New online exhibit ‘Hirschfeld’s Drag Show’ curated by Charles Busch for Pride Month

With June just days away, The Al Hirschfeld Foundation is celebrating Pride Month with its latest online exhibition Hirschfeld’s Drag Show, now live on the Foundation’s website through August 15. Curated by Tony-nominated playwright, actor, director, novelist, and drag legend Charles Busch (The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife; Vampire Lesbians of Sodom; Ibsen’s Ghost), the show explores 74 years, from 1928 to 2002, in fifteen drawings of some of the greatest drag performances of the stage and screen as captured by artist Al Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld’s Drag Show promotional image, with Charles Busch in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, 1986, and Charles Busch, 1994.

The illustrations, depicting scenes from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and film – including Hairspray, Some Like It Hot, Victor/Victoria, Charlie’s Aunt, Tootsie, and Peter Pan, and such famed artists as Julie Andrews, Mary Martin, Harvey Fierstein, Charles Ludlam, José Ferrer, Katharine Hepburn, Raquel Welch, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Dustin Hoffman, BD Wong, Tony Roberts, Robert Morse, and more – are accompanied by Busch’s knowledgeable commentary.

Some Like It Hot, 1959. Photo courtesy of © The Al Hirschfeld Foundation. All rights reserved.

According to Busch, “Through Hirschfeld’s remarkable catalogue, we’re able to chart the ways cross-dressing has been used as a theatrical tool over the past century. At first, it was often the only way closeted LGBT artists were able to express their voices. At other times drag has been employed as a plot device allowing society to articulate in a light-hearted manner its fear of the ‘other.’ In more recent decades, openly gay artists have taken drag into new realms both dramatic and comic. With this collection of drawings, we chart the history of performers and shows that have used drag in a variety of creative strategies. Hirschfeld’s great gift in portraying the joy of theatrical self-expression gives all of these drawings a humanity along with their outrageous flamboyance.”

Charles Ludlam in Galas, 1983. Photo courtesy of © The Al Hirschfeld Foundation. All rights reserved.

David Leopold, Creative Director of The Al Hirschfeld Foundation, noted, “We are thrilled to have the legendary Charles Busch curate this special exhibition. With Charles Busch, this marks the first time that The Al Hirschfeld Foundation has partnered with a guest curator who has been the subject of Hirschfeld’s pen. Charles brings not only a wide-ranging knowledge of the history of drag, and is a drag legend himself, but he was drawn by Hirschfeld – twice – so he brings that insider knowledge as well. While this show debuts during Pride, it is one for the ages. It reveals a collection of Hirschfeld art that has never been properly celebrated, and we hope that this show leads to more appreciation of his drawings of performers in drag.”

Peter Pan with Mary Martin, 1954. Photo courtesy of © The Al Hirschfeld Foundation. All rights reserved.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a special episode of The Hirschfeld Century Podcast focusing on Hirschfeld’s Drag Show will be released on Tuesday, June 11, available on, iTunes, and other popular podcast sites.

Hirschfeld’s Drag Show runs through Thursday, August 15, 2024, on The Al Hirschfeld Foundation website. Online access is free for both the exhibition and the podcast.

For a quick survey of the exhibition, you can watch the trailer below:

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Deb Miller
Deb Miller (PhD, Art History) is the Senior Correspondent and Editor for New York City, where she grew up seeing every show on Broadway. She is an active member of the Outer Critics Circle and served for more than a decade as a Voter, Nominator, and Judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. Outside of her home base in NYC, she has written and lectured extensively on the arts and theater throughout the world (including her many years in Amsterdam, London, and Venice, and her extensive work and personal connections with Andy Warhol and his circle) and previously served as a lead writer for Stage Magazine, Phindie, and Central Voice.


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