The Barnes Foundation Presents “Alexey Brodovitch: Astonish Me”
First major US museum exhibition to explore the significant influence of Alexey Brodovitch
March 3–May 19, 2024
Press Preview: Wednesday, February 28, 9:30 am
Philadelphia, PA, November 27, 2023—In spring 2024, the Barnes Foundation will present Alexey Brodovitch: Astonish Me, a major exhibition exploring the influence and significance of photographer, designer, and instructor Alexey Brodovitch (1898–1971). Brodovitch is best known for his art direction of the US fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar from 1934 to 1958 and his role in making photography the cornerstone of its visual identity. Curated by Katy Wan, Managing Curator, D.Daskalopoulos Collection Gift, Tate Modern, London, this exhibition will focus on the legacy of this overlooked figure, consider his collaborations with many of the major figures of 20th-century photography, and encourage new perspectives on art direction and graphic design.
Alexey Brodovitch: Astonish Me is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal. Key support is provided by the David Berg Foundation and additional support comes from The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Julie Jensen Bryan and Robert Bryan, Hearst, and Donna and Jerry Slipakoff. This exhibition will be on view in the Roberts Gallery from March 3 through May 19, 2024.
As art director at Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch transformed the magazine and design fields through his creative layouts—often incorporating surrealist inventions and European avant-garde innovations—and celebrated collaborations with photographers including Richard Avedon and Lillian Bassman. Upon first arriving in the United States in 1930, he taught at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts) in Philadelphia and, later, the New School for Social Research in New York City. Brodovitch’s unique pedagogy influenced an extraordinary number of celebrated documentary and fashion photographers, including Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Eve Arnold, and Hans Namuth. He also collaborated with luminaries such as Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
“Alexey Brodovitch had a tremendous impact on photography as an artistic medium in the mid-20th century. His influence on the world of design is indelible, but he has been overlooked in the history of art,” says Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes. “He called Philadelphia home beginning in 1930; while Dr. Barnes was building his collection of modern European paintings and introducing it to the city, Brodovitch was introducing leading European design to his students—and later, through his work at Harper’s Bazaar, to a wider audience. We are proud to present the first major US museum exhibition to explore the influence of Brodovitch, along with the first monograph to examine his present-day relevance and pivotal relationships with photographers.”
Born in the former Russian Empire (now Belarus) to an aristocratic Jewish family, Brodovitch dreamed of becoming an artist when he was a young man. After serving in the Russian Civil War, he was exiled to Paris. He lived in Montparnasse, a diverse community inhabited by some of the 20th century’s most revolutionary artists, where he was exposed to myriad artistic styles. Brodovitch’s exposure to vanguard art movements fueled an intense interest in photography and typography. He took on freelance work as a graphic designer, creating posters, advertisements, and restaurant decoration and paraphernalia. His first design success was in 1924 for a Grand Prix poster contest for the Bal Banal, which many artists entered, including one Pablo Picasso.
Brodovitch arrived in the United States in 1930 and moved to Philadelphia to work at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) where he established the Department of Advertising Design. He introduced his students to cutting-edge magazines and other leading European design work and founded his methodology on creative problem-solving, which was unorthodox during the time. In 1933, he established the Design Laboratory, a workshop that used contemporary examples and technology to explore innovative design possibilities.
In 1934, Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow saw Brodovitch’s work in New York City. She immediately suggested the magazine hire him as art director. During the subsequent years, he frequently used surrealist devices in his magazine layouts, which featured constellations of small photographs, a creative use of white space and contemporary fonts, and playful spreads that unfolded like musical compositions. Changes in size, layering, and color provided the viewer with a sequence of experiences, evoking movement and energy on the printed page. Brodovitch also pursued personal projects: from 1935 to 1937, he photographed several performances of the itinerant Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo using a 35mm camera and slow shutter speeds. The resulting images were ethereal—capturing the movement and experience of dance. In 1945, this body of work was published in the boldly experimental photobook Ballet, which became one of the most significant achievements of its medium and the only book of his own work that Brodovitch ever produced.
“Alexey Brodovitch was regarded by his peers as the father of modern art direction. He created unconventional and experimental designs that are common practice today, and the lessons he imparted through his own work and his influence on those he mentored have transformed the worlds of photography and graphic design,” says curator Katy Wan. “Though Brodovitch is not a household name, the images by photographers whom he worked with and influenced are instantly recognizable all around the world. Our hope is that this exhibition affirms his legacy in modern photography and design.”
Featuring more than 100 works from public and private collections around the world, Alexey Brodovitch: Astonish Me is arranged thematically and showcases photographs, prints, works on paper, books, and magazines, including works by artists Brodovitch mentored and collaborated with, including Eve Arnold, Richard Avedon, Lillian Bassman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Irving Penn.
Exhibition highlights include:
- Richard Avedon. Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris (1955): This iconic photograph by Richard Avedon is a testament to his mentor, Brodovitch, who challenged artists to “astonish” viewers through surprise and invention. (Richard Avedon Foundation, NY)
- Lisette Model. Woman at Coney Island (1939–41, printed 1976):Brodovitch presented Model’s ebullient subject in a Bazaar spread dedicated to the cherished tourist destination of Coney Island. (Tate, United Kingdom)
- Henri Cartier-Bresson. Calle Cuauhtemoctzin, Mexico City (1934–35): Brodovitch was allegedly the only art director permitted the crop the photographs of Cartier-Bresson, who famously espoused the ‘decisive moment’ of releasing the shutter. Brodovitch dared to give Cartier-Bresson’s photograph a fresh presentation in Bazaar.
- Eve Arnold. Models Limbering Up Backstage before a Fashion Show in Harlem (1950): Brodovitch understood the significance of Eve Arnold’s photography of the Harlem fashion shows in the 1950s, when she brought them to his attention at one of his classes at the New School. (Magnum Photos)
- Poster for Bal Banal (1924): Brodovitch’s design won first prize in the poster competition for a soirée organized by the Union des Artistes Russes in Paris. It helped launch his career in commercial art and graphic design. (Collection of Dr. Curt Lund)
- Cover image. “The Girl of Tomorrow,” Harper’s Bazaar (February 1939): Brodovitch’s bizarre and fantastical imagery captures the spirit of surrealism. He did not self-identity with the surrealists but was influenced by their aesthetic. (Collection of Vince Aletti)
- Photograph. Tricorne (1935): Brodovitch’s emphasis on mood, atmosphere, and dynamism transformed the direction of dance photography. This evocative image was included in his one and only photobook, Ballet (1945). (Philadelphia Museum of Art. From the Collection of Dorothy Norman, 1968)
- Floor Chair, Model 1211-C (c. 1948): Brodovitch’s modern aesthetic extended to furniture design. This model won third prize in its category at the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1950. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Katy Wan is Managing Curator, D.Daskalopoulos Collection Gift, Tate Modern, London. Prior to this, she was Assistant Curator, International Art at Tate Modern, working on exhibitions, acquisitions, and displays. For Tate Modern, Wan has developed significant exhibitions and displays, including Joan Mitchell, 2023; Ming Wong and Tseng Kwong Chi, 2022; Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms, 2021; and Bruce Nauman, 2020, a touring survey exhibition with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, M Woods Beijing, and Pirelli HangarBicocca. Other projects include the touring exhibitions Mona Hatoum, 2016; The EY Exhibition: Wilfredo Lam, 2016; and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future, 2017, and the display Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33, 2018. Wan was a Program Fellow with the Association of Art Museum Curators International in 2021.
The 160-page illustrated exhibition catalogue Alexey Brodovitch: Astonish Me is published by the Barnes Foundation in association with Yale University Press. Edited by curator Katy Wan and including essays from Vince Aletti, David Campany, and Wan, the book is the first monograph on Brodovitch to give particular attention to his pivotal relationships with photographers. The authors address Brodovitch’s impact on photography as an artistic medium in the mid-20th century and explore how European art and design became the foundation of a new American print culture.
Brodovitch’s own work is illuminated through his personal projects—such as the magazine Portfolio and the photographic project Ballet, which depicted performances of the itinerant Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in the United States. Case studies of his transformative collaborations with photographers such as Eve Arnold, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Lisette Model, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Hans Namuth, and André Kertész reveal pivotal encounters that may surprise even the most ardent photography aficionado.
Alexey Brodovitch: Astonish Me is organized by the Barnes and curated by Katy Wan, Managing Curator, D.Daskalopoulos Collection Gift, Tate Modern, London.
Alexey Brodovitch: Astonish Me is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal.
Key support is provided by the David Berg Foundation.
Additional support comes from The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Julie Jensen Bryan and Robert Bryan, Hearst, and Donna and Jerry Slipakoff.
Ongoing support for exhibitions comes from the Christine and Michael Angelakis Exhibition Fund, the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund, the Lois and Julian Brodsky Exhibition Fund, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Christine and George Henisee Exhibition Fund, Aileen and Brian Roberts, and the Tom and Margaret Lehr Whitford Exhibition Fund.
Lead support for the exhibition publication is provided by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Lois and Julian Brodsky Publications Fund and Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.
In addition, funding for all exhibitions comes from contributors to the Barnes Foundation Exhibition Fund:
Joan Carter and John Aglialoro, Julia and David Fleischner, Leigh and John Middleton, Jeanette and Joe Neubauer
John Alchin and Hal Marryatt, Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, Lois and Julian Brodsky, N. Judith Broudy, Laura T. Buck, Elaine W. Camarda and A. Morris Williams, Jr., Eugene and Michelle Dubay, Penelope P. Harris, Jones & Wajahat Family, Lisa D. Kabnick and John H. McFadden, Victor F. Keen and Jeanne Ruddy, Marguerite Lenfest, Maribeth and Steven Lerner, Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, Hilarie and Mitchell Morgan, The Park Family, Wendy and Mark Rayfield, Anne and Bruce Robinson, Adele K. Schaeffer, Katie and Tony Schaeffer, Dr. and Mrs. Eugene E. Stark, Joan F. Thalheimer, Bruce and Robbi Toll, van Beuren Charitable Foundation, The Victory Foundation, Kirsten White, Randi Zemsky and Bob Lane, Anonymous.
ABOUT THE BARNES FOUNDATION
The Barnes Foundation is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution that shares its unparalleled art collection with the public, organizes special exhibitions, and presents programming that fosters new ways of thinking about human creativity. The Barnes collection is displayed in ensembles that integrate art and objects from across cultures and time periods, overturning traditional hierarchies and revealing universal elements of human expression. Home to one of the world’s finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern paintings—including the largest groups of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne in existence—the Barnes brings together renowned canvases by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent van Gogh, alongside African, Asian, ancient, medieval, and Native American art as well as metalwork, furniture, and decorative art.
The Barnes Foundation was established by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” A visionary collector and pioneering educator, Dr. Barnes was also a fierce advocate for the civil rights of African Americans, women, and the economically marginalized. Committed to racial equality and social justice, he established a scholarship program to support young Black artists, writers, and musicians who wanted to further their education. Dr. Barnes became actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance, during which he collaborated with philosopher Alain Locke and Charles S. Johnson, the scholar and activist, to promote awareness of the artistic value of African art.
Since moving to Philadelphia in 2012, the Barnes Foundation has expanded its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice, teaching visual literacy in groundbreaking ways; investing in original scholarship relating to its collection; and enhancing accessibility throughout every facet of its programs.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Deirdre Maher, Director of Communications
Online press office: barnesfoundation.org/press