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!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • 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.