Barbara Nessim: First US Retrospective Explores This Pioneering Feminist Artist Illustrator

Feminist Art

Barbara Nessim mounts her first retrospective exhibition in the US after her well received show in London, at the V&A (Victoria and Albert museum), in 2013. A constant innovator for more than four decades, Barbara was one of the first illustrators to utilise the computer as an artistic tool. This exhibition examines her sketchbooks, hand-drawn and computer-generated illustrations, paintings, collages, textiles, and fashion.

Nessim’s distinctive graphic style has graced the covers of numerous American magazines, including Time, Rolling Stone, Esquire and the New York Times Magazine since the 1960s. In the early 1980s Nessim was one of the first professional illustrators to master the computer as an artistic tool. Her work ranges from provocative drawings (some for men’s magazines) and paintings that represent her underlying feminist views (Gloria Steinem was her roommate in the early 1960s), to advertising campaigns for major corporations (Levi’s and Ralph Lauren were among her clients), and large-scale commissions for public buildings.

Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life is organized by the Bard Graduate Center and curated by Douglas Dodds, Senior Curator in the Word and Image Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London. The exhibition features nearly 200 artworks—many exhibited for the first time—from her meticulously maintained sketchbooks to hand-drawn and computer-generated illustrations, paintings, collages, and rare examples of textiles and costume. A maquette for Brideprice, a piece commissioned by Milton Glaser for the observation deck of the World Trade Center that was destroyed on September 11, 2001, will be on view, as well as collages related to recent site-specific works. The most comprehensive examination of her career to date, Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life expands upon the 2013 presentation in the V&A’s Twentieth Century gallery.

Barbara Nessim, a life-long New Yorker, was born in 1939. Inspired by her mother, a clothing designer, Nessim supported her education at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn by working as a fashion illustrator in New York’s garment district. Soon after graduating in 1960, she began her career as a freelance illustrator. During the 1960s and 70s, her imagery reflected the changing role of women in society. In 1982, Nessim was artist-in-residence at Time Inc.’s Video Information Services where she taught herself how to use and make art on the computer. Since then, computers have played a major role in her work. Nessim has taught in the MFA Computer Arts Program at the School of Visual Arts and in the Illustration Department at Parsons The New School for Design, where she was chair from 1992 to 2004. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts named her its first Artist Laureate in 2009. With a career spanning more than 50 years, Nessim is actively working on new projects.

Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life: 19 September 2014 to 11 January 2015  Bard Graduate Center Gallery 18 West 86th Street, New York City


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