Long-Sharp Gallery

William John Kennedy: Americans 1963

William John Kennedy: Americans 1963

William John Kennedy

The groundbreaking Americans 1963 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City featured 15 young artists, among them Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg, Marisol, James Rosenquist, Lee Bontecou, Ad Reinhardt. The exhibition was the sixth and final in a series curated by MoMA’s iconoclast Dorothy Miller; the program was designed to introduce American artists to the museum’s public. The six contemporary art shows, staged from the early 1940s through the early 1960s featured a total of 90 artists, today considered a veritable Who’s Who of 20th century art.

Robert Indiana invited Kennedy to photograph this opening night reception of Americans 1963, where he met fellow guest Andy Warhol. That evening Eleanor Ward, Henry Geldzahler, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and many other superstars who soon contributed to putting
American contemporary art on the international cultural map also became part of Kennedy’s fateful reportage. No one that night could have imagined this group would become the catalysts that propelled a complete paradigm shift in the formation of the art world as we know it today, while Kennedy quietly captured the moment from behind his lens.

Image Credit:

Robert Indiana with X5 © William John Kennedy

As on preceding occasions, strongly contrasting personalities and points of view have been brought together. The exhibition is not designed to illustrate a trend, make classifications or favor any age group. The artists have been selected simply as individuals - fifteen painters and sculptors or such consequence that they should, I believe, be more fully known to the Museum's public. Each has had at least one showing in New York galleries, but through this exhibition many thousands of Museum visitors will see their work for the first time.

Dorothy Miller, Curator of Museum Collections, on the exhibit Americans 1963

William John Kennedy

Robert Indiana and Dorothy Miller

1963/2010

16 x 20 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

Dorothy Canning Miller was one of the most important, yet perhaps lesser known, women who influenced the course of 20th Century art in this country. Miller was hired by and worked closely with the esteemed MoMA director, Alfred J. Barr, Jr. The first professionally trained curator at that institution, Miller was revered by artists and colleagues alike—though she came under repeated attack by local art critics for her supposed lack of taste. Fortunately, she trusted her instincts and never wavered in her convictions regarding which artists to feature in her series of six MoMA exhibitions that essentially put contemporary American art on the map.

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William John Kennedy

Robert Indiana and Eleanor Ward

1963/2010

16 x 20 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

In the 1950s and 1960s, only a small number of galleries nationwide championed the important art of its time, and even the top museums assumed a responsibility to showcase the younger generation of artists. Eleanor Ward, influential owner of New York’s famed Stable Gallery from 1953 until its closure in 1970, staged exhibits for all of the notable Abstract Expressionist artists, including Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell. She was introduced to Warhol by Henry Geldzahler and spent time at the Factory, and soon organized gallery shows for the fashionable Pop artists. After canceling a show by Alex Katz, Ward gave Andy Warhol his first solo show in November of 1962, one month after Robert Indiana.

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Americans 1963 Exhibition Catalogue

William John Kennedy

Robert Indiana and Claes Oldenburg II

1963/2010

16 x 20 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

Born in Sweden and moved to Chicago at the age of 7, Oldenburg settled in New York in 1956 and soon enjoyed the company of fellow artists such as Jim Dine, Red Grooms and Allan Kaprow, who introduced theatrical Happenings to the art scene. Oldenburg broke away from the dominant focus on Abstract Expressionism to become one of the first Pop artists, producing his iconic, colossal soft sculptures in partnership with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen. He became a favorite of Dorothy Miller’s and was included in two of her American artist exhibitions, seen here in front of his dessert tray sculpture, which was subsequently purchased by the MoMA and remains there to this day.

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William John Kennedy

Robert Indiana and James Rosenquist

1963/2010

16 x 20 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

From 1957 to 1960, Rosenquist worked as a billboard painter, deftly applying those skills to his new work, which quickly established the artist as a key player in New York’s Pop Art scene. In 1960 he took a studio at Coenties Slip, where his neighbors included Jack Youngerman, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Robert Indiana, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, among many others. Dorothy Miller included him in Americans 1963 and in the same year he also showed at the Guggenheim Museum. Rosenquist was commissioned by Philip Johnson to paint a mural for the 1964 NY World’s Fair. Also in 1964 he joined the prestigious Leo Castelli Gallery, which provided access to participation in top European galleries.

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Portrait of William John Kennedy

William John Kennedy

Robert Indiana and Roy Lichtenstein

1963/2010

16 x 20 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

Lichtenstein became a leading figure in the new Pop Art movement, along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and James Rosenquist. Lichtenstein was a quintessential Pop artist, known for utilizing comic strip characters as his main subject matter, a style he adopted in 1961. Leo Castelli gave him his first solo show in 1962, and the entire collection was purportedly purchased by influential collectors before the show even opened. His clean, hard-edged compositions, which were influenced by various aspects of popular culture and mass media, including the advertising industry, became some of the most recognizable works in the 20th Century.

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William John Kennedy

Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana

1963/2010

16 x 20 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

William John Kennedy, invited by his friend Robert Indiana to photograph the opening night of Americans 1963, captured this unguarded and innocent moment between Warhol and Indiana, before they experienced the effects that fame would impose on their lives.

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Installation View of William John Kennedy photos from Americans 1963

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Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, Mario Amaya

William John Kennedy

1963/2010

20 x 16 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

William John Kennedy

Robert Indiana with The Demuth American Dream 5

1963/2010

16 x 20 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

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William John Kennedy

Robert Indiana with X5

1963/2010

16 x 20 inches

Silver Gelatin Print

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Long Island native William John Kennedy (b. 1930) received his education in fine art from Syracuse University, the School of Visual Arts, and Pratt Institute. In the 1950s he worked as an assistant and studio manager for American fashion photographer Clifford Coffin (1913-1972), a contemporary with Penn and Avedon and arguably the greatest of Vogue’s “lost” fashion photographers. A top freelance editorial photographer in New York City, Kennedy’s work appeared in world-renowned publications including LIFE Magazine and Sports Illustrated. In the commercial arena he created national and international campaigns for corporate clients including Avon, GE, IBM, RJR Nabisco, American Express, and Xerox. Kennedy has continued his passion for fine art photography throughout the years, developing a full body of work in the art form.

Shot in the early 1960s when he and his wife forged a friendship with Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana, Kennedy’s recently published collection of images capture the two artists and their most iconic works at the rise of the Pop Art Movement. Kennedy’s extraordinary photographs — which lay in storage for nearly 50 years — reveal a story of the pivotal moments and players who shaped the course of American art in the second half of the 20th century, including James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein, Henry Geldzahler, Dorothy Miller, Claes Oldenburg and Eleanor Ward. Kennedy’s rare and unique images offer a peek into the lives and work of Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana at the seminal point in their careers.

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