Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Vision To Visuals: Full Circle
Serendipity brought William John Kennedy’s 50-year-old images back to Duggal
In the 50 years since founding Duggal, there are very few business decisions I regret, save for one: As a young entrepreneur in the early '60s, when my photo lab was just starting to become popular with artists, I provided photo capture and enlargement services to Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, among other artists. At one point, Andy Warhol's studio offered me one of his art works as payment for the work I did for them. Having just established my business, I naively declined the offer and settled for a cash payment instead. Today, when I see Warhol works sell for millions of dollars, my regret is only mitigated by the beautiful memories of those early years when New York City was like Warhol's Factory, engaging and creating some of the most influential artists in the world. I'm grateful that my company played a small role in that crucial point in global art.
New York art culture in the '60s was every bit like the stereotypes that exist about it today. Artists from multiple disciplines influenced and inspired each other to express the massive transformation that American society was undergoing: Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Allen Ginsberg, Jasper Johns, Truman Capote, poets, photographers, painters, writers—all part of the magic of that era that fundamentally altered the way future generations would think about art.
Photographer William John Kennedy was one such artist in the milieu, who found himself in the company of Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol right before their meteoric rise to fame. Kennedy was invited to document the groundbreaking "Americans 1963" exhibition opening reception at the Museum of Modern Art, which included artists such as Rosenquist, Oldenburg and Lichtenstein, as well as the young Indiana, with Warhol in attendance. On this historic evening, Indiana fatefully introduced Kennedy to Warhol. Kennedy shot intimate portraits of both artists "at work" with their most iconic pieces: Indiana with "LOVE" and Warhol with his "Marilyn," "Flowers," "The American Man (Portrait of Watson Powell)," "Self-Portrait" and "Birmingham Race Riot." Kennedy had an inkling of the prodigious influence these artists had on the contemporary art scene, but it was too early even for him to realize then that these artists at the helm of the Pop Art movement would change the course of American art history forever. Perhaps that's why the extraordinary series of photographs he created with Indiana and Warhol, in black-and-white and color-negative film, were boxed and stored away in his home, only to be discovered 50 years later.
The recent discovery in Kennedy's storage of these negatives, which provide a never-before-seen perspective on these great artists, has been one of the most sensational and rare events in the art world. Believed to be "the only such images in existence capturing the artists with their works," Kennedy's unpublished images are referred to as "rare and highly significant" by the director of The Andy Warhol Museum. "William John Kennedy's newly discovered photographs reveal a side of Warhol not often seen," says Eric Shiner, director of The Warhol in Pittsburgh. "He surrounds himself with his imagery, becoming an integral part of the environment and forever linking himself with the image at hand. The photographs are both engaging and rare, and they most definitely depict the artist at a pivotal moment, just before his career exploded." Shiner continues, "...not only do they provide imaginative insight into Warhol's persona, they are a testament to Mr. Kennedy's superb talent. The further addition of unpublished images dedicated to the Museum's fundraising efforts is undoubtedly a generous gesture by Mr. Kennedy and KIWI Arts Group."
Michael Huter, the publisher of KIWI Arts Group who discovered Kennedy's negatives and has been working with the artist to bring them to public view, realized their enormous significance for The Andy Warhol Museum, which soon will be adding 100 images to its permanent collection. "It's a wonderful opportunity to provide a portion of this $25M collection—currently being sold on the international art market—to help raise funds to support the museum's efforts and to expose a different side of Warhol to a broader audience."
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