Radio Talent

Radio Talent
Miguel Covarrubias's image of "Radio Talent" for the May 1938 issue of Fortune spoke to a generation wrestling with mass-media generated celebrity as a new phenomenon. Caricature pinpointed the attributes of freshly minted public figures by establishing an affectionate familiarity. But it also explored the unsettling effects of mass communication. For all its humor, Covarrubias's ghostly evocation of disembodied personalities wafting out over the evening airwaves has nightmarish overtones. The accompanying article addresses the spiraling costs of famous voices, competition between sponsors, and Hollywood's controlling role as the "greatest maker and taker of Names on earth."

The panoramic viewpoint of Radio Talent suggests the expansive vision of mural art. Covarrubias, a friend of Diego Rivera and other prominent muralists, was also producing wall-sized paintings at this point of his career. The caricature vogue influenced many other mural painters, who often used celebrity faces and a similar type of figural distortion.

"Radio Talent"
Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957)
Watercolor on paper for Fortune, May 1938
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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