The Arty Semite

Challenging Aesthetics at The Jewish Museum

By Rebecca Schischa

Rona Yefman, ‘Martha Bouke and Andy’s Flowers, Visit at the Museum.’ Courtesy of the artist and Derek Eller Gallery, New York.

Subverted representations of the Holocaust, the Israeli army, and gender roles characterize a new photography exhibit at The Jewish Museum in New York.

“Composed: Identity, Politics, Sex,” showing until June 30, incorporates works by seven artists from Israel, the United States and elsewhere, and challenges viewers’ perceptions by confronting pillars of Jewish identity.

The first work we see in the exhibit, “Martha Bouke and Andy’s Flowers, Visit at the Museum” (2011), by Israeli artist Rona Yefman, sets the scene with its transgressive tone. Here, Yefman portrays Martha Bouke, the female persona adopted by an 80-year-old male Holocaust survivor, posing in front of an iconic Andy Warhol painting. The striking, sexualized figure of the masked, bewigged Bouke, dressed in a pretty dress, bright red tights and matching red lipstick, radically plays with viewers’ expectations of an octogenarian great-grandfather and Holocaust survivor.

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AIDS Epidemic as Echo of the Holocaust

By Michael Kaminer

‘Jorge, February 3, 1994,’ by AA Bronson and Jorge Zontal.

Until two of them passed away of complications from AIDS in 1994, the art collective known as General Idea produced an enormous body of intellectually engaging, provocative, and savagely witty work, much of which explored notions of identity and social control. On July 30, the trio will get its first comprehensive retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario when “Haute Culture: General Idea” opens for a five-month run.

Though none of the work on display carries Jewish themes, much of General Ideas oeuvre confronts fascism and manipulation in multiple forms — familial, sexual, political and media-spawned. As surviving member AA Bronson told The Arty Semite at a press preview this week, his late collaborator Jorge Zontal was born Slobodan Saia-Levy in an Italian concentration camp in 1944.

Zontal, who formed General Idea with Bronson and the late Felix Partz, was “a Sephardic Jew whose family originated in Spain,” Bronson said. “But Jorge was never circumcised. The family wanted to pass as Roman Catholic.”

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