The Arty Semite

Nancy Spero and Leon Golub: A Politically Relevant Artistic Couple

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Abe Frajndlich

The painters and married couple, Nancy Spero and Leon Golub, epitomize the concept of engaged political action through art. The problems addressed in their works, from political torture to ethnic cleansing, are ever-more timely and unresolved. Although Golub died in 2004 and Spero last year, it is only natural that both are present in New York now. An April 18 commemoration of Spero at Cooper Union will be joined, from April 23 to July 23, by “Leon Golub: Live + Die Like a Lion?”, an exhibit of Golub’s late drawings and an unfinished chalk sketch depicting two lions, at New York’s Drawing Center.

As explained in Ori Z. Soltes’s astute “Fixing the World: Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century,” Golub, who served in the Army during World War II, was indelibly marked by seeing images of liberated concentration camps. As Golub is quoted in Soltes’s study, his tragic subject matter as interpreted in violently energetic figure drawing, would be “warrior-citizens in the most extreme of human conditions, the response to terror. Dachau, Hiroshima, Vietnam…”

Golub also painted fascist and Communist tyrants like Franco and Mao Tse Tung, in the “know your enemy” spirit. Unforgiving about police interrogation techniques and the use of napalm in Vietnam, Spero was motivated by an enduring moral conscience, as explained in Jon Bird’s concise “Leon Golub: Echoes of the Real”.

As was Nancy Spero also, whose studious works are like innovative visual scripture. Spero’s “Masha Bruskina,” a 1995 acrylic on linen now in the collection of the Jewish Museum, pays tribute to a 17-year-old Russian Jewish partisan executed by the Nazis in 1941. Spero’s 1991 lithograph on paper from the same collection, “Ballade von der Judenhure Marie Sanders” (“Ballad of Marie Sanders, the Jew’s Whore”), illustrates a poem by Bertolt Brecht (set to music in 1934 by Jewish composer Hanns Eisler) about a gentile woman punished for having an intimate relationship with a Jew. Sensitive and fragile, but with a strong work ethic, Spero continued her artistic investigations after the death of Golub and even now her focus on political violence, like that of her husband, makes both eternally relevant.

Watch Nancy Spero interviewed as part of a PBS documentary below.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, Masha Bruskina

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.