Richard Avedon’s Monumental Murals Featured in Met Exhibition Celebrating the Artist’s Centennial
I wanted to see if I could reinvent what a group portrait is . . . from the Dutch painters, to Fantin-Latour, to Irving Penn, and to the high-school soccer team. Richard Avedon, 2002
To celebrate the centennial of Richard Avedon’s birth in 1923, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present a selection of the photographer’s most innovative group portraits in the exhibition Richard Avedon: MURALS, opening January 19, 2023. Although Avedon first earned his reputation as a fashion photographer in the late 1940s, his greatest achievement was his stunning reinvention of the photographic portrait. Focused on the short period between 1969 and 1971, this exhibition will explore a critical juncture in the artist’s career, when, after a hiatus from portraiture, he began working with a new camera and a new sense of scale. The exhibition will be organized around three monumental photomurals in The Met collection (the largest measures nearly 10 x 35 feet) that depict the era’s preeminent artists, activists, and politicians. Uniting the murals with session outtakes and contemporaneous projects, the exhibition will track Avedon’s evolving approach to group portraiture, through which he transformed the conventions of the genre.
The exhibition is made possible by Joyce Frank Menschel.
Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, said, “Richard Avedon reinvented the group portrait, but his influences can be traced throughout The Met’s galleries, from the sculpted friezes of the Greek and Roman galleries to the John Singer Sargent paintings in the American Wing. He grew up a few blocks from the Museum, and it was a constant source of inspiration. Now, his exceptional murals are treasures of the collection, and we are thrilled to be showing them together for the first time in over 20 years.”
For Avedon, the oversized mural format expanded the artistic possibilities of photography, radically reorienting viewers and subjects in a subsuming, larger-than-life view. In the murals, he assembled giants of the late 20th century – members of Andy Warhol’s Factory, architects of the Vietnam War, and demonstrators against that war – who together shaped an unprecedented era of American life. The formal innovations of Avedon’s high style – of starkly lit bodies in an unsparing white surround – are most fully realized in these enormous group pictures, in which subjects jostle and crowd the frame, and bright voids between them crackle with tension. Presented in one gallery, the murals will stage an unlikely conversation among historically opposed groups, as well as contemporary viewers.
The show will also feature loans from the Avedon Foundation, including a selection of outtakes that will bring viewers behind the scenes, illuminating the artist’s creative process. Avedon arranged sittings at Warhol’s Factory over a period of months, but had only a matter of minutes to photograph the American military leadership in Saigon. Working prints from the various mural sessions will illustrate Avedon’s graphic and narrative aims for the project, as well as his masterful manipulation of figures in space. Alongside this rare material, related photographs – of activists in New York, and other groups in Vietnam – will reveal the dynamism and breadth of Avedon’s portraiture.
Nearly 20 years after his death in 2004, Richard Avedon: MURALS will mark the artist’s extraordinary legacy as well as his special relationship with The Met. The murals are gifts from the artist himself, donated on the occasion of his 2002 retrospective at the Museum. Reunited for his centennial, these works render in spectacular detail the intimacies and interpersonal dynamics that preoccupied Avedon throughout his life.
Richard Avedon: MURALS is organized by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, and Virginia McBride, Research Assistant in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.