A constant innovator for more than five decades, Barbara Nessim was one of the first professional illustrators to master the computer as an artistic tool. This exhibition examines her sketchbooks, hand-drawn and computer-generated illustrations, paintings, collages, textiles, and fashion.

Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life presents an overview of the work of this pioneering American artist and designer from the 1960s to the present day. Nessim’s distinctive illustrations have appeared on the covers of nearly every major American magazine, including Time, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times Magazine. Her work ranges from provocative prints, drawings, and paintings that represent her feminist views to illustrations for advertising campaigns for companies such as Levi’s and Ralph Lauren. She employs a wide variety of techniques, including line drawing, watercolor, printmaking, photography, and collage. In a career that spans more than fifty years, she is still actively working on new projects.

Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life is curated by Douglas Dodds, Senior Curator in the Word and Image Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. This exhibition, organized by the Bard Graduate Center, New York City, expands the 2013 presentation in the V&A’s Twentieth Century gallery.

Works in the Exhibition

Visitors to the exhibition will first encounter Star Girl Banded With Blue Wave (1966). Commissioned for George Beylerian’s Scarabaeus home furnishing store in New York City, Barbara Nessim’s Star Girl refers to Wonder Woman, the American comic superhero who became a feminist icon. From 1962 to 1968 Nessim shared an apartment with Gloria Steinem, who went on to become a leader in the women’s movement, and Steinem subsequently used an image of Wonder Woman on the cover of the first independent issue of Ms. magazine in 1972.

Nessim’s art began to receive recognition in the early 1960s, when she won an award for the Man and Machine series of etchings. She worked as a textile designer but also provided illustrations for various men’s magazines, creating powerful images such as Superman Carrying Girl with Green Shoes (1963). At the time, Nessim was one of only a few women working as a professional illustrator for mainstream publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and Redbook, which provided much-needed income at the time.


Born in the Bronx, Barbara Nessim studied at New York’s School of Industrial Art (now the High School of Art and Design) and attended Pratt Institute from 1956 to 1960. Her mother, a blouse designer, supported her daughter’s efforts to obtain an art education and become a commercial artist. Nessim majored in graphic art and illustration at Pratt, where her teachers were artists and illustrators such as Richard Lindner and Robert Weaver. Friends and professional colleagues included prominent designers and art directors such as Milton Glaser, Henry Wolf, Robert Benton, Seymour Chwast, and Bob Gill.

Nessim’s early paintings, drawings, and etchings provide an introduction to many of the techniques, iconographic devices, and preoccupations that inform much of her later work. She has also maintained a series of unique sketchbooks from the 1960s to the present day, and these provide an invaluable source of inspiration for other projects. Sketchbooks are displayed throughout the exhibition to reinforce their central role in Nessim’s artistic practice.