It was Oct. 5, 1982, almost 40 years ago, when I was asked to write the catalog introduction for “Great Illustrators of Our Time,” an exhibition at the Rizzoli Galleries in New York City. Milton Glaser did the catalog’s cover and the poster for the event, and I was thrilled to be involved. Illustration was my main field of interest. It did not occur to me at the time that something was inherently wrong with the show’s curatorial ethos.
Recently I found said catalog, flipped through its pages, marveled at how young the great illustrators looked in their photos, was saddened by the many who have since died, amazed by the few who are still working well into their 80s and 90s—yet was shocked that there was no artist of color and only one woman out of 20 “Great Illustrators”: Carol Wald (1935–2000), who was known for her editorial collages and paintings (she had stopped doing illustrations prior to her death).
The times have certainly (and thankfully) changed. An exhibition like this would not happen today. Although this is not to deny these Great Illustrators their due, by 1982 magazines and newspapers were filled with talented artists of all genders and races. 1982 was not that long ago. Yet so much has changed for the better. This catalog, of which I was so proud to be engaged, is an artifact of a much-altered hierarchical order—a curiosity of a time and place in history.