The distinctive and dynamic film-related artwork of Al Hirschfeld will comprise a new exhibition at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences beginning October 26. “Hirschfeld’s Hollywood” will showcase nine decades of film art, covering the transition from silent to sound, from black-and-white to color, from the studio system to an industry of independents.
As a kick-off to the exhibition, the Academy will present an evening program with the artist, now 98 years old, on October 25, at 8 p.m., in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Hirschfeld will discuss his life and career with moderator Robert Osborne; relevant film clips also will be screened. Those who attend the event will be able to see the exhibition that night, prior to the public opening the next day.
Broadway and its personalities have served as regular subjects for Hirschfeld since 1926. By that time, however, he was a six-year veteran of movie studio publicity and art departments, having already worked at various times for Goldwyn, Universal, Pathé, Selznick, Fox, First National and Warner Bros.
The Academy’s exhibition will be the first to focus exclusively on the artist’s work related to motion pictures. Featured will be more than 250 drawings, paintings, collages, posters, sketchbooks and movie ephemera covering 81 years, from a 1921 portrait of Jackie Coogan in “The Kid” to the nominees for the 73rd Academy Awards.
Celebrity caricatures of the 1920s were works of serious graphic composition. While Hirschfeld’s contemporaries of that era published much of their work in “smart” publications like “Vanity Fair” and “The New Yorker,” his were found on buildings, subways, and theater marquees, as well as in the hands of moviegoers in the forms of heralds and programs. Hirschfeld’s drawings and posters helped to define the public persona of personalities such as the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. For Hirschfeld, when the performer “began to look like my drawings as opposed to the other way around,” he knew his work was successful.
“The problem of placing the right line in the right place has absorbed all of my interest across these many years,” says Hirschfeld. “I am still enchanted when an unaccountable line describes and communicates the inexplicable.”
Hirschfeld supplied artwork and sometimes entire marketing campaigns for such classics as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Cabin in the Sky,” “National Velvet” and “Pygmalion.” His style was suited to the comedies and musicals of the ’30s and ’40s, and just as insightful when capturing the rise of the independent drama in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, when his work illustrated such titles as “The Miracle Worker,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Inherit the Wind,” “Elmer Gantry” and “Lilies of the Field.” A 1994 drawing of the founders of DreamWorks and a 1999 depiction of Oscar winners Harvey Weinstein, Roberto Benigni, Gwenyth Paltrow and Judi Dench are among the artist’s most recent works to be included in the exhibition.
“Hirschfeld’s Hollywood” has been organized with curatorial assistance provided by David Leopold, archivist to Hirschfeld. An extensive catalog, published by Harry N. Abrams Inc., accompanies the exhibition and will be available for purchase at the Academy throughout the duration of the exhibition.
Like all exhibitions at the Academy, “Hirschfeld’s Hollywood” is free and open to the public, and will continue in the Academy Galleries through January 20, 2002. Viewing hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends, noon to 6 p.m. Tickets for “An Evening with Al Hirschfeld” are $5 for the general public, $3 for Academy members. They may be purchased in advance at the Academy during regular business hours or by mail, or on the night of the program, if still available, when the doors open at 7 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills.
For more information, call 310-247-3600.
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