I am almost certain that there is always at least one exhibition in central London displaying at least one work of art by Andy Warhol. In fact, someone once told me that one in five artworks sold at auction is a Warhol and I can honestly say that it is a rare occurrence for me to have been to an auction house and not found one of his prints on the walls. It should come as no surprise then, that while a few years ago, I would have been eager to go to any Warhol exhibition, I have now got to the point where it takes something special for me to take the time to visit a show that contains the name Warhol in the title. Thus it was the addition of another name, Avedon, which persuaded me to gaze at the work currently on display at Gagosian Gallery in Britannia Street.
Richard Avedon, famed for his fashion photography, was born just five years before the infamous artist Andy Warhol. Both artists are famed for their portraits and often showed the same themes in their work, namely celebrity and politics. Serialisation and repetition of images is probably the characteristic that most people associate with Warhol, something that was easily achievable by Avedon too in the very nature of photography. While Warhol’s work is a bright colourful rainbow, Avedon’s gelatin-silver prints are a more understated but sophisticated display of black and white. The contrasting colour schemes ought not to mix, however, the display flows beautifully with a dreamlike cohesion.
The gallery walls read like a who’s who of pop culture, packed full of stars in works which date from the 1950s through to the 1990s. Amongst the names on display are Salvador Dali, Jacqueline Kennedy, Liza Minnelli and Rudolf Nureyev. The show has been curated so that the names that one would expect to see put together are spaced far apart in separate galleries. Bianca Jagger is positioned opposite Mao while the beauties of the silver screen: Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, have been disconnected from one another. Perhaps this is a stroke of curatorial genius, to ensure that the viewer actually looks at the images, instead of allowing them all to merge into each other.
In one gallery, a stunning display of sixty-nine portraits by Avedon of important figures from American Politics are grouped tightly together, while the adjacent wall shows six Warhol portraits of the Iranian royal family. All of this, while a series of images of drag queens by Warhol hangs just around the corner.
The most memorable works for me personally by each of the two artists have been displayed away from each other. The first of the two is Avedon’s Andy Warhol and members of The Factory, 1969. This image is huge and gives a fascinating look at the view of Warhol by another artist. It is also poignant in this particular exhibition as it creates an explicit link between the two artists. This connection between the two has been strengthened throughout the exhibition with the placement of their quotes positioned opposite each other in dialogue on the narrow walls between each room of the gallery.
The other work that I was notably struck by was Warhol’s take on the Last Supper. It is another piece of gigantic proportions that took me aback by its subject matter and comparably narrow use of colour. For an artist known for his fascination with celebrity and popular culture, it would firstly seem like an odd choice to depict. However, Jesus and his disciples may also have appealed to Warhol as the ‘ultimate celebrities’, figures who have constantly been identified and remembered throughout over two millennia. What is interesting about the work is its white background, which seems contrary to the majority of Warhol’s oeuvre, making the piece all the more striking.
The curation of the exhibition at Gagosian is inspired and is one Warhol exhibition that I would genuinely encourage people to visit – the pairing with Avedon is dazzling.
Avedon Warhol is on display at Gagosian, Britannia Street until 23 April