“(re) Framing Conversations: Photographs by Richard Avedon, 1946–1965”

Second Rotation of 20 Images Opens Wednesday, Nov. 22 at the National Museum of American History

Portrait, Marilyn Monroe hugs Arthur Miller from behind

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will open a second complete rotation of 20 extraordinary Richard Avedon portraits spanning two decades and curated from the museum’s extensive photo history collection. The new iteration of the “(re)Framing Conversations: Photographs by Richard Avedon, 1946–1965” exhibition will launch Wednesday, Nov. 22, and is scheduled to run through 2024.

In November 1962, the National Museum of American History hosted Avedon’s very first one-man exhibition that included a range of photographic materials, including photographs, proof prints, contact sheets, a printing plate and more. Avedon gifted the whole of that show to the museum followed shortly by two additional donations of his work including photographs and negatives. It is from those gifts that “(re)Framing Conversations: Photographs by Richard Avedon 1946–1965” are drawn.

Presented in conjunction with Avedon’s Centennial year, the exhibit offers both beauty and stark realism from a time when photographic film dominated. Internationally recognized as one of the 20th century’s most influential photographers, Avedon's photography captured depth and dimension, embracing the emotions, psychology and aging of his subjects. Though high fashion brought him his initial fame, his passion for social and political issues became evident as his popularity rose.

The exhibition’s themes of politics, personal decision making, and identity are explored in six sections with questions around music, marriage, women and politics, who decides what’s sexy, can we change our minds, and who do you stand with. Included in the exhibit is a living room with a rotation of magazines from the 1940s through the 1960s for visitors to peruse, as well as interactive tabletops about portraiture, encouraging visitors to sit, pause, reflect and engage. Visitors can use their phone to access visual descriptions with QR codes located throughout the exhibition.

“As a history museum holding a vast and exceptional collection of photography, we are pleased to reveal how fine art provides a key lens to understand and explore the nation’s complicated history,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s Elizabeth MacMillan Director. “The visual impact of Avedon’s photographs capture some of the cultural and social tensions of the era through the mass media platform of magazines which he used masterfully as one of the nation’s culturemakers.”
“Photographs embody social, cultural, and political messages that we quickly absorb, whether we know it or not,” said Shannon Perich, curator of the photographic history collection. “Revisiting these historical photographs we can contemplate people of the past whose actions continue to resonate today, and point to our contemporary ability to continue to impact American culture by what music we listen to, how we engage with issues that matter to us, and who we vote for. Avedon’s portraits humanize people that have been elevated through history reminding us that we are all people who have power. We just have to decide how we are going to employ it.”

The last opportunity to see the initial rotation of 20 portraits featured in “(re) Framing Conversations” which includes portraits of Charlie Chaplin, Malcolm X, Judy Garland and others, will be Nov. 5.

“(re)Framing Conversations” is made possible by support from Judy and Leonard Lauder, with additional funding from Marcia and Frank Carlucci and the William Talbott Hillman Foundation.

About the National Museum of American History

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open daily except Dec. 25, between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The doors of the museum are always open online and the public can follow the museum on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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Note To Editors/Photo Editors:
Credit for included photo:
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, 1958. Photograph by Richard Avedon, courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
No cropping or text over images is permitted. A black border must be visible.

Members of the media should contact Janie Hoffman for additional formatted photos and credit lines to include in their coverage.

Background on Selected Portraits:

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, 1958. Avedon’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe with her then-husband, the playwright Arthur Miller accompanied Miller’s self-penned feature, “My Wife Marilyn,” that ran in the Dec. 22, 1958, edition of LIFE magazine. Miller wrote, “For in anything she does she is ‘herself,’ whether playing with the dog, redoing the cleaning woman’s hair, emerging from the ocean after a swim, or bursting into the house full of news. Her beauty shines because her spirit is forever showing itself.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1958. Physicist Robert Oppenheimer supervised the development of the atomic bomb. He later opposed nuclear arms, and during an invited visit to the White House by then-President Harry S. Truman was quoted as stating he had blood on his hands from his role in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Seventy years after Oppenheimer was accused of Communist sympathies and his security clearance revoked, United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm mandated, “In 1954, the Atomic Energy Commission revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance through a flawed process that violated the Commission’s own regulations. As time has passed, more evidence has come to light of the bias and unfairness of the process that Oppenheimer was subjected to while the evidence of his loyalty and love of country have only been further affirmed.”

Mae West, 1954. Film star Mae West’s forthright attitude toward women’s sexuality gained her fans and made for bawdy comedy. It also led to her arrest for her 1926 play Sex that she wrote, produced, directed and starred in. Mae wrote or co-wrote many of the films she headlined including, My Little Chickadee with W.C. Fields. Despite having a small part in her first movie role at age 40, her scene has become legendary. When a coat check girl exclaims, “Goodness! What lovely diamonds!,” after seeing Mae’s jewelry, Mae replies, “Goodness had nothing to do with it.”

Julian Bond, 1963. With an introduction from James Baldwin, Avedon traveled to Georgia to photograph civil rights organizer Julian Bond and his fellow activists. Police broke up the photo session and attempted to seize Avedon’s film. Julian Bond co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. Bond served four terms in the Georgia House of Representatives, and later, six terms in the Georgia State Senate. As an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, he boycotted the funeral services for Coretta Scott King on the grounds that the King children had chosen an anti-gay megachurch as the venue despite Coretta Scott King’s longstanding support for the LGBT rights.

Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Oct. 15, 1963, at the DAR Convention at the Mayflower Hotel. In 1939, DAR denied permission for Marian Anderson to perform a concert at Constitution Hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization and at her behest, an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with Anderson’s emotional rendition of "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)” attracted an integrated crowd of more than 75,000 in addition to a national radio audience of millions. DAR went on to reverse its “white performers only” policy and bi-laws now state membership is open to all women, regardless of race or religion, who can prove lineal bloodline descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving U.S. independence.

Marian Anderson, June 30, 1955. Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial concert was one of many groundbreaking accomplishments in her career. She was the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House (1955) and receive the first Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the Congressional Gold Medal (1977), the Kennedy Center Honors (1978), the National Medal of Arts (1986) and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1991). Anderson worked as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and performed concerts throughout the world as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United States.

Sneak Peek to three photos available here for your use.

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Media only:

Valeska Hilbig; (202) 309-2151; hilbigv@si.edu
Janie Hoffman; (310) 739-1445, jhoffman@planetatp.com