“Relationship”, the great Richard Avedon retrospective in Milan

An exhibition featuring one hundred and six prints of the great American fashion photographer opens at the Royal Palace. A way to explore his always surprising legacy and his special relationship with New York. 

“Dick used to play chess while the world played checkers,” Adam Gopnik thus describes Richard Avedon, his friend for more than two decades in that New York of the 1980s and 1990s, center of photography, fashion and producer of culture between street and elite. Models become humanized, people were getting excited, it was a one-time period.

Milan pays tribute to Richard Avedon with the exhibition Richard Avedon: Relationship, at the Royal Palace from September 22, 2022 to January 29, 2023. Curated by Rebecca Senf, promoted by the Municipality of Milan-Culture, produced and organized by the Royal Palace and Skira Editore, in collaboration with the Center for Creative Photography and the Richard Avedon Foundation, it is expected to be the exhibition of the fall.

In spite of many have written that it is difficult to find anything new in Richard Avedon, he took so many shoots, and in such varied contexts – from the Manhattan studio on First Avenue to deep Kansas America with Truman Capote – that there is always something in the folds of his archive that can surprise, interest, open a new glimpse into that world he built with a white backdrop. Avedon also photographed time in motion, a paradox for a photographer, returning to photograph his subjects and at the same time his friends years apart, to tell what their lives had been in that invisible gap. A chess player, indeed.  

© The Richard Avedon Foundation. Richard Avedon, Self-portrait, Provo, Utah, 20 August, 1980

A section of the exhibition is about the photographer’s collaboration with Gianni Versace. They worked together from the first runway show of Gianni Verace in 1980 until the first collection designed by Donatella Versace in 1998. The partnership between designer and photographer tells a lot about the fashion-system of the 1980s. However, besides them, in this button room the fashion market has grown up on, magazine art directors also played an important role and Richard Avedon figured this out. “He – a pupil of Alexey Brodovitch at the time of his tenure at the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar – understood that a photographer working in fashion must relate to the art director and the fashion director,” Rebecca Senf writes, the curator of the exhibition. “Avedon is an author, recognized as such, capable, however, of understanding the value of dealing with those who are the key figures in the construction of fashion photography and thus able, in the debate, to evoke an imaginary, an atmosphere, a story.”

Avedonia, Gopnik still called it in his texts dedicated to his photographer friend, that world of perfection and humanity, of faces emerging out of the purity of the white backdrops where all possibility of distraction is vanished. 

© The Richard Avedon Foundation. Richard Avedon, Dovima with elephants, night dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955

This is how the 106 prints of the “relationship” between the photographer and the subject, but also between Richard Avedon and the America of his time, come about. There is the painter Jasper Johns, photographed in 1965 and then 1976, the writer Carson McCullers, the politician George Wallace, the poet Allen Ginsberg photographed in 1963 and then 1970. And of course, Truman Capote. They had traveled together in rural Kansas for the long reportage that would later become the book In Cold Blood. And there is fashion and models with the most iconic images, including the “Dovima with elephants” photographed for Dior at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris in 1955.

Richard Avedon used to photograph using a large format and a remote control, so that he could look up from the viewfinder and converse with his subjects. That is also how the sense of intimacy of these images comes about. That always known, that same intimacy that, in a way that is far from contradictory to the grandeur of the city, New York and its history convey to us every time.

“Richard Avedon: Relationship”
Palazzo Reale, Milan
Curated by:
Rebecca Senf
22 September 2022 – 29 January 2023

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