The artist covered nine decades, and each one presents a fascinating look at the popular culture of the times. With the burgeoning interest in the 1990s, this exhibition, the start of a regular series investigating Hirschfeld’s work during different decades, explores what Hirschfeld saw and drew during the ‘90s. Whether it was theater, film, television, music, or politics, Hirschfeld captured the most significant figures and productions of the period. From August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson to Jonathan Larson’s Rent we see the American Theatre evolving. On television, there are shows from the opposite ends of the spectrum in Seinfeld and Beverly Hills 90210. At the movies, the decade sees the last Hirschfeld movie poster, appropriately for the film adaptation of Noises Off, to the emergence of a new major studio, DreamWorks in a drawing that was featured on the front page of The New York Times. In music, there is a colorful portrait of one of the decade’s most successful pop artists, Madonna, as well as an act that filled stadiums around the world: The Three Tenors. Even the political and media worlds don’t escape Hirschfeld’s pen, with portraits of Presidential contender Ross Perot and a young George Stephanopoulos as he morphed from political strategist to on-air personality.
“At an age, most artists would be slowing down, in the 1990s Hirschfeld was doing more than ever,” says David Leopold, Creative Director of The Al Hirschfeld Foundation and curator of the new online exhibition. “Hirschfeld continued his unbroken line into his now eighth decade and was inspired by the arts that he saw and heard. In addition to his drawings, which continued to be seen in dozens of publications, album covers, posters, programs, book covers, and prints, this decade saw him as the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, The Line King, as well as the inspiration for one of the biggest Disney films of the decade, Aladdin.” This online exhibition is the start of a regular series that will explore Hirschfeld works in different decades to not only see what he drew but how he drew. “It is remarkable that Hirschfeld’s line remained as strong as ever, and that he continued to experiment with new approaches and new media.” Go behind the lines of Hirschfeld’s art with “The Hirschfeld Century Podcast,” nominated as “Best NYC podcast” by the 2020 Apple Awards. A special episode focusing on “The Hirschfeld Time Machine: The 90s” will be available starting March 28, 2022, from AlHirschfeldFoundation.org/podcasts, iTunes, and other popular podcast sites.
ABOUT THE AL HIRSCHFELD FOUNDATION
The mission of the Al Hirschfeld Foundation is to promote interest in the theater and visual arts by supporting non-profit museums, libraries, theaters, and similar cultural institutions. The Foundation fulfills its mission through grants and exhibitions of Hirschfeld’s art. The Foundation maintains an extensive collection of Hirschfeld artworks and lends and/or donates pieces to institutions all over the world. Another primary mission is arts education, which the Foundation does primarily with the Hirschfeld Arts Curriculum. Created in conjunction with the New York City Board of Education, The Hirschfeld Arts Curriculum is an innovative visual/performing arts education program based on Hirschfeld’s art to engage students K through 12 in a variety of arts activities. Our programs encourage writing, reading, researching, observing, movement and performance to learn about the arts, its history, and the opportunities for education and employment in the arts field. The web-based Al Hirschfeld curriculum is easy to use and is intended to be a free resource for teachers and students. www.AlHirschfeldFoundation.org
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Al Hirschfeld’s drawings stand as one of the most innovative efforts in establishing the visual language of modern art through caricature in the 20th century. A self-described “characterist,” his signature work, defined by a linear calligraphic style, appeared in virtually every major publication of the last nine decades (including a 75-year relationship with The New York Times) as well as numerous book and record covers and 15 postage stamps. Hirschfeld said his contribution was to take the character, created by the playwright and portrayed by the actor, and reinvent it for the reader. Playwright Terrence McNally wrote: “No one ‘writes’ more accurately of the performing arts than Al Hirschfeld. He accomplishes on a blank page with his pen and ink in a few strokes what many of us need a lifetime of words to say.”
In 1945, Hirschfeld celebrated the birth of his daughter Nina by placing her name in the background of a drawing. What the artist described as an innocent prank soon became a personal trademark and national obsession, as he began hiding numerous NINA’s throughout his drawings for years to come. He is represented in many public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery, and Harvard’s Theater Collection. Hirschfeld authored several books including Manhattan Oases and Show Business is No Business in addition to 10 collections of his work. He was declared a Living Landmark by the New York City Landmarks Commission in 1996, and a Living Legend by The Library of Congress in 2000. Just before his death in January 2003, he learned he was to be awarded the Medal of Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts and inducted into the Academy of Arts and Letters. The winner of two Tony Awards, he was given the ultimate Broadway accolade on what would have been his 100th birthday in June 2003. The Martin Beck Theater was renamed the Al Hirschfeld Theater.