William John Kennedy
Shot in the early 1960s when fine art photographer William John Kennedy forged a friendship with both Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol, these images capture the two artists and their soon-to-be iconic works at the seminal point of their careers and the birth of the Pop Art movement.
After almost half a century in storage, a selection of the nearly forgotten images are now published for the first time as a collection. The exhibition documents a 1960s zeitgeist, with Kennedy's deft vision narrating a new chapter in the history of Pop Art. Depicting the young artists as both playful and serious - and even prescient of their own future fame - the viewer alimoses a rare moment in time where works such as Warhol's Marilyn Monroe and Indiana's LOVE seem like props in a child's make-believe theatrical production. As history has revealed, Kennedy's extraordinary ability to foresee the significance that Warhol and Indiana would have on the art world is what makes this collection most compelling.
Documentary photography, and its place in the history of art. is well recorded since the 19th century: and the classification of photography as fine art has been entrenched in the art market lexicon for decades. William John Kennedy, born in 1930, was no doubt influenced by many of the great photographers he studied and encountered while growing up, and enthralled by the crossover between the worlds of fashion and photojournalism long before the discussion of fine art photography entered the mainstream.
Very few images document Warhol and Indiana together, since their polar personalities steered them toward discrete work and social circles. On the insistence of Indiana, however, who was selected to participate in Americans 1963 - the final of the six seminal exhibitions curated by Dorothy Miller at New York's Museum of Modern Art to introduce new artists to the public - Kennedy was the only known photographer allowed to take pictures at the opening night of the exhibition. A striking result of that event is the now historic, candid image of Warhol and Indiana in relaxed discussion, laughing together.
While shooting the artists at work in their studios, the direction of Kennedy's photographs would soon blur the lines between documentary and fine art, as the artist-photographer took a more active, even calculated, role in the staging or the image. During the year prior to meeting Andy Warhol, Kennedy, sensing a distinctive talent in Indiana, requested access to the artist's studio in order to photograph him at work. Selecting the works he deemed most significant, Kennedy often posed and prepared his subjects for hours before snapping only a few, seemingly effortless, pictures. A quintessential example is of Robert Indiana holding his LOVE painting. Not only did this painting become one of the most iconic of the 20th century, the photograph remains the only existing image of the artist with this specific painting.
Kennedy's genius was in the planning, as though he knew that his tableaux of Warhol, Indiana and the group of cultural innovators they separately ensnared would soon reshape the art world. Perhaps inspired by Andy Warhol's fascination with cinema and the activities at the Factory, Kennedy wielded his own camera much like a film director. Kennedy surely sensed early on that he was not only witnessing the birth of something momentous, but also the value of himself as the visual recorder of intimate moments amongst those powerful players.
Even before Warhol could be labeled the consummate appropriation artist and Indiana as the brilliant developer of a unique "sign" language, Kennedy's photographs of the artists were already documenting their process at a time before Pop Art was yet to be called the new canon. Nearly 50 years after the fact do we now witness William John Kennedy's vital contribution to the Pop Art movement.