From the late 1930s through the 1950s postwar boom, refugees streamed out of Europe and into the United States, among them some of the most brilliant and influential members of the avant-garde. They brought with them the modernist principles of the Bauhaus, savvy approaches to photography and a belief in the boundless possibilities of graphic design—and encountered a country unusually welcoming of innovators and mavericks.
These immigrants and their newfound disciples transformed not only mass media but also the culture at large, according to Mason Klein, senior curator at the Jewish Museum, who organized “Modern Look: Photography and the American Magazine,” opening on April 2 in New York City. The exhibition will display roughly 200 images and ephemera from the era, including works by Richard Avedon, Robert Frank and Irving Penn, as well as by barrier-breakers such as Margaret Bourke-White, Lisette Model and Gordon Parks, the first Black photographer to shoot for Vogue. “He expanded both the political and the aesthetic bounds of photography,” Klein says.
The story could not be told without Alexander Liberman and Alexey Brodovitch, Russian émigrés who became art directors of two of the most visually impactful magazines of the period: Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, respectively. “Liberman and Brodovitch took over and instilled in these younger Americans an opportunity to learn about graphic design and how the applied arts as taught at the Bauhaus could be implemented,” Klein says, adding that they shared an unfailing belief that “art could in some way improve everything in life.” Here, Klein evaluates six images from the show.