New York’s culture is unequaled anywhere, but other cities get blockbusters, too. This spring, Palm Beach’s Norton Museum of Art presents “Avedon Fashion 1944-2000,” a sweeping show of more than 150 of the photographer’s works and a snapshot of his long career in magazines.
At first glance, the show looks much like a history of fashion. On second glance, it looks much like a history of America. The organizers—Carol Squiers and Vince Aletti, curators from New York’s International Center for Photography (where a version was on view last fall), and James Martin, from the Avedon Foundation—make an audacious but somewhat supported claim: that Avedon’s photos for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar not only reflected culture but changed it. He fought to use the first non-Caucasian model, China Machado, in 1959; he pushed the boundaries on nudity; he put models into motion—creating the trademark “Avedon blur” in the 1960s—and he even integrated the space program into a Harper’s Bazaar spread set at Cape Canaveral.
Avedon, the feminist photographer? His work, said Ms. Squiers, reflected, more than his contemporaries’, the new sense of power, determination and freedom gained by women during the 20th century.
Charlie Stainback, curator of photography at the Norton, said: “Avedon’s work changed the way people thought about fashion. Prior to him, the majority of fashion photography was one step away from what you would see in a Sears catalog. His work was influential for an entire generation.”
Most museum shows omit much of Avedon’s fashion work, as the photographer liked to do himself, emphasizing instead his achievements in portraiture. (A 2002 show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured just the portraits). This show makes the case, ably, that he had nothing to apologize for in his more commercial images.
The exhibition runs through May 9.