Do you know what the hardest challenge is for an arts and culture writer? Adjectives. They are a nightmare. How can we convey to you the spirit of a show without resorting to overused and familiar descriptions such as ‘stunning’ and ‘exciting’, or ‘insightful’ and ‘reflective’ ? And how can we encourage you to visit shows that we love without resorting to a flood of clichés?
And all of this is brought into sharp focus by this terrific new show at the Gagosian Gallery in Britannia Street that, for the first time, pairs the works of photographer Richard Avedon and Pop art maestro Andy Warhol in a single exhibition.
It’s a nightmare as this show captures all these emotions. Of course it is glamorous and effortlessly cool. How can it not be? You’ve got Liza’s portrait alongside Jackie Kennedy’s. Marilyn is sharing a wall with Elvis, and Bianca Jagger is hanging out opposite Mao.
Together Avedon’s and Warhol’s works weave together a tapestry of a time that was the height of pop culture. This was the era when legends were born and icons were made.
But yet, there are times when this exhibition is – genuinely – tender and reflective. For these icons lived and died, just as we will live and die. But here they are immortalised. Forever captured at the pinnacle of their vivacity and fame.
And all this captured in a single exhibition that doesn’t even charge an admission fee.
Avedon Warhol is a captivating blend of famous faces with the influential sub-culture that surrounded them. Avedon’s posed black and white studio portraits share gallery space with Warhol’s instantly familiar Pop Art canvases. Take, for example, the mammoth black and white Richard Avedon photograph of the members of Warhol’s Factory hanging alongside vivid Warhol square canvases of Iranian royalty.
It’s a heady assault on the senses and conjures up a world both gone, yet also enduring.
And there are some great curatorial touches here. High-five to whoever decided to hang Warhol’s monumental portrait of Mao Tse-tung, Mao, 1972, opposite the vast silkscreen he completed almost ten years later of a dollar sign.
And, splendidly, there are no information labels next to any of the artwork on show because, well, we don’t really don’t need them, do we? Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn… These icons need no explanation.
Yet for all the cool and the glamour, there is depth here. For this is an examination as much of our mortality as well as our love of celebrities.
One specific room juxtaposes this contrast of enduring legendary status with life and death perfectly. No one will ever reach the iconic status of Marilyn Monroe and, here, a reflective portrait of her by Richard Avedon is hung alongside Warhol silkscreens of a gun and Jesus Christ.
Add to that a painting of a giant red skull and a depiction of The Last Supper, and you have a collection of images that reflect on how even the immortal die, though their image lives on.
Given their shared subject matter, and their shared focus on portraiture, it’s quite extraordinary that this is the first major exhibition to pair works by Avedon and Warhol. But it is. And please don’t miss it. It’s a stunning, exciting yet insightful and reflective exhibition.
Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia Street, London to April 23, 2016
- Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, 1979. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Founding Collection, Contribution Dia Center for the Arts Museum © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
- Richard Avedon, Louis Armstrong, musician, Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, Rhode Island, May 3, 1955. Photograph by Richard Avedon © The Richard Avedon Foundatio
- Andy Warhol, Tina Freeman, 1975. Private collection © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
- Richard Avedon, Bianca Jagger, actress, Hollywood, CA, January 25, 1972. Photograph by Richard Avedon © The Richard Avedon Foundation