Glass reviews Richard Avedon, Gagosian, Athens

Richard Avedon said, “Portraiture is performance. You can’t get at the thing itself, the real nature of the sitter, by stripping away the surface (…) All that you can do is manipulate that surface-gesture, costume, expression- radically and correctly.” As a testament, these words, are playfully embodied into an alluring display of Avedon’s images, capturing the personality and soul of his subject, at Gagosian Gallery in Athens. This exhibition reassures that Avedon, is still one of the biggest fashion photography icons; a game changer of the photographic norms; one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.

Walking into the gallery, one can journey through Avedon’s images imbued with unconventional allure and formidable intelligence. An iconic-photograph from 1948 focuses on a fur-trimmed shoe by Perugia, worn by a model in a busy street, while the Eiffel Tower looms in the distant background. Then, Dovima in a white Balenciaga hat, peers through a car window, an image unveiling elegance and beauty. From Avedon’s late career, Malgosia Bela and Gisele Bundchen brace themselves, perhaps against unseen danger, in edgy Dior couture.

Dovima, hat by Balenciaga, Maxim's, Paris, August 1955Dovima, hat by Balenciaga, Maxim’s, Paris, August 4, 1955

Avedon loved the real and was able to focus on the inner worlds of his subjects evoking emotions and reactions. He would at times evoke reactions from his portrait subjects by guiding them into uncomfortable areas of discussion or asking them psychologically probing questions. Through these means he would produce images uncovering aspects of his subject’s idiosyncrasy that were not typically captured by others.

In his portraits, gesture is one accessory common to his sitters. The individuality of each model is shown to best advantage by the movements of leaping girls. His portraits are easily distinguished by their minimalist style, where the person is looking squarely in the camera, posed in front of a sheer white background. His subjects included pop icons, models, musicians, writers, artists, workers, political activists, soldiers, Vietnam War victims, politicians, and his family.

A highlight of the exhibition is a book including images from Avedon: Women, an exhibition which took place at Gagosian Beverly Hills in late 2013. Among the photographed women is Penelope Tree, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Twiggy, Bianca Jagger,and Mia Farrow.


Shoe by Perugia, Place du Trocadéro, Paris, August 1948     Shoe by Perugia, Place du Trocadéro, Paris, August 1948

Starting his career as a fashion photographer, working for Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue magazine, Avedon eventually took portraits of cultural figures capturing the creative spirit of a series of legendary artists; among them is a photograph of Henry Moore’s hand, a capturing part of the exhibition, indicating the most essential part of the sculptor’s being. A portrait of Francis Bacon, two combined images echo the artist’s own affective depictions of fragmented, amorphous figures, and an attempt to engage incisively with the visceral and biographical aspects of his subjects. As Avedon noted, “The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion.”

Henry Moore, sculptor, Hertfordshire2, England, January 26, 1963-2       Henry Moore, sculptor, Hertfordshire, England, January 26, 1963

The polymath artist’s career includes studies in philosophy and photography, plethora of awards and exhibitions from Moma to Metropolitan Museum of Art along with countless other museums worldwide. During his lifetime Avedon established Richard Avedon Foundation which continues consistently and respectfully to reproduce the artist’s timeless work.

Francis Bacon, artist, Paris, April 11, 1979, edition-2        Francis Bacon, artist, Paris, April 11, 1979

Richard Avedon, one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century expanded the photographic genre, and established photography as a contemporary art form. His distinct style, nothing short of iconic, can draw the viewer into the emotive powers of his subjects, and tells unique stories; stories of real. Besides Avedon  said, “I can’t think of myself as a purveyor of beauty to the world. Real people move, they bear with them the element of time. It is this fourth dimension of people that I try to capture in a photograph.”

by Xenia Founta

The show continues until July 25 at Gagosian Gallery 3, Merlin Street, Athens 10671
All images by Richard Avedon

All the images courtesy of The Richard Avedon Foundation