Woodbury House Presents William John Kennedy’s ‘The Lost Archive of Andy Warhol’

Words by Bakul Patki

For most of his life, the late American photographer William John Kennedy was best-known for his decades-long advertising career, filled with acclaimed campaigns for brands, such as American Express and Xerox, and commissions for Life Magazine and Sports Illustrated. However, what is now widely acknowledged to be his most significant work only really came to light when Kennedy was well into his seventies. 

‘Andy Warhol with Race Riot Sandwich Board’ by William John Kennedy, 1964. Courtesy Woodbury House

In 1963, the New York-based photographer was introduced by his friend Robert Indiana to an, as-yet-unknown, Andy Warhol.  Through 1964, Kennedy documented the creative lives of the two young artists for his own personal practice – capturing them in a unique, often playful, way. 

Although a handful of photographs were shown around the time, as Kennedy’s commercial career took-off he put his personal work to one side and put the negatives from this period away. The misattribution of one of his images in a 2006 book about Warhol led the photographer, in 2008, to pull out those same negatives from the loft in which they had lain forgotten, for over four decades.

Previously disregarded, the importance of these works – both in historic and aesthetic terms – quickly became apparent, and a selection of Kennedy’s images of Indiana and Warhol were presented during Art Basel Miami Beach 2010. 

Two years later, The Andy Warhol Museum launched ‘William John Kennedy: The Warhol Museum Edition’. Published by KIWI Arts Group, this was first portfolio ever to be released by the museum, and all fifty of the limited print run quickly sold out. This spring, for the first time since their original sale in 2012, an edition has become available. 

From 29th February to 21st March, the exquisitely designed portfolio, which comprises four hand-printed, gelatin silver prints and one chromogenic print, a foreword, an Introduction and five essays, will be viewable at Mayfair gallery, Woodbury House. The extraordinary show also features thirty prints, including a touching image of Warhol and Indiana at the opening of MoMA’s landmark ‘Americans’ show, in which the latter featured. This image is all the more meaningful, for being taken the same night that Indiana first introduced Kennedy and Warhol

‘Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana’ at MoMA, by William John Kennedy, 1963. Courtesy Woodbury House.

Other highlights include the iconic ‘Warhol Holding Marilyn Acetate’, which seems to place the artist within one of his most famous artworks. “Perhaps the most striking feature of William John Kennedy’s photographs of Warhol is the manner in which they seek to elide the artist and his work.”, says Nicholas Chambers, Milton Fine Curator of Art at The Andy Warhol Museum, where a print from of this suite of photographs is now installed – underscoring its continued relevance.

In the last fifteen years of his life, Kennedy received remarkable recognition. The significance of his work – both in capturing the early life of one of history’s most celebrated artists, and in its own right, cannot be understated – and his photographs are now in the collections of major institutions worldwide.

‘Warhol Flowers II’, by William John Kennedy, 1964. Courtesy Woodbury House.

Sixty years after they were taken, the exhibition of these images at Woodbury House offers a rare opportunity to step back in time, to see the world – specifically the world of Warhol on the cusp of greatness – through a young Kennedy’s eyes. Do not miss it. 

‘The Lost Archive of Andy Warhol’ by William John Kennedy runs from February 29 to March 21, 2024 at Woodbury House, 29 Sackville St, London W1S 3DX.

Installation photograph of ‘The Lost Archive of Andy Warhol’ at Woodbury House.

While the gallery typically operates by appointment only, an open gallery event will be held on March 9, 2024, from 12:00 to 20:00. This event does not require reservations, and all art enthusiasts are invited to invited to explore Kennedy’s remarkable collection at their leisure.

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