Donyale Luna at the entrance to Avedon Fashion at the Detroit Institute of Arts
To some readers out there, the connection between high fashion and the gritty Motor City may seem like an oxymoron. But back in 1965, the idea was not so unlikely when Richard Avedon worked with a beautiful young model from Detroit named Donyale Luna. As a tribute to this unique Detroiter, her image graces the banner at the entrance to our special exhibition galleries where she stands over 15 feet tall.
Avedon first began using African American models as the subjects for his fashion sessions in the early 1960s. Donyale Luna had dramatic looks and a six-foot tall slender figure that suited bold and sometimes outrageous designs characteristic of the 1960s. Avedon photographed her for Harper’s Bazaar in 1965 and for Vogue magazine in 1966. The Vogue sessions featured gladiator-inspired metal mini dresses of designer Paco Rabanne, and although Luna’s image (seen above) is considered to be one of the most iconic photographs of his career, it was actually never published in Vogue.
Fortunately, the Avedon Foundation has allowed one of very few rare vintage exhibition prints to travel with the show. It appears in the exhibition with other photographs of Penelope Tree and Jean Shrimpton – Luna’s model-girl contemporaries well known to the world of 1960s high fashion.
Luna was born Peggy Freeman in Detroit in 1945. According to Duke University’s Richard Powell she was an aspiring actress active in Detroit theater circles in the early 1960s before moving to New York City to pursue modeling and acting. After working with Avedon, she scored assignments with other high profile photographers including David Bailey who shot her for a cover of British Vogue back in the 1960s. Luna also appeared in a small number of films – perhaps most notably in Italian director Federico Fellini’s Satriycon in 1970. She passed away in Rome, Italy, well before her time, in 1979.
The installation and opening events for Avedon Fashion Photographs have kept all my blogging efforts to a minimum over the last several weeks. And even though I feel like I’ve been underground and just now coming up for air, there seems to be no escape from Richard Avedon outside the DIA’s gallery walls. Driving around town I am greeted daily by the our billboards. They bring a little elegance and charm to our local skylines.
And it’s all good. Not just good- it’s great. This is a stunning exhibition. It was brought to perfection by James Martin, managing director at the Avedon Foundation in New York City. James and I worked tirelessly on site with DIA staff to get this exhibition of around 180 photographs as well as dozens of vintage fashion magazines installed earlier this month.
James Martin of the Avedon Foundation
Working with Avedon during the final years of his career (Avedon passed away in 2004), James has a second sense about the amazing eye and legacy of this brilliant and prolific photographer.
The DIA’s been having fun with the exhibition online too. On our Flickr “Fashion by the Decade” page, post your own fashionable photos of friends, family members, or maybe yourself, if you have the courage. You may even win some free tickets to the exhibition or to our annual November gala called “To the Nines.”
Don’t be shy. Just remember what Richard Avedon said, “Fashion is one of the richest expressions of human desires, ambitions, needs, frailty, insecurity, security. What we wear is an indication of our sense of ourselves. It’s a gift.
Julia Margaret Cameron, Enid from Idylls of the King, 1874
On September 2 the DIA opens a new exhibition, Photography – The First 100 Years: A Survey from the DIA’s Collection. Taking a look at the early years of photography and its development as a new art form, the DIA presents a survey of 90 works from its collection. Included are a number of notable rare works from the 19th century as well as iconic imagery from the 1920s and 1930s. Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke White, Dorothea Lange in addition to 50 other pioneers and great innovators of the medium are on view in the exhibition which runs through January 3, 2010.
Unknown Photographer, Soldier and Companion, 1861-65, tintype.
One of the highlights from this exhibition is a tintype portrait of an African American couple from the 1860s. The process, a photographic image made on metal, appeared in the 1850s. The DIA was fortunate enough to acquire it back in 2001, when it went on the auction block with other items from the collection of Jackie Napoleon Wilson, a Detroiter who developed an important and rare collection of 19th-century portraits of African Americans over the years. The exhibition moves onward from the 19th century with sections devoted to the pictorialist, modernist and social documentary eras. Photography – The First 100 Years kicks off a new and exciting season of photography exhibitions this fall 2009 and into spring 2010 at the DIA – here’s the round-up:
Avedon Fashion Photographs 1944-2000– opening October 18, 2009 through January 17, 2010. The DIA will host the first large-scale fashion retrospective since Richard Avedon’s death in 2004. Organized by the International Center for Photography, New York, the exhibition includes 181 images – many are well-known photographs – in addition to magazines and other interesting ephemera that illustrates the long and legendary career of one of America’s most successful and interesting photographers.
Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs 1955 opening March 3 through July 4, 2010. This exhibition includes over 60 black-and white photographs taken by Robert Frank in Detroit. Made during his travels through the U.S. photographing for his book The Americans, Frank observed Detroiters as they lived and worked at mid century in the U.S. In this rare body of work, many of which will be on view for the first time at the DIA, Frank documented the day-to-day lives of Americans as he tried to mingle with assembly line workers at the Rouge Factory, took in a movie at the Gratiot Drive-In, and experienced public life on Belle Isle and in the streets of Detroit. All were part of the Detroit experience as Frank perceived it over fifty years ago.
Posted in Exhibitions
Tagged African Americans, assembly lines, Belle Isle, Detroit, Detroiters, DIA, Edward Weston, Fashion Photography, First 100 Years of Photography, History of Photography, Jackie Napolean Wilson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Nancy Barr, Photography, photography collectors, Photography exhibitions, Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Tintypes, Walker Evans
Detroit area high school students view their work at the DIA, May 2009
In the weeks leading up to summer, you might think that my desk would see a little bit less action – a few less phone calls and maybe a day with one less email. But the success of our current exhibition Of Life and Loss has kept me and many DIA staffers and volunteers busy with tours and special programs. In late May, I was fortunate to spend some time with the young minds responsible for the works on view just outside the photo gallery. I spoke with a group of Roeper and Dearborn High School photography students and discussed the exhibition with recent guest blogger Michelle Stamler, a dedicated instructor of photography at Roeper. In early May as well, the Detroit-area chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women toured the exhibition with me and more groups will visit later in June with the Jewish Federation. Our veteran docent and photo collector Barbara Goldsmith will be on hand to enrich their experience as well. Of Life and Loss has been a quiet yet powerful exhibition with its images speaking volumes to our audience. It has drawn many visitors to the DIA. The exhibition will be on view through July 12, 2009.
More summer news came recently in an email from Detroit-area photographer Bill Schwab regarding his upcoming Photostock 2009. Bill has fostered the workshops and programs at Photostock for the last four years and envisions the event growing upcoming years. It’s great to see Michigan on the map with a weekend dedicated to the medium. So if you are heading north at the end of June and find yourself near Petoskey, there is an interesting evening lined up with photographer Shelby Lee Adams in conjunction with Photostock.
And the Richard Avedon exhibition continues to occupy everyone’s minds here at the DIA. Even though the DIA will take a brief break from special exhibitions in the upcoming months, DIA staff continues to work on programs and the research & installation of upcoming exhibitions. Although the public sees a seamless transition from one exhibition to the next, the planning and execution of our exhibition schedule often takes many months and sometimes even years.
I have been working for the past several weeks with architect and exhibition designer Frank Arvan to create an exciting presentation of Avedon Fashion Photographs this fall. Frank has been responsible for the design of several DIA exhibitions including Monet to Dali and American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell. We have plotted out the exhibition carefully with special attention given to Avedon’s work laid as it has developed decade by decade and with highlights that include a “Paris by Night” section as well as a gallery devoted to Avedon’s vintage engraver’s prints made from 1955-58. It is just the start of a busy summer for photography@the DIA – I’ll be blogging soon on upcoming acquistions and other programs and events in the near future.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Bill Schwab, Dearborn High School, Detroit, Exhibitions, Fashion Photography, Frank Arvan, Jewish Federation, michelle stamler, Michigan, National Council of Jewish Women, Of Life and Loss, Petoskey, Photography, Photostock 2009, Richard Avedon, Roeper High, Roeper High School, Shelby Lee Adams
Many thanks to Michelle Stamler for posting recently on her involvement with Roeper High School photo students and the DIA. I am looking forward to their visit later this month at the DIA to view Of Life and Loss and talk about their work inspired by this exhibition. I did not expect such an overwhelming response to this exhibition. There is a constant stream of visitors in our galleries everyday. And it seems that this very powerful group of photographs speak to a very diverse group of visitors on so many different levels with great emotional impact and resonance. I was fortunate to have exhibition curator Karen Sinsheimer deliver the most-illuminating lecture on Of Life and Loss this past Sunday to over 100 people in the DIA’s lecture hall.
Penny Picture Display, Savannah, 1936, by Walker Evans
The DIA is moving forward with our other photo exhibitions and programs for the year. This past week I have been busy working with interpretive educator Madeleine Winslow on an upcoming exhibition Photography-The First 100 Years. Although the exhibition does not open until September 2, 2009, plans for installation and development of interpretative materials for the gallery take place months and sometimes years in advance. Madeleine and I hope to get some feedback from our visitors in the gallery with a reader response table focused on the work of Walker Evans one of the featured artists in the exhibition. We plan to set up some online opportunities to hear your thoughts as well.
The exhibition Avedon Fashion Photographs 1944-2000 will also open at the DIA on October 18. 2009. I was fortunate to get an advance copy on the catalogue with essays by exhibition curators Carol Squiers and Vince Aletti. The authors have given their undivided and thorough attention to this very productive and influential period of the photographer’s career in fashion editorial work that appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and in later years for the Versace campaign beginning in 1980 and eventually as staff photographer for The New Yorker. The exhibition opened last week at the International Center for Photography, New York, and a sneak peak of some of Avedon’s fashion work can be found at the New Yorker Online – Here at the DIA, the exhibition will get four-star treatment in our special exhibition space with an elegant installation and some exciting programs and events to soon be announced.
Posted in Exhibitions
Tagged Carol Squiers, Fashion Photography, Harper's Bazaar, high school photography students, History of Photography, International Center for Photography, Karen Sinsheimer, Madeleine Winslow, michelle stamler, Of Life and Loss, Richard Avedon, Roeper High School, Versace, Vince Aletti, Vogue, Walker Evans
The DIA will bring fashion work by acclaimed photographer Richard Avedon to the walls of its special exhibition space this fall 2009. The exhibition, organized by the International Center for Photography, New York, is the first major retrospective of Avedon’s fashion photography since his death in 2004. It will feature many iconic works from his amazing and unprecented sixty-year career as well as magazines, proof sheets and other emphemera that illuminate the artistry and refinement of this stunning photographic genre.
The exhibition will open on October 18, 2009 and run through January 17, 2010. The DIA is developing an interesting slate of related programs and events as well as our members’ previews that will kick off on Friday evening October 16 and continue through Saturday, October 17 – details to be announced!