Alexey Brodovitch

While Alexey Brodovitch was only a member of the Club for a short time, 1931-1933, I felt he deserved mention because of the important role he played in modern graphic design.  He was not an easy man to like, a sour, demanding, impatient man who has been described as unhappy in life, yet even as he was hard on his students, he commanded a great deal of respect.  Many of his students flourished under the catalyst of his tutelage.

Russian born (1898), he postponed entering the Imperial Art Academy in order to fight in the army of the Czar, first against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, later the Bolsheviks.  He never made it to the Academy.  Defeated, he fled Russia in 1920 for Paris with his family and future wife.  In Paris he flourished.  He won the poster design for the 1924 Bal Banal, a benefit dance for poor artists, even beating out Picasso.

Famous in Europe for his design work, the Philadelphia College of Art wanted Alexey to start a department of advertising for the school.  The Club’s own Edward Warwick (the elder) saw to it that Alexey came to Philadelphia and soon afterwards Alexey became a member of our Club.  It should be noted that Alexey was an accomplished painter.  Sadly, much of his art was lost in two house fires in the 1950s.

In 1931, the Club presented a show of Russian Posters.  It presents us with the only mention of Alexey in Sidney Lomas’s history: “On the opening night of this Poster Exhibition, Alexey Brodovitch, one time leader in Paris of the modern movement in advertising art, spoke of the work he was doing at the School of Industrial Art to broaden the field of this new trend in commercial designing.”  (The show, by the way, was a bit scandalous.  It drew front-page attention by the Philadelphia Public Ledger.  One Dorothy Grafly wrote an article titled ‘Red Menace’.)

His was only a short stay in Philadelphia.  Alexey was lured away by Carmel Snow, the new editor of Harper’s Bazaar.  As their Art Director, for the next 25 years Alexey revolutionized graphic design by ignoring margins, emphasizing photography, employing asymmetrical layouts, and making use of expansive space.  He changed the face of magazine design, opening it up to every possibility, and his influence continues in the industry.

Among Alexey’s students were photographers Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Art Kane, and Hiro.  He also used the talents of Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Man Ray.

Alexey continued to teach at his Design Laboratory with the New School for Social Research.  I’m sure he was not less difficult there than in Philadelphia.  The last three years of his life were lived in southern France, where he died in 1971.