Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power traces Avedon’s interest in and fascination with American politics through 200 portraits created from the 1950s until the photographer’s death in 2004. Organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., with the cooperation of the Richard Avedon Foundation, New York, and the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power contains many rarely seen photographs drawn from the collection of the Richard Avedon Foundation, including works that have never before been exhibited or published.

During his six-decade career, Richard Avedon was arguably the most important American fashion photographer and portraitist. Avedon mastered his craft while serving in the Merchant Marines during World War II, and he found employment after the war with Harper’s Bazaar and Theater Arts. He quickly rose to prominence in his field, invigorating fashion photography of the time by staging fictional tableaux and developing an unprecedented theatrical style. He moved to Vogue in 1966 and to The New Yorker in 1992, and he continued to be an innovator in fashion photography and portraiture, as well as print and television advertising, until his death in 2004.

Featured in the exhibition is the groundbreaking series The Family. Commissioned by Rolling Stone magazine in 1976, this series consists of 69 portraits of elected officials, government  — bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists, captains of industry, and union leaders  — all members of the American political, military, media, and corporate elite. Unique to this series are the poses, which Avedon allowed his subjects to choose in order to provide an accurate representation of each model’s personality. The results both humanize the subjects and mitigate their power by placing them under the microscope of those they rule.

This exhibition traces Avedon’s fascination with the forces behind American democracy. Together, these photographs represent both an historical group portrait  — showing key figures from a volatile half-century of politics in the United States  — as well as a study of the nature of power. Audiences will be captivated by the juxtaposition of powerful leaders and ordinary citizens who use their power to control or to affect change.

The Museum is hosting the only West Coast viewing of the exhibition, on view during a season of unprecedented political change and focus on those who lead us. The exhibition is accompanied by a 350-page, fully illustrated catalogue published by Steidl in association with the Corcoran Gallery. The hardcover book, which includes essays by Paul Roth, Renata Adler, and Frank Goodyear, is available in The Museum Store.

Richard Avedon: Portraits of Poweris organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The exhibition is organized with the cooperation of The Richard Avedon Foundation, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. The local presentation of this exhibition is made possible by the generous support of Sharon and Joel Labovitz, Gordon Brodfuehrer and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. Additional funding was given by Jacki Johnson and Ken Widder, Wanda and Cam Garner, Karen and Mike Mallick, Elaine and Joe Monsen, the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Program, and members of The San Diego Museum of Art.

Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 10, 1965, © 2008 The Richard Avedon Foundation