Alexey Brodovitch exhibition coming to Barnes Foundation

Debuting on March 3, 2024, the Barnes Foundation presents 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. The  Alexey Brodovitch exhibition will remain on view 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,” Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes, said. “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.” 

About Photographer Alexey Brodovitch

Alexey Brodovitch. Poster for Bal Banal, 1924.
Alexey Brodovitch. Poster for Bal Banal, 1924. Collection of Dr. Curt Lund. Courtesy Curt Lund.

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,” curator Katy Wan said. “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.  

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