As creators of culturally defining portraiture, Richard Avedon and Andy Warhol are virtually unparalleled. What’s more, as contemporaries they even fed into each other’s work. It makes sense then, that a new exhibition at Gagosian gallery in London should properly bring their photographs and prints into conversation for the first time.
Together they are two major figures of postwar America, known for dipping in and out of politics and pop culture and capturing both insiders and outsiders, including drag queens and New York’s demimonde, Hollywood’s brightest, but tragic stars, and figureheads of the heady worlds of art, jazz and literature. Each gallery in Gagosian’s Britannia Street space juxtaposes bright and black-and-white works that touch on their shared themes of social and political power, sexuality, doomed celebrity and mortality.
Avedon’s enormous – and mostly naked – portrait Andy Warhol and members of The Factory from 1969, which dominates an entire wall, and his portrait of dancer John Martin in drag from 1975, sit alongside a piece from Warhol’s silkscreen drag series Ladies and Gentleman. Warhol in particular was inspired by drag queens, once describing them as “ambulatory archives of ideal moviestar womanhood”.
Elsewhere, Avedon’s portraits of 69 American politicians, also known as The Family, hang near Warhol’s Chairman Mao, and shared subjects include Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy.
Both came from humble beginnings and rose to meteoric success working for major New York magazines before moving away from commercial work to develop their styles. These parallels in both life and work continue throughout all five galleries, illuminating the way both men created strong, memorable images that very much reflect cultural and social shifts of their times.
Avedon Warhol is on display at Gagosian’s Britannia Street gallery until April 23.