My photographs don’t go below the surface. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues.
During a career that spanned nearly sixty years, Richard Avedon’s reportage, portraiture, and fashion work dissolved the lines between photographic genres and covered an enormous breadth of subjects. By capturing American ideals of fashion, portraiture, and beauty in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, he helped cement photography’s status as a legitimate contemporary art form. While the portraiture of his peers tends to focus on composed and isolated moments, Avedon’s stark lighting draws the viewer to the power of the subject’s expression, which often suggests concealed layers to their personalities.
Born in 1923 in New York City, Avedon was interested in photography from an early age: he joined the Young Men’s Hebrew Association camera club when he was twelve years old. In 1942, during World War II, he served as Photographer’s Mate Second Class in the US Merchant Marine, and shortly thereafter he began working professionally, producing images for Harper’s Bazaar after having studied with the magazine’s art director Alexey Brodovitch.
Beginning in 1944 Avedon transformed the art of photography through his indelible contributions to leading fashion and contemporary magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Life, Look, and other popular magazines. He photographed pop icons and models, musicians and writers, soldiers and political activists, as well as members of his family. Fascinated by photography’s power to suggest personality, Avedon’s images register poses, hairstyles, and clothing as vital elements of an image by bending the rules of photographic composition, both in the street and in the studio, to a particular stylistic and narrative purpose.
After guest-editing the April 1965 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, Avedon left the magazine and joined Vogue, under the art direction of Alexander Liberman, where he worked for more than twenty years. In 1992, he became the first staff photographer at The New Yorker, and his portraiture helped redefine the magazine’s aesthetic. Throughout, Avedon also ran a successful commercial studio, and his work with Calvin Klein, Revlon, Versace, and many other companies gave him the freedom to pursue ambitious projects, including a portrait series documenting the American civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
Avedon collaborated with Truman Capote on his first book of photographs, Observations, in 1959 and went on to publish Nothing Personal with James Baldwin in 1964. In 1962, the Smithsonian Institution staged Avedon’s first museum retrospective, and numerous other museum exhibitions followed, including two at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978 and 2002). From 1979 to 1984 Avedon worked extensively on a commission by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, ultimately producing the 1985 exhibition and book In the American West: Photographs by Richard Avedon, an extended portrait project in which he aimed to survey the texture of life experienced by ordinary working people. The series saw him visit carnivals, coal mines, rodeos, prisons, and slaughterhouses to find subjects, and it is often considered his magnum opus. He continued to publish throughout his life.
Ten Exhibition Prints from In the American West
November 4–December 18, 2021
Extended through July 27, 2012
Murals & Portraits
May 4–July 27, 2012
West 21st Street, New York
Jake Skeets reflects on Richard Avedon’s series In the American West, focusing on the portrait of his uncle, Benson James.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2023
The Summer 2023 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Richard Avedon’s Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957 on its cover.
In celebration of the centenary of Richard Avedon’s birth, more than 150 artists, designers, musicians, writers, curators, and representatives of the fashion world were asked to select a photograph by Avedon for an exhibition at Gagosian, New York, and to elaborate on the ways in which image and artist have affected them. We present a sampling of these images and writings.
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
Wyatt Allgeier discusses the 1984 Arion Press edition of John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, featuring prints by Richard Avedon, Alex Katz, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, and more.
Claude Picasso and John Richardson
Picasso biographer Sir John Richardson sits down with Claude Picasso to discuss Claude’s photography, his enjoyment of vintage car racing, and the future of scholarship related to his father, Pablo Picasso.
Art Basel Unlimited 2023
June 12–18, 2023, Hall 1, booth U52
Art Basel Unlimited 2023 features ten exhibition prints from Richard Avedon’s photographic series In the American West (1979–84). To produce In the American West, Avedon spent five years traveling through twenty-one western states, photographing more than a thousand people. Using natural light and a white backdrop, he emphasized his sitters’ poses and expressions, picturing ordinary people with striking immediacy. These ten oversize prints were selected by the artist to hang in the windows of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, for the inaugural exhibition of the series in 1985.
Launched in 2000, Unlimited is an exhibition platform for exciting large-scale projects that transcend the limits of the standard booth.
Richard Avedon, Ten Exhibition Prints from In the American West, 1979–84, installation view, Art Basel Unlimited 2023 © The Richard Avedon Foundation. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
Art Basel Miami Beach 2022
December 1–3, 2022, booth D5
Miami Beach Convention Center
Gagosian is pleased to present a selection of modern and contemporary works at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Returning to Miami for the fair’s twentieth anniversary, the gallery is honored to have participated each year the fair has been held.
Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Artwork, left to right: © Gerhard Richter; © Amoako Boafo; © Richard Prince; © 2022 Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Stanley Whitney. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
Art Basel Miami Beach 2021
December 2–4, 2021, booth D5
Miami Beach Convention Center
Gagosian is pleased to announce its participation in Art Basel Miami Beach 2021 with a presentation of modern and contemporary works. A selection of these works will also appear on gagosian.com and on Art Basel’s Online Viewing Room.
Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. Artwork, left to right: © Albert Oehlen; © Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Mary Weatherford. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
A Decade of Collecting, 2012–2022
Through December 21, 2023
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
X: A Decade of Collecting, 2012–2022 is a survey of artworks acquired for the Sheldon Museum of Art’s collection over the past decade. The chosen works demonstrate the breadth of collecting efforts and are a modest representation of the approximately 1,875 pieces that have entered the museum’s holdings since 2012. The exhibition seeks to present a snapshot of how the collection continues to evolve. Work by Richard Avedon, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Andy Warhol, and Stanley Whitney is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Big Bertha, 2015 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
January 19–October 1, 2023
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
In 1969, Richard Avedon started making portraits with a new camera and a new sense of scale. Trading his handheld Rolleiflex for a larger, tripod-mounted device, he reinvented his studio dynamic. Facing down groups of the era’s preeminent artists, activists, and politicians, he made huge photomural portraits, befitting the subjects’ outsized cultural influence. On the centennial of the photographer’s birth, this exhibition brings together three of these monumental works, some as wide as thirty-five feet. For Avedon, the murals expanded the artistic possibilities of photography, radically reorienting viewers and subjects in a subsuming, larger-than-life view.
Richard Avedon, Outtake from Andy Warhol and members of The Factory, October 9, 1969, 1969 © The Richard Avedon Foundation
The Photography Collection of Judy Glickman Lauder
September 30, 2022–January 15, 2023
Portland Museum of Art, Maine
Presence aims to capture the full spectrum of the human experience, from the anonymous to the celebrity and from the everyday to era-defining events such as the Great Depression, the Holocaust, and the civil rights movement. With approximately 140 photographs by seventy artists, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the collection of Judy Glickman Lauder. Work by Richard Avedon and Sally Mann is included.
Sally Mann, Emmett, Jessie and Virginia, 1989 © Sally Mann
August 24–November 28, 2021
This exhibition centers on the reimagining of iconography in American photography after 1945, when exaggeratedly idealized landscapes were replaced by everyday imagery that had previously been considered unworthy of portrayal. Some photographers captured the dynamic of big cities through a spontaneous pictorial language that often portrayed American society in a critical light. And, in a contrasting approach, others staged elaborate cinematic tableaux that grappled with photographic reality and illusion as well as with societal developments. Work by Richard Avedon and Gregory Crewdson is included.
Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, 1998–2002 © Gregory Crewdson