Published: August 26, 2008
The Corcoran Gallery of Art will premiere a special exhibition, “Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power,” September 13⁊anuary 25, in conjunction with the presidential election season in Washington, D.C.
Bringing together more than 200 of Avedon’s political portraits of the country’s power elite for the first time, the Corcoran will present many rarely seen and some never-before-exhibited or published photographs.
Avedon, America’s preeminent editorial portraitist and fashion photographer, photographed the faces of politics throughout his career. Juxtaposing images of elite government, media and labor officials with countercultural activists and ordinary citizens caught up in national debates, “Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power” will explore a five-decade taxonomy of politics and power by one of the country’s best-known artists.
“Richard Avedon is, undisputedly, the most important of American portrait photographers,” said Paul Roth, curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran. “At this moment, as we move toward a historic presidential election season in Washington, Avedon’s political portraits seem utterly of the moment: an education on the last 50 years of our history and, at the same time, a vital lesson about power.”
“Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power” will include photographs from the 1950s through the artist’s death in 2004, displayed chronologically and grouped within Avedon’s specific editorial projects.
Avedon, with unparalleled access afforded by his fame and his work for such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar , Vogue , Egoiste and The New Yorker , photographed important figures of the American political scene throughout his career. In addition to single portraits commissioned to accompany magazine profiles, the artist made several extended photographic essays with political themes.
Among these, his groundbreaking 1976 portrait series “The Family” is most significant. Commissioned by Rolling Stone magazine, Avedon made 69 portraits depicting elected officials, government bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists, captains of industry and union leaders †all representatives of the American political, military, media and corporate elite.
Avedon photographed people on both sides of the civil rights debate for his 1964 book Nothing Personal , 1964, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s he documented the American antiwar movement and the war in Vietnam. In 1993, Avedon combined past work with new images for a nostalgic The New Yorker photo-essay called “Exiles: The Kennedy Court at the End of the American Century.”
In 2004, the artist accepted a New Yorker commission to make portraits that would illustrate “a sense of the country” during a politically fractious time. While working on the project in Texas, Avedon suffered a cerebral hemorrhage; he died a short time later. “Democracy” was published by The New Yorker in incomplete form just before the election.
This exhibition traces one artist’s fascination with the animating forces of American democracy. Seen together, the photographs comprise a kind of historical group portrait, showing key figures from a half-century of political life.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art is at 500 Seventeenth Street NW. For information, 202-639-1700 or www.corcoran.org .
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