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Palazzo Reale : Richard Avedon : Relationships


Richard Avedon, with a more than six-decade long career, produced innovative work in fashion as well as captivating portraits”, curator Rebecca Senf says. More than one hundred images (106 to be accurate) are on show at Palazzo Reale in Milan, to celebrate one of the most well-known 20th-century photographers.

The Richard Avedon. Relationships exhibition leads through a “revolution” in photography. For instance, he shifted the way models are photographed, turning them into actresses instead of static subjects. He showed their human side. As for his portraits (often large-format ones) of celebrities, they seize their souls and feelings. The exhibition is divided into the following sections: The Artist, The Premise of the Show, Early Fashion, Actors and Directors, Visual Artists, Performing Artists / Musicians and Writers / Poets, Avedon’s People, Politics, Late Fashion, Versace.

Let’s start with the section dedicated to the collaboration between Richard Avedon and Gianni Versace. It started with the fashion designer’s debut (1980 spring/summer campaign) and went on until the 1998 spring/summer collection, the first by Donatella Versace. Their collaboration has been somewhat of a revolution in fashion photography, producing timeless images. Avedon’s abstract language relies on a compressed space that emphasizes the figures and creates explosive choreographies with the bodies of some of the most well-known top models, through syncopated movements that bring out forms and textures of clothes. It was 1993 and the spring/summer campaign was featuring Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss, Aya Thorgren. According to Donatella Versace, “Gianni and I loved working with Avedon. We loved coming up with the story of the campaign together and watching as he and the incredible models brought that story to life”.

“His early works, those made before 1960, are set ‘on location’ and stage models in the role of actors to evoke a narrative”, Senf adds. Avedon produced these images for fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue (he worked for them until 1988): they are “film-like” photos that induce the viewer to create a story within a world of glamour in which women live a hedonistic life. Avedon used to work with many top models, from Suzy Parker to Jean Shrimpton, from Dovima to China Machado, Twiggy and Veruschka. “The later works suggest no narrative. Instead, they focus on the models and their garments. In these later pictures, Avedon often employed a minimal, solid-tone background and frequently put the model in motion, using the fluid body shape to reveal the construction, fabric, and flow of the clothing”, curator Senf explains.

As for the portraits, his distinctive approach is the use of a white background, which cancels any potential distraction, emphasizing gestures and expression, together with use of a large-format camera. An example is the 1981 photograph, chosen as the representative image of the exhibition, showing Nastassja Kinski lying on the floor, embraced by a snake. Avedon shot his subjects fairly close up so that they occupied a large section of the frame, creating powerfully descriptive portraits. He had the opportunity to photograph many of his subjects at moments that were years apart: for instance, the painter Jasper Johns, in 1965 and 1976, the politician George Wallace in 1963 and 1976, the poet Allen Ginsberg in 1963 and in 1970 and the writer Truman Capote (first portrait in 1955, when he was thirty-one, last one in 1974, when he was fifty). The exhibition also features several portraits of celebrities from the world of entertainment, actors, dancers, musicians, politicians and writers, including the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Michelangelo Antonioni, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, and the Dalai Lama. There are also two images of Andy Warhol, who reveals his intimate self to Richard Avedon, showing his bullet scars, after surviving a murder attempt. A section is also devoted to portraits of leading figures in US civil rights movements, and members of the US Congress.

The 106 images on show are from the collection of the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) in Tucson (USA), and the Richard Avedon Foundation (USA).

The exhibition, sponsored by Comune di Milano – Cultura, is produced by Palazzo Reale and Skira Editore in collaboration with the Center for Creative Photography and the Richard Avedon Foundation, and is curated by Rebecca Senf, Chief Curator of the Center for Creative Photography collection. The catalogue is published by Skira catalogue, with texts by James Martin, Donatella Versace, Rebecca Senf and Maria Luisa Frisa.

Paola Sammartano


Richard Avedon – Relationships
22 September 2022 – 29 January 2023
Palazzo Reale
Piazza Duomo, 12
20122 Milan, Italy


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