David Leopold, Inventive Director of The Al Hirschfeld Basis and the artistic power behind each the simply launched ebook and the simply opened exhibition The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld, has spent greater than 30 years learning the artist’s work, the primary 13 of these serving as Hirschfeld’s archivist and visiting him in his studio a couple of times per week. A follow-up to his earlier quantity The Hirschfeld Century: A Portrait of the Artist and His Age, the lavish 256-page tome showcases 4 many years, from 1962-2002, of just about 300 drawings of casts, scenes, backstage portraits, and posters from probably the most notable and lesser-known stage productions of the time, as captured by the self-described “characterist” in his signature calligraphic model.
They embrace Hirschfeld’s distinctive linear depictions of such hits as Good day, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, Humorous Woman, Cabaret, Annie, Sweeney Todd, Les Misérables, Fences, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Hire, Angels in America, and Hairspray, and such theater legends as Stephen Sondheim, Neil Simon, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, Tom Stoppard, and Hal Prince, within the largest assortment of Hirschfeld’s theater work that has ever been printed. Together with the pictures, the brand new version encompasses a foreword by Michael Kimmelman, and chapter introductions by Brooks Atkinson, Brendan Gill, Maureen Dowd, Terrence McNally, and Jules Feiffer.
Along with the ebook launch, Leopold curated a particular inaugural exhibition for The Museum of Broadway, which opened to the general public right this moment, taking guests via 9 many years of Hirschfeld’s iconic pictures of American theater in twenty-five drawings and prints courting from 1929-2002.
David generously made time throughout this busy week to reply my questions on his perspective on Al Hirschfeld and his newest tributes to the artist, his work, and the theater.
What’s it about Hirschfeld?
David: That may be a query individuals have been asking for nearly a century, and when he handed, they requested, “Who’s the subsequent Hirschfeld?” There’s none. He was a sui generis determine, and his artwork, which we regularly name “caricature” for lack of a greater phrase, actually isn’t. It’s not pejorative, it’s exaggerated for emphasis, so we’re laughing with the topics, not at them. The joie de vivre comes via in his drawings – simply have a look at them! They’re contemporary, they transfer, they appear and feel timeless.
When did you first uncover his work and resolve to make it the main target of your profession?
I’m unsure that I ever determined; it determined for me. I used to be in all probability round seven or eight, dwelling in central Pennsylvania, with nothing to do, when my dad and mom, who subscribed to The New York Instances, requested me to search for the identify of Hirschfeld’s daughter “NINA” that he hid in his illustrations. I’m one among 5 kids, so we’d all compete to see who might discover it first. That led me on a path that might change my life! In faculty, I received a level in Theater Historical past and Administration and did plenty of analysis. Then sooner or later, I used to be researching portraits by the Nineteen Thirties artist Ben Solowey that appeared within the Instances and the Herald Tribune, they usually usually appeared facet by facet with Hirschfeld’s, so I assumed I ought to contact Hirschfeld. I used to be stunned to see that his quantity was listed within the cellphone ebook, however I used to be too nervous to name, so I wrote him a letter. I acquired a heat response, inviting me to his home for tea. I went, we hit it off (in fact he hit it off with all people, he was genuinely a pleasant man), and he requested me to archive his work.
Al lived within the current, he didn’t suppose in phrases past the up to date, so I put all the pieces so as, to make it simpler for him to seek out. And in doing that, we each received to find out about what he had executed previously. Even longer than the time he spent drawing theater, some 76 years, he drew Hollywood and later TV – he did extra covers for TV Information than every other artist. I’d go to him at the least as soon as per week and I maintain the document for probably the most free lunches within the Hirschfeld house! We talked concerning the theater and artwork and we shared a vocabulary of his drawings, we knew what we had been speaking about and understood one another. He was an important raconteur; he didn’t like to speak about himself, however we talked about his artwork, usually when he was drawing as a result of he was at all times drawing, as he seemed ahead to seeing the way it turned out.
As soon as he requested me what number of NINAs I noticed in one among his works – 4 or 5? He might solely discover 4 and he thought there have been 5, and if he received the quantity improper there could be plenty of mail. He would get so caught up in drawing that the NINAs got here out organically, as if his pen took over, with no aware thought. They had been spontaneous drawings; he was each a spectator and a participant. There aren’t too many artists you may say that about, however you may about Hirschfeld.
What standards did you utilize in choosing the pictures and essays for the brand new ebook?
For the pictures, I seemed to Al’s unique first quantity of The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld, which he designed, curated, and printed in 1961, that includes 250 works from the primary 40 years of his profession that had been each of well-known exhibits and nice drawings of flops. There have been sure drawings that needed to be within the new ebook, like Fiddler on the Roof, Humorous Woman, Good day, Dolly! I additionally went with the best drawings, those that would stand on their very own toes, even when the present solely lasted per week, like It’s Good To Be Civilized; the drawing is stupendous, even when the present wasn’t profitable! I seemed on the drawings for the aesthetics – each single one, then narrowed it down, restricted by what number of pages the ebook could be. As an editor, it’s as a lot about what you allow out as what you place in! I additionally wished to have an entire coloration part, together with Magnificence and the Beast – the primary coloration illustration he did for the Instances – since most individuals solely know his black-and-white drawings.
Do you will have one favourite Hirschfeld drawing that encapsulates all the pieces you like about his model?
No, as a result of that’s like asking a father or mother who’s your favourite little one! I curate plenty of exhibits, and it often takes three years or longer; I’ve been taking a look at Hirschfeld’s work professionally for 32 years now and I nonetheless get very excited once I see it. A few of my current favorites are those he drew for the Instances Friday theater column for fourteen years, for an inside web page, one column (6 x 3”) format. He cleansed these works of any pointless element, although some are nonetheless advanced. They’re gorgeous; I believe they’re a few of his greatest work, and a portrait of Chita Rivera is one among my favorites.
How did you turn into concerned with The Museum of Broadway?
About three years in the past, the Basis heard about it and we reached out to them. You may’t inform the story of Broadway with out Hirschfeld! We began to study concerning the contemporary take of the Museum – an actual expertise with dynamic shows which are each informative and interesting, which can electrify and encourage the theater neighborhood. They might ask us, “Did he ever draw . . .?” and the reply was at all times “YES!” so we had been consistently feeding them pictures. There are about twenty Hirschfeld works hung all through the Museum, after which in addition they provided us the primary present of their particular exhibition house, which options drawings from the 9 many years of his profession.
What can guests anticipate within the exhibition?
You will notice all the pieces from Hirschfeld’s sketchbooks, together with his preliminary impressions of exhibits like Good day, Dolly! and Ready for Godot, to his drawings of such legendary stars as Patsy Kelly, Ethel Merman, and Jimmy Durante, scenes from standard exhibits like Magnificence and the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera, and Kiss of the Spider Lady, a collage of the 1936 season of summer time theaters on the Japanese Seaboard, and a portrait of Nina at 21, along with her dad and mom’ names hidden within the drawing as a substitute of hers. We’ve additionally created an app that lets guests make their very own Hirschfeld portrait, and there’s a duplicate of the barber’s chair that Al sat in and drew all his work in. For a person with plenty of hair on his head, he positive spent plenty of time in his barber chair!
Along with the ebook and the exhibition, The Al Hirschfeld Basis is providing a collection of prints, signed by the celebrities depicted, in a web-based fundraising public sale that closes on November 20. Are you able to inform us about it and the way it helps the mission of the non-profit group?
Through the years, individuals have requested about getting prints of their favourite Hirschfeld drawings, however we by no means did posthumous prints earlier than. Then in speaking with Broadway Cares/Fairness Fights AIDS, we thought that since Al couldn’t signal the prints himself, what if the performers in them did? We first organized an public sale of twenty very limited-edition prints to help Broadway Cares and our Artwork Schooling Program in July of 2021, and it raised over $100,000. For this sale with Heritage Auctions, we’re providing restricted version prints, bought separately, of 21 completely different items. After they’re gone, they’re gone. The choice contains Bernadette Peters in Sunday within the Park with George, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Joel Gray, and my favourite, Chita Rivera in The Rink – every with a certificates of authenticity and the movie star’s signature. It’s an important alternative for individuals to get probably the most requested pictures, whereas elevating funds for an necessary trigger within the theater neighborhood that Hirschfeld beloved and immortalized in his artwork.
Many thanks, David, for giving us an inside have a look at Hirschfeld and his work, and your thrilling new ebook and exhibition.
The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld runs via Sunday, April 30, 2023, at The Museum of Broadway, 145 West 45th Avenue, NYC. For tickets (priced at $39-49, plus tax and costs), name (212) 239-6200, or go on-line. The museum is open 10 am-10 pm, seven days per week. Everybody should present proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a photograph ID to enter the constructing.
For extra data on the ebook and tips on how to order it, you may watch the trailer beneath: