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ALEX by Dodie Kazanjian

ALEX

The Life of Alexander Liberman

By Dodie Kazanjian (Author) , Calvin Tomkins (Author)

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-57964-X
Publisher: Knopf

 Backstage view of the various lives of the legendary Liberman- -artist, photographer, and powerful editorial director of the CondÇ Nast magazines--by journalist Kazanjian and New Yorker staff writer Tomkins (Post-to-Neo, 1988, etc.). Liberman was born in 1912 in Russia to brilliant timber- industry analyst Semeon Liberman and Henriette Pascar, a domineering extrovert who directed a state-run children's theater before the family left the Soviet Union for good. Educated at English and French boarding schools, and pushed by Henriette to be a painter, Liberman in 1933 became assistant art director for the Paris weekly Vu. In 1941, he left Nazi-occupied France for N.Y.C., where Vu owner Lucien Vogel introduced him to publisher CondÇ Nast. Particularly interesting here are glimpses of the evolution and workings of CondÇ Nast publishing and Vogue as they passed through the hands of various editorial innovators (``difficult to control'' Diana Vreeland, Anna Wintour, etc.) while Liberman (art director of CondÇ Nast from 1941-62) hovered in the wings. The sharp-eyed authors are frank about Liberman's extravagant socializing, his creative insecurities, and his subservience to his demanding wife, Tatiana, a hat designer at Saks who died in 1991 after a Demerol- addicted old age. According to Tatiana's daughter, writer Francine du Plessix Gray, Liberman thrived on the ``thrill of...walking the tightrope of power and winning respect as a serious artist.'' The authors credit Liberman's long-term influence in magazines to his ``world class charm'' and ``protean and infinitely renewable'' style, and they quote one Vogue editor as saying that Liberman goes for ``the deepest humanity and the deepest meaning''--but also for the ``cheap thrill.'' Liberman's deeper loyalty, the authors contend, is to his painting and sculpture, excellently analyzed here in the context of the New York School. Intriguing, persuasive account of a mercurial personality and the American fashion journalism he helped shape. (One hundred b&w photographs promise, judging from the eight seen, to add both gloss and substance.)