Art Gallery of Ontario exhibits Arnold Newman photographs with iconic 20th-century portraits and images
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Art Gallery of Ontario exhibits Arnold Newman photographs with iconic 20th-century portraits and images
Arnold Newman. Igor Stravinsky, 1946. Gelatin silver print, overall: 50.8 × 61 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous Gift, 2012. © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images (2023). 2015/4030. Commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar.

TORONTO.- Now open at the Art Gallery of Ontario since October 18th, Building Icons: Arnold Newman’s Magazine World, 1938–2000, invites visitors to explore the creative vision of the 20th century American photographer Arnold Newman (1918–2006).

Drawn from the AGO’s extensive holdings and spanning six decades, the exhibition considers the role magazines played to inspire, educate, and fuel Newman’s ambition. On view through January 21, 2024, Building Icons: Arnold Newman’s Magazine World is curated by Sophie Hackett, AGO Curator of Photography with photography scholar and independent curator Tal-Or Ben-Choreen, and organized by the AGO.

Raised in a Jewish family in Miami Beach, the Depression forced Newman to leave art school. His first professional photography job in 1938 was making 49-cent studio portraits in Philadelphia. There he honed his technical skills and became part of a circle of artists linked to Alexey Brodovitch, an artist, teacher and influential art director of Harper's Bazaar. Brodovitch’s graphic sensibility profoundly influenced American magazine design and would make a significant impact on Newman’s work.

“To see the breadth of Newman’s accomplishments – creative, technical, commercial – is also to see the role of the popular press in the latter half of the 20th century in shaping visual culture. To understand his portraits – beyond the pantheon of personalities –, we must look at the entire breadth of his work, including his abstract compositions, his reportage, his research and his formal strategies. Visitors to the exhibition will be surprised by his range,” says Sophie Hackett, AGO Curator, Photography. “Debuting the AGO’s rich collection of Newman works is exciting not only because it invites us to consider what makes a successful portrait, but – in this image saturated moment – to contemplate why some become icons while others fade from collective memory.”

Presenting more than 200 gelatin prints in dialogue with magazine spreads, personal albums, process documents, tracing paper sketches, record covers and correspondence, the exhibition opens with a survey of his early works, before taking a thematic approach to Newman’s career, spotlighting key moments, publications and persons. Among these moments is an in-depth look into his first major solo museum exhibition Artists Look Like This at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1945. Highlighting works and reviews, the exhibition reveals how the subsequent national tour paved the way for a successful career working for the leading picture magazines of the day – Harper’s Bazaar, Fortune, Life, Holiday, and Look.

Newman was known for carefully staging and building the setting for each portrait based on detailed research he conducted on his sitters in preparation for his shoots. His ability to combine his subject’s idiosyncrasies, their living or work spaces, and aspects of their own occupations with his own strong formal language allowed him to build the compelling portraits that made him a household name throughout the 1950s and 1960s. His magazine commissions and peer network brought him into contact with important artists, composers, actors, and political figures of the post-World War II era, among them Georgia O’Keeffe, Buffy Sainte-Marie and John F. Kennedy. Newman described the act of portraiture as being akin to construction: “When I make a portrait, I don’t take a photograph, I build it.”

The exhibition also considers his lesser-known corporate commissions, working for international firms like Northwest Industries and the John Deere Company. His ascent to global fame throughout the 1960s and 1970s is demonstrated through portraits of leading scientists, architects and world leaders, among them Dr. Claude E. Shannon, I.M. Pei, Yitzhak Rabin, and Kwame Nkrumah – all of whom are included in the exhibition.

The exhibition concludes with a close comparison of Newman’s two portrait projects of his lifelong friend, the composer, pianist, conductor, Igor Stravinsky. Seen together, these images – the formal, now iconic portrait taken in 1946 for Harpers Bazaar and the extended photo essay published in the 1969 book Bravo, Stravinsky! reveal Newman’s versatility as a portraitist and suggest the ways icons are built through their circulation in mass media.

Arnold Newman (1918-2006) grew up in a Jewish family in Miami Beach in the 1920s and 1930s when segregation based on religion and race was prevalent. Through family friends, he found work as a portrait studio photographer, where he learned and practiced the technical skills of the medium. By the mid-1940s, Newman committed to photography as his central mode of creative expression and quickly established a reputation as a commercial portrait photographer in New York. Through this work, he became celebrated as the most sought after portrait photographer of his day.


The Arnold Newman collection anonymously gifted to the AGO in 2012, holds 4,820 photographs by Arnold Newman and spans from 1938 to the early 2000s. Unique objects in the collection include original collages, Polaroids, two book maquettes, and sculptural Masonite mounted prints. A highlight of the collection are 200 photographs signed by Arnold Newman’s sitters, often with brief dedications to the photographer.

Art Gallery of Ontario
Building Icons: Arnold Newman’s Magazine World, 1938–2000
October 18th, 2023 - January 21st, 2024

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