Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Richard Avedon at the MIA, 1970

Richard Avedon's Retrospective Exhibition
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, July 1 - August 30, 1970

With the publication of his second book, Nothing Personal, at the tail end of 1964, Richard Avedon fell into a funk. The book was meant to be a political statement and that's how it was taken. Unfortunately, the reviews were mostly negative and often brutal in tone and hurt Avedon quite deeply. "I had this block. I finished Nothing Personal...and then went blank. I couldn't photograph--well, I could photograph, but I couldn't do anything that meant anything to me for a great number of years." Four years to be precise.

In the years between 1964 and 1969, Avedon rethought his whole approach to portraiture. He started to use an 8 x 10 view camera for sittings. This had the effect of severely limiting the movement of the subjects. He also came out from behind the camera, allowing him to interact with the person in front of the camera--look them in the eye, so to speak. Also, as a backdrop for his sitters, he dropped grey and began using white which had the effect of detaching and isolating the subject from the world around them.

By 1969, mostly recovered from his psychic bruising and by then in agreement with much of the criticism, Avedon wanted to move on and start a new project. That summer, he and Doon Arbus began work on a series of portraits and interviews of key people in the "Movement"--the political left, counter-culture icons and heroes, travelers in the social underground. They called it Hard Times and envisioned it as a book and an exhibit. While as the project petered out by 1973, he did get some great portraits out of it. (A good portion of The Sixties was originally made as part of Hard Times.)

Given the need to move on, his lingering uncertainty over the quality of his portraiture and, as he said at the time, that going over his old work would be "oppressive and unimaginable," at the beginning of 1969 Avedon deflected a couple of exhibition offers. John Szarkowski of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, visited the studio three times to look at new work for a show he had offered Avedon the year before, a show that Avedon put off and put off until 1974 (when he showed the series of portraits of father.) Ted Hartwell of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts had first offered Avedon a show in 1966, which was declined and then accepted in 1968. Hartwell visited New York in May of '69 to organize the show that was to be a survey of Avedon's career up till then. One week after Hartwell left, Avedon called it off.

But by the end of the year, energized by the Hard Times work, Avedon decided to go ahead with the Minneapolis show. Marvin Israel was hired to design the exhibit and graphics and to help curate the photographs. The galleries were painted in reflective silver; the photographs were mounted on masonite and framed with aluminum molding. The images ranged in size from 10 inches in height to over 5 feet. Vivaldi played on the stereo.

The last gallery however, was different. At first, they had wanted to end the exhibit with a slide show of Avedon's fashion work. Given the recent work he had done and the tenor of the times, Avedon decided (two months before the opening) that he wanted the show to end with something more of-the-moment. This room was painted and carpeted in black and was separated from the other galleries by a black curtain. In the gallery was hung his triptych portrait of the seven defendants in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial as well as individual portraits of the men. The prints were over eight feet tall, backed with linen, unframed so the rough edges of the cloth could be seen all around the print. They were stapled to the wall at the top and hung like tapestries. Instead of Vivaldi, excerpts from Doon Arbus' interviews with the Chicago Seven played.

The exhibition was Avedon's first non-fashion survey of his work and by all accounts was a big success. As well as the people who worked on the show, the July 1, 1970 opening was attended by Diane Arbus, Hiro, and the art directors Ruth Ansel and Henry Wolf. Avedon had also personally invited many local teenagers. The opening was quite lively and during the event, a spontaneous political rally broke out in the Chicago Seven gallery. Over the course of the show, that gallery became a shrine of sorts for the young folks of Minneapolis and St. Paul. You can find photos of the galleries and opening night here.

Without further ado, here is the catalog designed by Marvin Israel for the 1970 show of Avedon's portraits at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The outer packaging

The front is embossed with the word "AVEDON"
and the rear has an interlocking, swastika shaped fold.
9.25 x 9.25 inches; thin card.

This was the sheet inserted at the last moment to explain the Chicago Seven room.

9 x 9 inches on semi-transparent vellum

The booklet

Close-up of the credits

9 x 9 inches; saddle-stitched.

The exhibition check list

Note the size:
36 x 27 inches; heavy paper
240 images (doesn't include the Chicago Seven photos)

Lastly, there was included in the package,
10 gravure-printed images of various sizes, on stiff card stock

On the back of each is the title and the corresponding number on the poster

6.75 x 9 inches

6.75 x 9 inches

6.75 x 9 inches

6.5 x 9 inches

7.5 x 9 inches

7.75 x 9 inches

8 x 9 inches

8.25 x 9 inches

9 x 9 inches

11.25 x 9 inches
Folded to 9 x 9 inches

And by the way: In conjunction with the exhibition, a portfolio was published. Called the Minneapolis Portfolio, it contains eleven gelatin silver prints, a colophon and a cover page, all 24 x 20 inches, in an edition of 35. The images--all printed in the 1960s incidentally--included some of the above portraits:

Buster Keaton, 1952
Charlie Chaplin, 1952
Humphrey Bogart, 1953
Jimmy Durante, 1956
Marilyn Monroe, 1957
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, 1957
Isak Dinesen, 1958
René Clair, 1958
Marianne Moore, 1958
Ezra Pound, 1958
Dwight David Eisenhower, 1964

I don't have a copy so I can't actually mount images of it. Use your imagination.


Anonymous said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

Anonymous said...

Very generous of you to post this. Sounds like an amazing show!

scott davidson said...

I could choose to fit the canvas print that I was ordering from to the pattern and color of the wallpaper in my living room. I could search for artwork by subject matter and even predominant colors. Then I customized the frame online because the site allowed me to match the frame style with different wallpapers, one of which looked like ours.
So now have this canvas print by Pierre Bonnard,