New Picture – The Work of Bea Feitler
Marte Eknæs and Nicolau Vergueiro
13 September–4 November 2017
New Picture is the first exhibition solely dedicated to late Brazilian designer and art director Bea Feitler (1938-1982). It features original magazines, books, reproductions and personal photos from her meteoric career, spanning from the late 1950s until her death in 1982. Best known for her work in Harper’s Bazaar, Ms., Rolling Stone and the modern Vanity Fair, she left an indelible mark upon the face of American graphic design by offering a new approach to the magazine experience.
Feitler’s expressive freedom, evidenced by shifting standards to a female gaze, allowed her to renegotiate the commercial representation of women and to use the magazine as a mass vehicle to address social issues through her vibrant aesthetic. New Picture threads some of Feitler’s recurrent themes - the human silhouette, the centerfold as compositional device and collaging, through which she reimagined the relationship between body and graphic design in both layout and sensorial terms. “A magazine should flow. It should have rhythm. You can’t look at one page alone-you have to visualize what comes before and after.”
Bea Feitler was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1938, after her Jewish parents fled Nazi Germany. She moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design and briefly returned to Brazil in 1959 where she designed posters, covers and spreads for books and for the progressive literary magazine Senhor.
In 1961 Feitler moved back to New York and shortly thereafter, at the age of 25, she became the co-art director of Harper’s Bazaar with Ruth Ansel following the legacy of their mentors at the magazine Alexey Brodovitch and Marvin Israel. During their 10 years at the magazine, they shaped the emergence of a new feminist popular editorial language. Attuned to the political and cultural changes of the 1960s, they created some of the most iconic editorials of the decade. Feitler and Ansel were ahead of their time: in 1965, with Richard Avedon, they used the first black model in a shoot for a major magazine, and in the same year, also with Avedon, they won the ADC medal for the April ‘space helmet’ Harper’s Bazaar cover. At the magazine, Feitler forged tight relations with photographers that lasted throughout her career; Avedon, Bill King and Diane Arbus, among others, were in her tight circle of friends. Her natural collaborative approach elevated the commercial editorial to an art form.
In 1972 Feitler joined Gloria Steinem to launch the feminist Ms. magazine. Here she created an experimental look using day-glo inks and mixtures of photography, illustration and typography compositions, activating the content of the magazine in both an accessible and critical way. Controversial messages were made more powerful through her masterful design, while feminist topics could enter into the mainstream. At Ms., Feitler had full control of visual content and a freedom that fueled her career.
Between 1974 and 1980 Feitler worked on posters and costumes for Alvin Ailey Dance Company, ad campaigns for Christian Dior, Diane von Furstenberg, Bill Haire and Calvin Klein, record jackets, including the album Black and Blue by the Rolling Stones, and iconic books such as The Beatles, Diary of a Century by Jacques-Henri Lartigue and White Women by Helmut Newton. Reflecting her belief that the modern book should be 50-50 in terms of visuals and words, she negotiated to receive cover credit and royalty along the authors and/or photographers of the books she designed. In 1975, thanks to the insistence of Annie Leibovitz, Feitler started working for Rolling Stone, beginning her six-year association with the magazine which would lead her to redesigning its format twice. Feitler’s final project was the design of the premiere issue and overall concept of the revived Vanity Fair.
This exhibition has been made possible by the generous help of Bruno Feitler. Additional material is provided by The New School Archives & Special Collections.
Press on the exhibition:
Francesca Gavin, The Pioneering Female Art Director You've Never Heard Of, AnOther Magazine, September 2017 (EN)
Madeleine Morley, Guts and gutters, Eye Magazine No.95 vol. 24, 2018 (EN)
Carmen Wolfschluckner, Eine Homage an Artdirektorin Bea Feitler, Fräulein Magazin, 2017 (DE)