Herbert Migdoll, A’57

6-2011 CUAA Newsletter Herb Migdoll

Written by Joel Azerrad, A’53

Migdoll swimmer3002

Swimmer300″ (detail), mixed media, acrylic and silver metallic oil enamel on vinyl mesh, 30
stretched panels, each panel 10′ x 15′, totaling 300′ x 15′. View is from the bridge at the
Devos Convention Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan

As a student at The Cooper Union, Herbert Migdoll’s focus was graphics and painting, and he studied photography with the influential Joseph Breitenbach. For the past twenty years, Migdoll has concentrated on his painting.

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Herbert Migdoll and his painting “Yawning Faun” at the Zhou B. studios in Bridgeport, Chicago

In 1980, Grace Mayer, Edward Steichen’s assistant introduced Herbert to Ziva Kraus Director of Ikona Gallery. Ziva invited him to have a solo exhibit at her gallery in Venice, Italy. The city triggered his realization that objects were enhanced when floating on water, and he then created a work that floated on water, “Swimming Dancer.” “Swimming Dancer” displayed Migdoll’s fascination with the idea of obliterating an image by allowing paint to pour over it. The 3-foot by 40-foot painting, in five sections, consisted of an acrylic image under painting with oil enamels and epoxy “spilled” over it. A New York art critic compared his work to Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.” It was first displayed in Jack Larsen’s lap pool in East Hampton. “Swimming Dancer”’s success resulted in an invitation to return to Venice for the 1995 Bienalle’s Arte Laguna, where he exhibited the work floating in the expanse of a Venetian canal, directly on the water. The Venetian critics viewed it from a ferryboat.

migdoll lostaraschanslr Migdoll astartetime
Left: “LOS TARASCOS” (1963), Ballet Folklorico, Mexico City, dye  transfer print, permanent
collection of the Museum of Modern Art;
 Right: Cover of Time (March 15, 1968) by Herbert Migdoll

Migdoll’s initial association with The Joffrey Ballet began after he became consumed with photographing objects in motion. In the late 1960s, Robert Joffrey, its founder and artistic director, invited Migdoll to photograph his seminal ballet, Astarte. Days before the Astarte Time cover was to appear (March 15, 1969), Joffrey invited Migdoll to a late dinner at Savilla in Greenwich Village. They intended to pray for President Eisenhower, ill and near death. If Eisenhower died before Monday the Astarte cover wouldn’t print. Otherwise, Astarte would have the cover. Joffrey had Migdoll contact Time Magazine’s printing foreman at midnight in Chicago. Asked if the Astarte cover was running, the foreman replied: “yes.”

Before entering Cooper, one of Migdoll’s instructor at Pratt was Sybil Moholy-Nagy. the widow of László Moholy-Nagy (a pioneer graphic designer). Migdoll remembers a Cooper classmate commenting, “Herbert, you’re starting at the top with that Time cover, it’s downhill from now on.” “God,” Migdoll mused, “I hope not.” It was the beginning.

In 1979, he became an official member of the Joffrey company as its graphic designer and photographer. At present he is Director of Special Projects and Official Photographer.

“Turning in Closed Course (polar bear),” mixed media , acrylic , oil enamels, and epoxy on aluminum, 6′  x 37′
Migdoll followed Joffrey Ballet’s 1995 move to Chicago. The city’s architecture, its river and its tour boats fascinated him, and he was inspired to create more swimming images. Enlarging his scale to display on the banks of the Chicago River, they were viewed from tour boats. At Chicago’s McCormick Center, Migdoll was commissioned to create a permanent installation called “Turning in Closed Course.”

Migdoll swimmer3002

“Swimmer300” (detail), mixed media, acrylic and silver metallic oil enamel on vinyl mesh, 30
stretched panels, each panel 10′ x 15′, totaling 300′ x 15′. View is from the bridge at the
Devos Convention Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Today he works two days a week with the Joffrey and spends the remainder working in his studio on his painting. “Swimmer300” is his most recent work. Initially submitted to the Art Prize competition in Grand Rapids, it is based on an imagined epilogue of the ballet Afternoon of a Faun.

Migdoll grassinstallation

“Grasses” (detail), mixed media, acrylic and silver metallic oil enamel on canvas. Composed of 29 panels 29” x 488”

Visit Herbert Migdoll’s website to see more of his work.

Click here to view a video of the “SWIMMER300” installation.