Al Hirschfeld and Broadway have been inseparable for seventy-five years, since he published his first theatrical caricature in 1926. Yet for Hirschfeld there has always been a world beyond Broadway exciting his passions and focusing his vision. His intellectual horizons have embraced a wide variety of influences. He studied art in New York and Paris, traveled extensively in Europe and Asia, and began his professional career at the precocious age of eighteen in the budding movie industry. He took art classes at night, studied the art of the great European illustrators, and learned from such celebrated American masters as Charles Dana Gibson and John Held, Jr. During the 1920s he found inspiration in his friendship with Mexican caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias; they shared a studio, a love of graphic line, and a profound interest in the Harlem Renaissance. In 1928, Hirschfeld traveled to Russia to review the impact of the Revolution on the performing arts. In 1932, he followed Covarrubias to Bali, where the contrast of dark shadows and bright sunlight transformed his art. During the early years of the Depression he empathized with the aims of Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists, producing witty, stylized cartoons and powerful political prints supporting social reform. Soon, however, motivated more by art than politics, he eliminated social content from his work entirely, pursuing instead with single-minded devotion the spirited, irrepressible linear style for which he has become internationally renowned.
Al Hirschfeld, Beyond Broadway celebrates a "Gift to the Nation" of original drawings given by the artist in honor of the Library's Bicentennial. The exhibition features twenty-five works drawn from the gift, and from the Library's established collections, spanning Hirschfeld's miraculous career and offering an intimate look back at the origins of his wondrous, "unaccountable" line. Too often we take that legendary line for granted, looking for "Nina" while overlooking Hirschfeld's brilliant artistry. Beyond Broadway reemphasizes his professional roots and personal interests, putting his genius into context. These works for the most part bring us outside the familiar in Hirschfeld's graphic repertoire, suggesting that his magical mastery of line evolved in locales beyond the Great White Way--in the markets of Morocco, the studios of Paris, the jazz bars of Manhattan, and the villages of Bali. In them we catch more than a glimmer of the fierce determination and immense creativity required to bring forth from such a complexity one elegant line so unique and expressive it has come to define an artist, an age, and an art form.
Curator, Prints & Photographs Division