Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189

January 19, 1994

Exhibition of Caricatures by Covarrubias, Portraits by Van Vechten To Open February 3

An exhibition opening February 3 in the Oval Gallery, sixth floor, Madison Building, explores the unlikely kinship between portrait photography and caricature.

The relationship is revealed in a comparison of the work of two remarkable 20th century artists: writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) and caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias (1904- 1957). Thirty-four items from the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division are on display, featuring the likenesses of many important celebrities from the, 30s and 40s, including Igor Stravinsky, Alexander Woollcott, H.G. Wells, Ethel Waters, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Cab Calloway, Joe Louis, and Marian Anderson.

Carl Van Vechten was among the most influential performing arts critics in America prior to World War II, while Miguel Covarrubias became a leading caricaturist during the same period. Despite significant differences in age and upbringing, their personal lives and professional careers were deeply intertwined. Covarrubias, who arrived in New York City from his native Mexico in 1922, owed his American debut in the pages of Vanity Fair to the influence and intervention of Van Vechten. Years later, the caricaturist returned the favor by introducing his friend and patron to the newly developed 35mm Leica camera and encouraging Van Vechten to use one in portraying the myriad men and women he met in the midst of his varied cultural activities.

The results achieved by Covarrubias with pencil and brush and Van Vechten with his Leica reveal strong artistic connections as well. Covarrubias was known and celebrated for the bold, geometric line and strong contrast of black and white or vivid colors that characterize his drawings. Van Vechten achieved similar effects through the use of abstract, patterned backdrops; raking light; dramatic, exaggerated poses; and, often, a direct and penetrating stare.

The hours for the Oval Gallery are Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition closes August 7.

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PR 94-014
ISSN 0731-3527

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