wheel at the casino at Le Touquet. I don't know whether the closer analogy is a Picasso retrospective without Cubism or a Woody Allen one without the comedies, but in either case, the disservice is to Mr. Avedon.

Because his fashion photographs are great, and the rest rarely are, despite their technical brilliance. The asylum inmates and celebrities made to look like them, the drifters from the American West and American muck-a-mucks in South Vietnam, the passengers on the Third Avenue El and revelers at the Brandenburg Gate are here in numbers that only expose Mr. Avedon's limitations. If all portraits are on some level self-portraits, as he likes to say, that may explain why Henry Miller, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Groucho Marx resemble one another in his photographs. But it doesn't make their portraits compelling....

If Mr. Avedon reminds me of any artist, it is Giovanni Boldini,... 

Roberta Smith in 2009
Five years after Richard Avedon’s death at 81 the International Center of Photography is setting the record straight. Avedon was indeed a great artist, and his fashion photographs are his greatest work.

This may not be quite the way Avedon wanted it. His own pursuit of greatness often involved playing down the half-century of fashion magazine work he did for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue as little more than a day job and emphasizing his portraiture, which he produced voluminously. At least that’s how it seemed with his last big New York retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1994; that 50-year survey included, shockingly, fewer than a dozen examples of the fashion work.
Holland Cotter 2012
If you were reasonably sentient in the 1960s and early ’70s, as some of us were some of the time, you’ll remember how far beyond strange those years were. And all of their surrealness comes back in this knockout show of Richard Avedon’s colossal photomurals at Gagosian.
See also: Alexander McQueen, and the fading of the distinction between art and style.

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