Barbara Nessim, the highly influential Bronx-born artist and illustrator was in London last night for the launch of an exhibition of her work at the V&A. The display is made up of 100 objects, many works on paper, which represent a significant body of output, surveying her distinguished career. The artist has generously donated the work to the museum, which she described as, “One of her favourite institutions in the world”.
It was amazing to see the numbers of prominent friends and contemporaries in the crowd, who were in town to show their support for this inventive artist. There were very few hangers on in the audience, unusual for this sort of event. The evening had the atmosphere of a private family function. It was a coherent collective made up of artists, writers and art professionals. Gloria Steinem, the American feminist, journalist, and social/political activist was there to pay tribute to the artist. She reminisced about their days as struggling young women, living in a one bedroom apartment, in New York City. The British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes also honoured the artist with stories of her warmth and generosity during her stays in New York, in the 1970s. These were times of social flux and there is no doubt as to the contribution Barbara Nessim has made to Feminism, as a communicator, through her visual work.
For much of her life, Nessim has been an influential educator at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Parsons and The New School for Design. She is a also a studio artist who has worked in a wide variety of mediums. She is best known as an illustrator and in her early career, a fashion designer. Among her most recent achievements is an installation of 13 digital paintings, one of them 28-feet-high, for the ballroom floors at Manhattan’s Eventi Hotel. Nessim was also appointed the first Artist Laureate at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
The exhibition will be the artist’s first solo show in London and presents works spanning her output from the 1960s to the 2000s. It includes sketchbooks, prints, drawings, photographs, computer graphics, ceramics, artist’s books and other printed publications. A new book, out this week, Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life, edited by the art writer and critic David Galloway, and published by Abrams in February 2013. The book explores her versatile career with essays by a dozen international authors, including the fashion critic Elyssa Dimant, the German art historian Christoph Benjamin Schulz, and Douglas Dodds, curator of the display at the V&A. Friends and colleagues such as Gloria Steinem, Milton Glaser, Ali MacGraw and Zandra Rhodes have also contributed their own reminiscences.The exhibition goes on display to the public from Sunday 17 February.
Photo: L to R Gloria Steinem, Barbara Nessim, Zandra Rhodes, Ali MacGraw © P C Robinson ArtLyst 2013