Gianfranco Gorgoni, Whose Art Photos Were Called Art, Dies at 77


Gianfranco Gorgoni, whose photographs of artists and their works blossomed into art themselves, and who documented the creation of some of the world’s best-known outdoor installations, died on Sept. 11 at his home in Harlem. He was 77.

His daughter, Maya Gorgoni, said the cause was cancer.

Mr. Gorgoni photographed Andy Warhol lounging in bed and posing with a dog. He photographed Bruce Nauman as he created a work called “Corridor Installation With Mirror” at San Jose State College in California in 1970. Operating in photojournalist mode, he captured images of noteworthy figures like Fidel Castro and Truman Capote.

But he was best known for images of the genre often labeled Land Art — pieces created in a specific landscape, often only temporarily or, if not, destined to be ravaged by the passage of time. His pictures of “Spiral Jetty,” the 1,500-foot-long earthen coil that Robert Smithson made in Great Salt Lake in Utah in 1970, portrayed that work at its creation as well as in subsequent years, as nature had its way with the piece, including submerging it entirely for almost three decades.

Mr. Gorgoni also photographed work by Michael Heizer from the same period, including his giant drawings made with a motorcycle in a dry lake bed in Nevada. He photographed “Running Fence,” the 24.5-mile cloth barrier the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude erected in California in the 1970s. More recently he was hired by the Nevada Museum of Art as official photographer of “Seven Magic Mountains,” Ugo Rondinone’s much-talked-about public art project outside Las Vegas (backed by the museum and the Art Production Fund) that consists of seven brightly painted stone towers.

“Gianfranco Gorgoni’s iconic photographs bear witness to the most significant Land Art works of the last half century,” Ann M. Wolfe, senior curator at the Nevada museum, which holds Mr. Gorgoni’s archive, said. She is curating the museum’s exhibition “Gianfranco Gorgoni: Land Art Photographs,” planned for the fall of 2020.

“His images succeed by transporting viewers to remote desert locations that might only be imagined otherwise,” Ms. Wolfe said. “Collectively, Gorgoni’s photographs helped to shape global perspectives on contemporary art practice in the America West.”

Mr. Gorgoni was born on Dec. 24, 1941, in Rome, the son of an Italian actress, Olga Gorgoni, who died in a carbon monoxide accident when he was 12. He grew up in Rome and in Bomba, in the Abruzzi region of Italy. In his 20s he moved to Milan to pursue a photography career. He had some success as a commercial and fashion photographer there, but in 1968, intrigued by what he was hearing about the art scene in the United States, he took a boat to New York.

He immersed himself in New York’s theater and art worlds, frequenting hangouts like Max’s Kansas City on Park Avenue South in Manhattan, and he began to make the acquaintance of cutting-edge artists. The influential art dealer Leo Castelli befriended him early on and made some of the introductions. Others came by happenstance, as when he was photographing Jasper Johns at a gallery.

“Richard Serra was doing a piece in the corner,” Mr. Gorgoni recalled in a 1983 interview with Bomb magazine. “I thought he was a mechanic coming to repair something.”

Often with financial support from Mr. Castelli, Mr. Gorgoni traveled far and wide photographing artists as they made new work, whether Land Art or museum installations. Some of those images were collected in a 1972 book, “The New Avant-Garde: Issues for the Art of the Seventies,” a collaboration with the writer Grégoire Müller. In a 2002 article, The New Yorker recalled that the book “had a dramatic shot on the cover of Serra in a welder’s mask, flinging molten lead from a ladle — he looked like a working-class Poseidon.”

Mr. Gorgoni went to great lengths to photograph some of the Land Art he documented, which could be hard to capture because of its size. He sometimes stitched images together for a panoramic effect, long before this was easily done with digital cameras. Some of his pictures of “Spiral Jetty” were taken from a helicopter.

“He was also willing to dangle from scaffolds and over large holes in the earth,” an article about him last year on the site said, adding that “he once got stuck for hours when he suspended himself in a harness at Heizer’s ‘Double Negative’ (1969), which consists of two massive cuts in the Nevada desert.”

As a photojournalist, Mr. Gorgoni, who often worked for the Contact Press Images agency, spent time with rebels in Afghanistan in 1981 and with Yasir Arafat in Beirut. In 1974 he made his first of many trips to Cuba, his Italian citizenship gaining him entry at a time when few Americans were allowed into the country. He became a friend and admirer of Fidel Castro; in 1990 the two published “Cuba Mi Amor,” a book of Mr. Gorgoni’s photographs of the country with text by Castro. Gabriel García Márquez wrote the prologue.

In 1985 Mr. Gorgoni published a second book of his art-world images, “Beyond the Canvas: Artists of the Seventies and Eighties.”

In 1974 he married Teta Frye; they divorced in 1987. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a stepson, Frederic L. Miller; and a granddaughter.

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