Richard Avedon’s Naked Murals

The most successful, most memorable, and the most difficult piece to pull off was “Andy Warhol and members of The Factory.” It is dated October 30, 1969, but was begun months earlier, on August 14th, in a session that served as both a test run for Avedon and a tryout for his subjects. Over the following months, he refined his cast of characters and orchestrated their relationships across the bright, featureless white space that had become his signature. Warhol was always present at one end of the frieze, holding his tape recorder at the ready. Eventually, Avedon decided to introduce a bit of drama to the scene, anticipating the jealous antagonism that the filmmaker Paul Morrissey was beginning to exhibit toward Warhol, over the shifting alliances of his protégé Joe Dallesandro. In the final image, a composite, Dallesandro appears naked and under Morrissey’s possessive hand, at the left edge of the mural, and also clothed and close at Warhol’s side, on the right. In between, Morrissey reappears—behind a group that includes Viva, Taylor Mead, and a breast-baring Brigid Polk—and casts a suspicious eye on his rival. That friction gave Avedon the same hint of narrative that had driven many of his most successful fashion photographs, but the Warhol mural hardly depends on it. Not when the actors Jay Johnson, Eric Emerson, and Tom Hompertz make an unlikely version of “The Three Graces,” casually nude amid a tangle of their cast-off clothes. And especially not when the uncommonly beautiful Candy Darling stands just as naked nearby, in wig and full makeup, with what she referred to as her “flaw,” a penis, on matter-of-fact display. Although none of this looks especially groundbreaking today, it was rather extraordinary at the time, and it still reads as a marvellous coup, at once shrewd and playful—far from spontaneous yet full of surprise.

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