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 Believed to be “the only such images in existence capturing the artists with their works,” Kennedy’s unpublished images are referred to as “rare and highly significant” by the director of The Andy Warhol Museum.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.” It was KIWI Arts Group who connected with Duggal’s General Manager Bob Kapoor to start work on printing these images for the first time for an exhibition titled “Before They Were Famous: Behind the Lens of William John Kennedy.” The incredible serendipity of this project brought William and his wife, Marie, to meet me at Duggal and print the rolls, which were originally processed here 50 years ago for their first ever exhibition in history, bringing the work full circle. A review of the exhibition mentions: “The negatives were processed at Duggal—a printer in New York City, which is still there—at the time the film was shot. Mr. Huter contacted Duggal upon finding out about the negatives and said, ‘How would you like to print the work that you processed in 1963 and 1964,’ and Baldev Duggal, still being there, excitedly said, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy!'”
Robert Indiana Holding Love
Warhol with Self-Portrait SB, Factory Fire Escape I I
It’s crazy indeed for me that we would work on the same project nearly five decades later. In addition to the great excitement of working on this rare project, I feel a deep pride for having built a company that has stayed connected with its original love and commitment to photography by maintaining a full traditional photography printing photo lab while expanding into a 250-plus-employee visual solutions company. We’ve printed all of the black-and-white images from the Kennedy archive directly from the original negatives as silver-gelatin prints. This collection of photographs, now part of a museum-style, curated exhibition, has traveled to select cities over the past 14 months; the New York City premiere marks the reali-zation of a lifelong dream for the 82-year-old Kennedy and an important milestone for this exhibition.
Warhol famously said that, in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. With these exceptional photographs of Warhol and Indiana, which are works of art in themselves, Kennedy has gone beyond his 15 minutes and secured permanent fame in the chronicles of art history for providing us a completely new perspective on two American artists with whom we grew up and still admire today.