The Arty Semite

Q&A: Maira Kalman on the Illustrating Life

By Jillian Steinhauer

On March 11, “Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World),” the first museum exhibition devoted to New York illustrator and author Maira Kalman, opens at the Jewish Museum. The show, which debuted in Philadelphia last summer and then traveled to the West Coast, gives Kalman’s fans a rare opportunity to see the original artwork behind her blogs, books, and magazines spreads, as well as some of the quirky objects that inspire her. The Arty Semite sat down with Kalman recently to talk about her homecoming, her process, and why being funny is important.

Maira Kalman, ‘Self Portrait (with Pete),’ 2004-2006, guache on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Jillian Steinhauer: How does it feel to have a museum exhibition?

Maira Kalman: It’s really nice, because I don’t think of it as a show but as rooms that happen to have my work in them. It’s lovely — it’s in a museum on Fifth Avenue, the windows are huge, and the trees are going from winter to summer. Yes, there are drawings sprinkled there, and yes, there are ladders and buckets and suitcases, but it’s the same in my living room, so it feels very natural.

Read more


Avigdor Arikha: An Artist 'Fervent in Adhesion' to His Subjects

By Benjamin Ivry

Self-Portrait in the Studio, 2001, oil on canvas, Collection of Gordon Gallery, Tel Aviv

In April, 2010, when the Israeli artist Avigdor Arikha (born Dlugacz in Romania) died at age 81, he was praised for his sensitive figurative art, as well as his heroic life story. In 1941, after Arikha’s family was deported to Romanian-run concentration camps, his drawings of deportation scenes, shown to International Red Cross representatives, won freedom for himself and his sister. By 1944 they had reached Palestine, where he lived on Kibbutz Ma’ale HaHamisha in the Judean Hills, before relocating definitively in 1954 to Paris.

There he met, among other arts colleagues, Samuel Beckett, and in 2005, Arikha’s widow Anne Atik published an affectionate account of their friendship, “How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett” from Counterpoint Press. Further understanding of Arikha’s artistic milieu and goals appeared on January 18, when Les Éditions Hermann published “Painting and Looking: Writings on Art, 1965-2009” (Peinture et regard. Écrits sur l’art, 1965-2009) an augmented version of a 1991 Arikha book from the same publisher.

Read more


For the Love of Books

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Ido Agassi

Just several feet away from where people are immersed in the digital worlds of their laptops, iPhones, and Kindles, Ido Agassi’s hand-designed, individually printed and bound books calmly look on from a display case in the lobby of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California. Those who take time to observe Agassi’s “Books as Works of Art,” on view until March 31, are reminded that text need not be a flickering image on a screen, and that words can possess beauty beyond their meaning.

The blending of sculpture, graphic design and bookbinding has been part of the 34-year-old Israeli artist’s personal landscape since 1994, when his father, Uzi Agassi, founded Even Hoshen, the family’s letterpress and intaglio publishing house in Ra’anana. An autodidact, the younger Agassi is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to handcrafting books, boxes and slipcases. Over the years, he has studied bookbinding, restoration, box making, letterpress printing, typesetting, typography, calligraphy, gold finishing, printing and carpentry.

Read more


House Call

By Yuval Saar

Crossposted from Haaretz.com

The previous owner was a mosaic artist and did the bathrooms in mosaic tiles. Yossi Turisky, a director and producer of sound and light installations, kept them in his otherwise different home in Neve Yarak. The best moments in his productions, he says were “when a professional came up with a better idea than mine.”

Yuval Tebol

That’s what happened with the house. He could see things were “nicer than I would have done.”

Turisky, 60, has been doing sound and light installations for 30 years, mostly at visitors’ centers, from Rosh Hanikra to Timna Park. He studied film at Tel Aviv University and toward the end of his studies joined the team building Beit Hatfusot and so was exposed to the world of presentations.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Will Eisner's Hometown Spirit

By Michael Kaminer

Courtesy of Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art

“Cookalein” is Yiddish for “a modest bungalow, usually in the Catskills” where mothers would cook for their vacationing families. It’s also the title of one of the more modest but moving works in “Will Eisner’s New York: From the Spirit to the Modern Graphic Novel,” which opened last week at Soho’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, running through June 30.

The exhibit showcases the work “of the comics and graphic novel master that was inspired by, and which spotlighted, his hometown, the city he always held closest to his heart: New York,” according to its website. Progressing from the iconic early “Spirit” cartoons to his prodigious later output of graphic novels — most with Jewish themes — the show offers a rare opportunity to see Eisner’s original work up close. While much of his graphic-novel portrayals are “affectionate, and softer-edged in terms of social commentary,” co-curator Danny Fingeroth told the Forward, “some works are as savage as any Philip Roth or Saul Bellow on the less pleasant sides of the Jewish-American experience.”

Read more


The Voice of Ladino

By Mordechai Shinefield

Courtesy Yasmin Levy

Ladino, the language of the Judeo-Spanish Diaspora, has unfairly languished behind Yiddish in the Jewish language popularity sweepstakes. With the release of her 2009 U.K. album “Sentir” in the United States and an accompanying tour, including upcoming shows in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Israeli singer Yasmin Levy joins a bevy of artists trying to change that. Alongside artists like Sarah Aroeste, Judith Cohen and Flory Jagoda, Levy tries to channel a rich, transnational, historical genre for modern audiences. Like those artists, she has succeeded in evoking something distant and foreign. She has failed in similar ways too, producing another Ladino project trapped as a token of the past without bringing anything exciting and new to the table.

“Sentir,” Levy’s fifth album combining Ladino music with Andalucian Flamenco, is a far better exhibition of Levy’s voice that it is of the Judeo-Spanish musical history it weaves through over 12 tracks. Even when the songs blend into each other, melodies failing to distinguish themselves, Levy’s voice is commanding. On the opening track, “Mi Korason,” her voice quivers, slipping elusively behind and under and through the lyrics. On “Londje De Mi” she shows off her vocal mastery, flashily trilling or halting breathily, unfortunately illuminating how lackluster her musicians are by comparison.

Listen to ‘Mi Korason’:

Read more


Opening Museums on Sundays

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

In my household, Sundays are usually given over to two rituals: reading The New York Times and taking in a museum exhibition. I suspect your household is no different.

Charley Lhasa

But, as I explained recently to a group of George Washington alumni who had come together on a rainy Sunday morning to visit the brand new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia as part of an alumni series called “GW Culture Buffs,” the mere thought of doing exactly what we were doing had once generated more than its fair share of controversy.

We take our Sundays-at-the-museum for granted; earlier generations of culture buffs did not. Many museum officials and their elite patrons were initially rather resistant to the idea of opening the doors of, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on a Sunday, fearful lest it attract the wrong kind of people — those with “vandal hands” or broken English. A Sunday at the Met, they warned, was a “perilous experiment.”

Read more


A Universe of Printers

By Smadar Sheffi

Crossposted from Haaretz

Oz Malul
From Malul’s exhibit ‘You Shall Not Put an Obstacle Before a Blind Man.’

Sculptor Oz Malul has created a universe out of computer printers at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. Dismantled, defective or broken printers of various ages move in a kind of repetitive, mechanical dance, in time to the sounds they create. They are also attached to other objects or pieces of machinery - for example, a radiator laying on its side, a dilapidated record player, a can of spray paint.

Malul, who graduated from Columbia University in New York in 2008, has been a notable exception on the Israeli art scene for some years now. His kinetic sculptures are made from ready-made materials, which in his hands become futile machines that range from touching to threatening, from amusing to frightening.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Monday Music: John Zorn Goes Beyond Collage With 'Interzone'

By Jake Marmer

Courtesy John Zorn

In 2006, when the MacArthur Foundation bestowed its “Genius” award on John Zorn, the panel of judges only underscored what many fans already knew. Zorn’s extensive output as a composer of avant-garde music, a first-rate saxophone player, and a leader of a group of downtown New York musicians, has been vastly important and influential.

His latest album, “Interzone,” recently released on his own Tzadik Records label, is a reminder that the maestro still remains on the outer edges of experimental music. Zorn is not only proficient in a multiplicity of styles and approaches, but has also attained a whole new level of fluidity of movement within them.

Read more


The Long and Indie Road

By Lea Penn

Crossposted from Haaretz

“Would you like to see what I have in my bag?” asks Noga Shalev at the start of our meeting in a bustling Tel Aviv bar before pulling a flute out and starting to play.

Daniel Tchetchik

Perhaps because of the noise, no one in the bar notices, but even if they did notice, she certainly would not have gotten excited.

“Sometimes I sit on the bus and my hands automatically go into the bag and without realizing, I start playing,” she says. “It’s very meditative to play the flute; it’s simple, addictive and soothing.”

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: Saul Bellow's Politics; iTalmud, Reviewed

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images

Read more


This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Shelley Kaiser
  • A.J. Goldmann talks to Israeli filmmaker Jonathan Sagall, about his new film “Lipstikka,” which recently premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival.

  • Jan Ellen Spiegel looks at a new exhibit of Jewish-themed art by Norman Gorbaty, who is just being discovered at the age of 78.

  • Benjamin Ivry revisits the legacy of hotel architect Morris Lapidus, whose over-the-top designs were often the subject of critical scorn.

  • Philologos digs up 10 Yiddish words for “potato.”

Read more


Friday Film: Bringing War Criminals to Justice in Sierra Leone

By Margaret Eby

Salone Films LLC
Mongolian peacekeepers protect the Special Court.

In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began a bloody insurgency against the government of Sierra Leone. The resulting conflict lasted 11 years and caused more than a third of the population to flee; thousands more were killed by guerillas or had limbs forcefully amputated by machete. In the wake of the crisis, the U.N. and the re-instated Sierra Leonean government took an unprecedented measure, creating a “Special Court” to seek justice against war criminals in a tribunal that combined international and state law. As a third year law student at Harvard, Rebecca Richman Cohen went to the Special Court on a fellowship to work for the defense. When she returned to the country several years later, she brought a film crew.

The documentary that resulted from Cohen’s three year stay is “War Don Don,” screening next week at the Ambulante Film Festival in Mexico, following a short run in New York last fall. Her film traces the trial of RUF leader Issa Sesay, a man directly responsible for many of the war’s worst atrocities, who also protected many civilians from the clashing forces. Wayne Jordash, Issay’s lead defense lawyer, admits at one point that in other circumstances, he would have been friends with Issay. For Cohen, this is part of the central point: War criminals, if not for the war, might not be criminals.

Read more


Reimagining the Talmud

By Aaron Roller

Earlier this week, Aaron Roller, an editor of Mima’amakim, wrote about the Jewish Austin Powers and the Jewish poetry conspiracy. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli

I knew something exciting was afoot when an e-mail from the poet Jake Marmer popped up in my inbox with the subject header, “Won’t you be my Tosafot?” Jake Marmer is a longtime editor with Mima’amakim who performs improvisatory jazz poetry with the hippest downtown avant gardists. The Tosfos were a group of Talmudic commentators centered mostly in medieval Provence whose work of dense and brilliant legal exposition is compiled in the margins of the Talmud. As many a teacher of Talmud might ask, “So, nu, what’s the connection?”

Read more


Are We Living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art?

By Matthew Baigell

Most people do not know that we are living in a golden age of Jewish American art. But, as I will explain in a lecture at the Jewish Museum on March 7, we are.

‘In the Land of the Brave’ by Siona Benjamin

Since around 1975, there has been an incredible but largely ignored outpouring of art based on the Bible, the Talmud, Kabbalah, the prayer books, and midrash by artists all over the country. Depending on their points of view — feminist, psychological, existential — they approach their subject matter in entirely different, personal ways. Rather than illustrate texts they challenge their subject matter, as well as invent explanations of their own. Their work has little precedent in past Jewish American art, and the artists have leap-frogged back over generations to find their source material directly in the ancient texts. Taking nothing for granted, they have few inhibitions about questioning what they find.

Read more


Why Branding Judaism Is a Bad Idea

By Gordon Haber

I blame Heeb. Launched in 2001, “The New Jew Review” iterated a sharp, satirical take on Jewish culture. The idea was to edify through mockery: Thus a 2005 cover featured Sarah Silverman displaying her cleavage through a hole in a sheet. Although it can try too hard to shock (remember Roseanne Barr as Hitler baking “Jew cookies?”) Heeb is usually funny — and kind of cool.

Courtesy Aharit Hayamim
Israeli band Aharit Hayamim, one of the recent performers at Jewlicious Festival.

That is to say that the magazine is cool (or was — the print version folded last year). But now, perhaps emboldened by Heeb, a number of organizations are attempting to brand Judaism itself as cool.

For example, there’s the Jewlicious blog and its attendant festival, which I covered for the Forward last year. The festival (which took place February 24 to 27 in Long Beach, California) features Jewish music and Jewish comedians and Jewish panels talking about Judaism. The blog is strongly Zionist, with articles like, “Egyptian Riots… but is it good for the Jews?” [sic]. And blatantly supportive of sex between Zionists, with articles like, “The Unofficial Guide to Sex on Birthright Israel.”

Read more


Metaphysics of Landscape: Four Poems by Jennifer Barber

By Jake Marmer

Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces four poems by Jennifer Barber.

Courtesy of Jennifer Barber

“All forms of landscape are autobiographical,” wrote poet Charles Wright, and indeed, some poets, while describing natural or urban landscapes, tend to use words that echo with metaphysical sensations evoked by these landscapes in our inner lives. This, to some extent, is true of all four poems by Jennifer Barber, featured on The Arty Semite today. The concept comes to light most explicitly in “Proximity,” while “Dwelling” reverses gears, using a play of private and public spaces as a layered metaphor. The poem “The Way to Rainbow Lake” touches subtly on the setting before it dissipates into a spiritual experience of nature and one’s own emotions.

Jennifer Barber’s “Rigging the Wind” received the Kore Press First Book Award for 2002 and was published in 2003; her next collection, “Given Away,” is forthcoming from Kore Press. She has been the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a St. Botolph Grant, and a Heinrich Boll Cottage Residency in Ireland. Her poem “God Doesn’t Speak in the Psalms” was awarded the 2008 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award. Barber is the founding and current editor of the literary journal Salamander, now in its 19th year.

Read more


Out and About: Spielberg Gets Wikileaks Movie; The Origins of Jewish Humor

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
Wikileaks leader Julian Assange

Read more


'Jaffa Road Botox Party'

By Esther Zandberg

Crossposted from Haaretz

The writing was on the wall regarding the urban renewal projects on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem and the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. Urban renewal has become just another word for gentrification, higher prices, uprooting working-class residents and small businesses, widening the gap between rich and poor — all in exchange for improving the quality of life and the public landscape of the affluent.

Rami Tsalka

No one has yet come up with the formula for renewal that will benefit all those who have rights to the city, while balancing improvement with fairness. But this needs to be the top priority for all those involved today in renewal, whether from a government or municipal standpoint, or from a practical or theoretical standpoint.

“The Jaffa Road Botox Party” was the name (unforgiveable, indeed) of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s end-of-semester event organized by students enrolled in an interdisciplinary course that focuses on redesigning showcase windows. Held last week, it included a tour of the shops that participated in the project, an exhibit at the Yaffo 23 Gallery that provides documentation of the work done, and a study of preservation efforts on the street that includes interviews with merchants.

Read more at Haaretz.com


When Zayda Was Also a Great Polish Pianist

By Benjamin Ivry

Wiki Commons

After 2009’s biography Ignaz Friedman: Romantic Master Pianist by Allan Evans from Indiana University Press, and CD reprints on such labels as Arbiter Records; Naxos USA; and Philips Classics, new attention is being paid to the splendid Polish Jewish pianist Friedman. A warmly affectionate biographical memoir, “Ignaz Friedman” by Nina Walder, the pianist’s granddaughter, appeared in November 2010 from Les Editions Slatkine in Geneva.

The pianist, born Salomon Isaac Freudman in Podgorze, outside Cracow, adopted his stage name only in 1905, at age 23. By then, his identity as a Jewish pianist was well established after studies with noted teacher Theodor Leschetizky, who famously proclaimed three requirements for any keyboard virtuoso: “Being Slavic, Jewish and a child prodigy.” Friedman fulfilled all three criteria. On perpetual tour to far-flung places as an adult, Friedman wrote home to his family in 1927 from Cairo, Egypt:

The region which can be seen from our boat is sandy, dry, and extremely dull. Now I understand why Jews never wound up here.

Read more


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.