Pat Cleveland Takes 'CULTURED' to 'Avedon 100'

Pat Cleveland at ”Richard Avedon: Avedon 100” at Gagosian West 21st Street in New York. Photography by Ben Rosser/

“These are all characters who changed the world by being authentic,” Pat Cleveland lets out as she walks through “Richard Avedon: Avedon 100.” The Gagosian show, which opens tonight in Chelsea, New York, features more than 150 works by the seminal photographer. Each photograph was selected by contemporary cultural luminaries, including Hilton Als, Naomi Campbell, Elton John, Tyler Mitchell, Chloë Sevigny, and Cleveland. The iconic artist and model, baptized “the Josephine Baker of the international runways” by André Leon Talley, was a muse to Halston, Antonio Lopez, and the man who preserved their styles in photographs, Avedon. “His vision was to make history,” Cleveland remembers. “Photography was his way of showing the world how he felt about beauty.” In honor of the show’s opening, CULTURED invited Cleveland to turn back the pages of time and remember the people and stories Avedon snapped.

Richard Avedon, Pat Cleveland, dress by Bill Blass, New York, March 15, 1977. All images courtesy of the Richard Avedon Foundation and Gagosian.

“I met Richard Avedon in the ‘60s, when I was still in high school. I wanted to work as a model because I wanted to meet the photographers and designers. I had seen Avedon’s photographs all those years growing up with my mom, Lady Bird Cleveland, having Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the house … And I said, 'Well, I’m going to go meet him.' I just went over to his studio, and I got to the secretary who said, 'What are you doing here? You have no agent, get out.' I thought, I’m gonna get to them one way or another. So I got an agent, and nothing happened for a while. 

Then, suddenly I started working with Diana Vreeland at Vogue. They needed someone to do pictures in pantyhose jumping around with Avedon. You didn’t see my face. I just had to jump around. And Avedon would jump with me and carry an umbrella with this little light, and his assistant would jump too. We looked like a herd of gazelles. He was a dancer in his heart, I guess. He knew how women should move their bodies.

So I just started going over to his studio and hanging out. The other girls would get 10 pictures and, because I was the oddball, I’d get one. I'd wait for everybody else to do their pictures, and finally they would be gone and we’d do the picture and jump across the room. Camera work was so still at the time. Irving Penn was like, 'Don’t even move an eyelash.' You had to sit in a box and keep very still. But with Avedon you could run and jump! It was so liberating. 

When everyone would be gone, he’d say, 'Do you want to come to the dark room and see the magic?' I was studying photography in high school. He’d help me develop my pictures. People said, 'You were in the darkroom with Avedon?' I’d say, 'Yeah, that’s where the magic is.' I think he felt kinda sorry for me because I was always available, but they were not allowed to use me. He’d do these cover pictures of me, and Vogue would use someone else because it wouldn’t sell in the South.”

Richard Avedon, Richard Avedon, self-portrait, Nova Scotia, July 17, 1975.

Richard Avedon, photographer

“He was a cutie with beautiful hair, always very humble, holding his head down and listening. Then he’d get an idea and flip his glasses up. Sometimes those glasses were so big; they were like TV sets on his eyes! And they’d fall down a bit, and he’d push them up. Everybody started copying his style by flipping their glasses up and wearing them on top of their heads, and tying their sweaters around their necks. The Avedon look! 

If he walked into a room, it was like the queen bee had arrived. People would magnetize towards him. I remember I was at some gallery party, and I was standing there with Andy [Warhol]. We were being photographed, and then Avedon came into the room and all the attention went to the other side. He came right over to me, and I thought, Wow, I’m so lucky.

Richard Avedon, Marian Anderson, contralto, in the role of Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera, New York, June 30, 1955.

Marian Anderson, contralto

“Here’s my godmother, Marian Anderson! From the age of 3 until about 9, I would go to her house in Connecticut. She'd have these wonderful garden parties, and I’d hide under the tables and try to drink the eggnog. She had this bedroom that was all pink and fluffy with a round bed on a platform, and she’d let me nap there. And I’d say, 'I’m getting sleepy, can you sing me a song?' She’d say, 'Well, I can’t sing, really.' And I’d say, 'Don’t you know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?' She never sang at home, but she’d sing Twinkle Twinkle to me. I wonder if she sang to Avedon. That’s the breath of life.”

Richard Avedon, Donyale Luna, dress and sandals by Paco Rabanne, New York, December 6, 1966.

Donyale Luna, supermodel and actress

“Donyale Luna was my idol. This is the photograph that made me realize that someone could be as beautiful as that. She was like a goddess. She was so tall she never wore shoes. She and Veruschka [von Lehndorff] had size 11 feet. We used to live together in Rome, and she would walk around barefoot all the time. Look at her in Paco Rabanne. She’s like something ancient and beautiful and untouchable.”

Richard Avedon, Bob Dylan, musician, New York, February 10, 1965.

Bob Dylan, musician

“I was walking down the street one day, and this guy saw me and said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I’m writing in my diary.' I only looked up to his neck and saw he had this harp necklace. He said, 'I want your diary.' I looked up fully and saw it was Bob Dylan! He gave me his address and told me to send him my diary.”

Richard Avedon, Tina Turner, musician, dress by Azzaro, New York, June 13, 1971.

Tina Turner, musician

“I was at Lincoln Center for a benefit, and I was supposed to come out on stage and dance with Sterling [St. Jacques] right after her. I was her following act! And Bob Hope says, 'Well, how do you want to be introduced?' And I said, 'Just call me Pat.' And then he said, 'Just Pat is coming out!' And Tina Turner ran past me. She was tiny! Now she lives in Switzerland, and you can see her doing Buddhist chants on YouTube.”

Richard Avedon, Claude and Paloma Picasso, children of Pablo Picasso, Paris, January 25, 1966.

Claude and Paloma Picasso, photographer/businessman/director and designer/businesswoman

“Claude was a photographer in the ‘70s in New York. I remember him and Paloma and I used to hang out with Antonio Lopez in Paris. But once her dad died, she got a lot of money and disappeared! She got herself a Mercedes and said, 'See ya later gang!'”

Richard Avedon: Avedon 100” is on view from May 4 to June 24, 2023 at Gagosian West 21st Street in New York.