'He embodied the new movement that, in my childhood magazines, suddenly made luxury freshly vibrant; he portrayed the ‘beau monde’ and society’s fringes without compromise or disdain. Then came the shock in The New Yorker of this saturated, near-unrecognisable testament, the swansong I wanted for Arles.' Christian Lacroix
IN MEMORY OF THE LATE MR AND MRS COMFORT. A FABLE BY RICHARD AVEDON. *
On 6th November 1995 The New Yorker devoted 26 (almost 27) pages to a historic colour series by Richard Avedon. As he himself said in the title, this was a ‘fable’ involving two characters, Mr. & Mrs. Comfort, whom he presented, mistreated and consigned to a world of utter desolation. Mrs. Comfort was a sublime mannequin, Nadja Auermann, and a real actress. Mr. Comfort, by contrast, was a skeleton, but one not without expression or meaning, who appears as an extra or a participant in each of the 23 photographs published. The pair tell us a story invented by Avedon in collaboration with Doon Arbus, which takes the form of a last will and testament.
What’s happening, in a radically brilliant way, is a farewell to the fashion journalism which in part made Richard Avedon a celebrity.
This was a shock, as much for Avedon’s associates as for fashion lovers and personalities – among them the models of the top fashion names – and for clothes addicts.
But that’s the way it was: harsh. Avedon, who owed part of his fame to having published in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and so on, was saying a violent NO!
Following a rationale like the one behind the opposition to the Vietnam War that landed him in prison, and his exploration of the American West, he set out to denounce a consumer society he found unbearable but which he had decided to take advantage of. Bye-bye fashion, bye-bye seduction, bye-bye the ephemerality of seduction.
We’re all mortal and even when we’re actors and famous we’re potential skeletons. Fashion is an illusion, a sublimely ridiculous way of trying to struggle – in vain – against the flight of time; a struggle I was part of until this series came along.
A magnificent young woman, a calamitous set, a cynically libidinous skeleton, a peeling world in which beauty means splendour.
And in the end a Garden of Eden marked ‘Strictly No Entry’.
Simultaneously beautiful and violent, and wonderfully controlled in terms of realisation and meaning, this challenge to the vacuity of the world has never been shown before.
For us it represents a harmonious dialogue with the major Avedon retrospective at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, and with the issues raised by Christian Lacroix’s festival programme.
Christian Caujolle, exhibition curator.
*Title of the portfolio published in The New Yorker, 6th November 1995.
Exhibition organised in collaboration with Norma Stevens and the Richard Avedon Foundation, New York City, the Fraenkel Gallery, San Fransisco, and Marla Weinhoff.
With the backing of the United States Consulate.
Richard Avedon is represented by the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.