When art collided with the American magazine

Senior curator Mason Klein explains how photography, graphic design and magazines transformed American visual culture from 1930 to 1960, ahead of a new exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York

Visual culture is informed by a multitude of influences, especially now as we meander through the digital age like seasoned pros. But before the internet became our main source of visual communication, magazines would dictate the stories we read, the images we saw, and the way they were presented to us. 

The modern magazine comes in all sorts of shapes, formats, and designs, and though there are house aesthetics and style guides, ultimately there are no set rules. This sense of freedom in publishing was slow in coming though, and in the US specifically it took a set of experimental creatives to show what could be done. A new show opening this week at the Jewish Museum, New York highlights the importance of these figures, but also the value in looking back. 

Top: A Report to Skeptics, Suzy Parker, April 1952, Harper’s Bazaar by Lillian Bassman; © Estate of Lillian Bassman. Above: Nan Martin, Street Scene, First Avenue, 1949 by Frances McLaughlin-Gill; © Estate of Frances McLaughlin-Gill

Modern Look: Photography and the American Magazine aims to explain the visual impact that a group of artists forced out of Europe by Nazi Germany, who came to the land of plenty in the late 1930s and 40s, had on visual culture. “This émigré experience brought to America many avant garde artists, people who had not only eclectic talents, but who were also very much idealistic in their concern for art, and its rapport with industry,” explains senior curator Mason Klein, who has organised the show.