Richard Avedon - Photographs New York Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

  • Literature

    Harry N. Abrams, Performance, pp. 250-251; Look, 9 January 1968, cover and pp. 32-41; Random House, Avedon: The Sixties, cover and pp. 27-33; Random House, Richard Avedon: Evidence 1944-1994, p. 151

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Beatles Portfolio, first published on the cover of Look magazine in January of 1968, is as much a portrait of the Fab Four as it is of the intersecting political, social, cultural, musical and aesthetic vectors that defined the decade. Their music, much like Richard Avedon’s photographs, was lauded for its fresh, innovative and unequivocally revolutionary contributions to the field.

    By then, Avedon had already established his reputation as a fashion and portrait photographer, mostly at Harper’s Bazaar, under Alexey Brodovitch’s directorship, from 1945 through 1965. The two-decade period saw a multitude of advances within the social and cultural milieus, and as the conservative tide was beginning to turn in the 1960’s, Avedon’s works likewise touched upon risqué subject matter, from the scintillating exposure of skin to the vulnerable exposure of scars of his subjects. In doing so, not only did Avedon embrace the changing norms, but more so, pushed them to the forefront of the general consciousness. This was further evidenced in Avedon’s photographs of the African American Debutante Cotillion in New Orleans in 1963, and even more tellingly, of figures involved with the Civil Rights Movement, taken the same year.

    The latter movement was joined by other socio-political benchmarks that defined the first 8 years of the decade, including the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Bay of Pigs Invasion; the assassinations of President Kennedy; the launch of Apollo 7; and most painfully, the Vietnam War. The ongoing escalation in deaths and the ever-rising cost of the war yielded a powerful counteraction among the younger generation, who inundated the streets with draft card-burning protests, vociferous rebellions, and persistent marches, In the summer of 1967, the 100,000-strong social Flower Power gathering in the Haight Ashbury of San-Francisco known as the Summer of Love took place, and its anthem, appropriately enough, was The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love.

    By then, the musical tide had shifted significantly, as songs of saccharine puppy love gave way to the overtly sexualized tunes of the Rolling Stones, the roof-blowing demands of respect by Aretha Franklin, the peaceful harbingering of Joan Baez, the rhythm & blues notes of The Supremes, and the melodic chants of harmony by Bob Dylan. Together, the new musical landscape lent space to experimentation and freedom, relinquishing antiquated social, moral and religious mores. Mind-altering paraphernalia, from cannabis to LSD, was commonplace, and with it came the embracing of an aesthetic marked by vibrant, convivial and psychedelic patterns and colors.

    At the time that Avedon photographed John, Paul, George and Ringo, Beatlemania had reached its zenith in the United States. Having released 8 LP’s and sold millions of albums worldwide, the Beatles had been appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1965 and reached superstardom on the other side of the Atlantic. Their 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was received by thunderous reviews and enormous commercial success. Still considered by many as among the most revolutionary albums in music’s history, the album included numerous tracks that experimented with psychedelic tracks, including Lucy in the Sky of Diamonds, Strawberry Fields Forever and I Am the Walrus. In fact, it was their indulgence in various musical experimentation, from psychedelic rock to rhythm & blues, classical music and country, that yielded a sound that was idiosyncratic and most emphatically theirs.

    The convergence of Avedon and The Beatles in a penthouse in Thompson House, London exceeded the sum of the star power generated by the individuals on either side of the camera lens. Both sides had gone through a number of permutations as artists and visionaries, and allowed themselves to embrace and lead the ongoing changing milieus. Avedon’s use of solarization in the portraits, previously unseen in his work, alludes to the revelry in the topsy-turvy socio-cultural climate of the time and its foremost musical messengers. The sumptuous saturation achieved through the dye-transfer, combined with the psychedelic adorning over each of the portraits, ensured that the poignant magnetism of the performers would be captured at its most quintessential.

    The portraits offered in this lot are emblems of an era that gave free rein to love, and the harbingers of the subsequent changes to come. In the remaining 2 years of the decade, student uprisings spread across the world; the musical Hair opened on Broadway; the largest anti-war rally in the United States’ history drew 500,000 participants; the four-party Vietnam peace talks began; Apollo 11 had Americans touching the moon for the first time; the first national women's liberation conference was held in Illinois; the Stonewall riots ushered in an era of tolerance; and The Woodstock Festival drew 500,000 concert-goers, marking one of the pivotal moments in the history of music. Avedon’s portraits of The Beatles, therefore, stand as a two-way mirror, providing a generous glimpse into a bygone era that was typified by love and freedom, and hinting at the many positive social landmarks that were still to come.

  • Artist Biography

    Richard Avedon

    American • 1923 - 2004

    From the inception of Richard Avedon's career, first at Harper's Bazaar and later at Vogue, Avedon challenged the norms for editorial photography. His fashion work gained recognition for its seemingly effortless and bursting energy, while his portraits were celebrated for their succinct eloquence. "I am always stimulated by people," Avedon has said, "almost never by ideas." 

    Indeed, as seen in his portraits — whether of famed movie stars or everyday people — the challenge for Avedon was conveying the essence of his subjects. His iconic images were usually taken on an 8 x 10 inch camera in his studio with a plain white background and strobe lighting, creating his signature minimalist style. Avedon viewed the making and production of photographs as a performance similar to literature and drama, creating portraits that are simultaneously intensely clear, yet deeply mysterious.

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The Beatles Portfolio: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, musicians, London

Four dye transfer prints, printed 1990.
Each 21 5/8 x 17 3/8 in. (54.9 x 44.1 cm).
Each signed and numbered 1/6 in ink in the margin; each signed, numbered 1/6 in pencil, copyright credit reproduction limitation, title, date and medium stamps on the verso. Accompanied by the original linen clamshell portfolio case.

$350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for $722,500


4 October 2011
New York