(Mikhail Baryshnikov photo by Kenn Duncan, from NYPL site)
There’s a very good exhibit right now at the New York Public Library’s Performing Arts branch of photographer Kenn Duncan’s work. Duncan (1928-1986) was a dancer and champion roller skater in the fifties and became a photographer in the seventies. As a dance photographer, he worked for Dance Magazine and After Dark (a 70s NY weekly apparently covering theater and dance), and later photographed celebrities for various national mags including Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Time, and Life.
He published several collections in book form, many of nudes, mainly with male dancers as subjects. Many of those are included here, likely the reason for the big viewer discretion sign posted on the gallery door. Most of the dancers in that collection I didn’t know, except for Sir Anthony Dowell and Ivan Nagy, but there’s one of a man named Eivind Harum, who kept reminding me of David Hallberg (whom I had to banish from my thoughts for the time being); actor Sal Mineo (from Rebel Without a Cause) is also included in that section. There are some highly creative poses — some poking fun (I think) at beefcake, others very artful.
There are also sections on dancers, dance companies, and choreographers — including photos of a young Twyla Tharp (who I think looks her absolute best right now — I definitely wanna age like her), the Alvin Ailey company in its youth (which looked very different than today — lots of excellent afros, and mainly white female dancers, interestingly), the Houston Ballet, and of course all the greats — Carmen de Lavallade, Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Gelsey Kirkland, Suzanne Farrell and Paul Mejia, Natalia Makarova, Peter Martins, Alexander Godunov, Cynthia Gregory, etc. etc. I also spotted a dance belted Lar Lubovitch jeteing artfully over a sash.
Included in the celebrity section are a young, doe-eyed Dianne Keaton, Bette Midler, Maxwell Caufield (remember him, from Grease II was it?), Morgan Fairchild and her then male-cohort in a series of rather hilarious (now anyway) sexed-up poses for some Tarzan and Jane-like TV series they must have been doing, Eartha Kitt, Angela Lansbury, and a very young and almost frightfully innocent-looking Christopher Walken.
Duncan also did some Broadway photos (Hair, The Wiz, Equus, etc.), and some of those are up, as well as several of his fashion ones — mainly a Gucci spread — one of the most fun parts of the exhibit, the 70s being what they were! The ambient music is most evocative (sometimes comically) as well.
It’s a great trip through recent history that ends up making you think about what it is that makes a piece of art either timeless, period, or dated.
The exhibit, at Lincoln Center’s Library For the Performing Arts, continues through October 25th and of course it’s free.