The Arty Semite

London's JW3 Opens to Fanfare

By Anne Joseph

A queue snaking down north London’s Finchley Road is an unusual sight, as are people on stilts, musicians and ice cream vendors. But JW3, London’s new Jewish community centre, finally opened its doors on September 29 to a crowd that may have represented an unprecedented representation of the community. On the first of two launch days designed to entice and give a flavor of what is on offer in its first season, the place teemed with activity and curiosity, amidst an air of slight organizational chaos.

Blake Ezra Photography

Its chic piazza had been transformed into the Garden of Eden, the center having taken “In the Beginning” as its theme. A scantily clad Adam and Eve greeted a steady stream of families as they made their way across the garden to the tree of life, hung with fruit and packed with prizes. A giant book was starting to fill with signatures and an interactive display provided another medium for visitors to discover snippets of JW3’s packed program. It included the opportunity to hear an excerpt from “Listen, We’re Family,” JW3’s first theater commission.

“I’ve seen the building go up and I’m very excited about the concept,” remarked one visitor. Another commented that she hoped JW3 would be income producing as well as benefit the community. A noticeable squadron of volunteers was busy answering questions, taking bookings and guiding people to the various sessions, which included a selection of lectures, a taste of self-defense sport krav maga, and cooking demonstrations.

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Exhibit Shows Hidden Side of Amy Winehouse

By Anne Joseph

“This is not a shrine or a memorial to someone who has died,” writes Alex Winehouse, referring to the exhibition that he and his wife, Riva, have co-curated with the Jewish Museum London about his sister, the late British singer, Amy Winehouse.

A young Amy outside her Nan’s flat in Southgate. Photographer unknown. Courtesy the Winehouse family.

Instead, “Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait” is an intimate, sensitive and affectionate portrayal of the singer. It focuses on her passions: music, fashion, London and her family. A more private side of the singer is on show here, as a daughter and sister growing up in what Alex has described as a “typical Jewish north London family.” Visitors get a glimpse into the life of the pre-fame Amy. Her inner turmoil and outward destructive public descent — often played out in an unforgiving tabloid press — are appropriately absent.

Alex and Riva Winehouse had originally approached the museum, located in Camden, north London, just streets away from where Amy lived, with the intention of giving one of her dresses as a loan. The exhibition concept grew from this idea and the family has given unprecedented access to Amy’s personal belongings.

Although the core exhibition takes place on the third floor of the building, the museum foyer is infused with the sound of her distinctive voice coming from large screens that depict both music video footage and stills. Also displayed is an Arrogant Cat dress, a favorite of Amy’s, and known for its appearance in the singer’s 2007 video for her single, “Tears Dry On Their Own.”

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Drawing London Before and After Gentrification

By Anne Joseph

Leon Kossoff, 'Arnold Circus,' 2008-10

“London seems to be in my bloodstream,” said artist Leon Kossoff. “It is always moving — the skies, the streets, the buildings. The people who walk past me when I draw have become part of my life.”

Kossoff’s current exhibition, “London Landscapes,” which opened in London May 8, includes over 90 drawings and 10 paintings in a retrospective that depicts the changing rhythm of the city’s urban landscape.

Apart from evacuation as a schoolboy and military service with the Royal Fusiliers between 1945 and 1948, 86-year-old Kossoff has lived all his life in the English capital. His work displays his observations of London — a lifelong subject — including the bomb sites of the early 1950s, the regeneration of Kings Cross and a recent return to Arnold Circus, in Shoreditch in the East End. That was where he was born to Yiddish speaking parents, and where he subsequently grew up.

Built in 1896, Arnold Circus was Britain’s first council housing estate, a Victorian social experiment. Today, red brick houses circle a bandstand and small park, much like they did then. The building where Kossoff attended school is still standing but the area, which formerly was occupied by immigrants, has now been gentrified.

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Caretakers by Day, Drag Queens by Night

By Anne Joseph

The story of five gay, cross-dressing Filipino migrants in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv who work by day as caretakers for elderly Hasidic men and by night transform into a musical drag act, might seem improbable. But it is a true story. Based on Tomer Heymann’s award-winning 2006 documentary of the same name, the world premiere of “Paper Dolls,” a play with music, is currently showing at the innovative Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, north London.

Tristram Kenton

This is a big story to tell on a small stage, but American writer Philip Himberg has managed an effective transfer. Himberg, the Artistic Director of the Sundance Institute Theater Program, told The Arty Semite that he was drawn to the story when he saw the film at its Los Angeles Film Festival premiere. He sensed that “Paper Dolls” had the potential for being a live, theatrical piece. Three years and 25 drafts later, his instinct has been proven correct.

“The idea of how people in our universe are crossing boundaries, literally and metaphorically, to make lives for themselves, and that this clash of culture — these Filipinos who are taking care of Orthodox men — just seemed like an incredible example of that,” Himberg said. Although the story is specific to Tel Aviv, there is a universal relevance to the issue of young people who are either unable or choose not to care for their parents or grandparents, and arrange for immigrants to do that work instead.

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R.B. Kitaj Returns to London

By Anne Joseph

Lee Friedlander, Courtesy Frankel Gallery, San Francisco

At the end of this month, selections of work from the exhibit “R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007): Obsessions” will be transferring from its successful run at the Jewish Museum Berlin to two venues in the U.K. It will exhibit concurrently at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and the Jewish Museum London, before returning to Germany. Both British institutions have links with the artist. M.J. Long, the architect whose practice was responsible for the refurbishment of the Jewish Museum as well as the extensions to Pallant House, also designed Kitaj’s London studio.

“Obsessions” is not only Kitaj’s first comprehensive posthumous retrospective, but also the first major examination of Kitaj’s work in the U.K. since his 1994 show at the Tate Gallery, London. Called by Kitaj the “Tate War,” the exhibition triggered a flood of negative reviews and it was this — along with the sudden death of his second wife, Sandra Fisher, which he blamed on the Tate — that led to his abrupt departure to his native U.S. Having lived for more than 30 years in London, he never returned.

The retrospective, which in its entirety encompasses more than 130 paintings, prints and drawings loaned from private collections, museums in Europe and America as well as from Kitaj’s Los Angeles estate and archive, explores the life, legacy and Jewish obsession of the Ohio-born artist. However, the two U.K. institutions have chosen to examine different facets of Kitaj’s work. Pallant House Gallery will be present an overview of his oeuvre, whereas the exhibition at the Jewish Museum London, subtitled “The Art of Identity,” will focus on how Kitaj explored and expressed his Jewishness.

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World War II 'Secret Listeners' Revealed

By Anne Joseph

Secret listener Fritz Lustig was told by his commanding officer that his job was “more important for the war effort than firing a machine gun or driving a tank.” Recruited by British intelligence during the Second World War, listeners — who were Austrian or German refugees — monitored, recorded and made detailed transcripts of private conversations between Nazi prisoners of war in the U.K. The listeners’ primary motive was to elicit military, naval and air force information. Lustig, a former cellist and an ex-German Jewish refugee, now 93, was talking about his experience at a recent event held at London’s Jewish Museum.

The event was the second phase of “The Secret Listeners,” a British Heritage Lottery-funded learning project. Initiated by playwright and theater director Julia Pascal, the first phase took place last summer at Trent Park, a former mansion in north London, where Charlie Chaplin and T.E. Lawrence had once been houseguests. Volunteers, who had been mentored by theater and arts professionals, explored the secret work in a site-specific performance using material from recorded conversations.

Between 1942 and 1945, Trent Park had been used to imprison high-ranking Nazi officers, who were purposefully allowed to lead a comfortable existence, which included use of the house’s outdoor swimming pool. The British plan had been to make the POWs feel relaxed enough to discuss sensitive matters between themselves, unaware that their quarters were bugged. Microphones were located in flowerpots, a snooker table, and even in trees within the extensive grounds where the inmates were permitted to walk. Unbeknownst to them, listeners were stationed in the mansion’s basement.

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Judy Chicago Returns to London

By Anne Joseph

The work of pioneering American feminist artist Judy Chicago is not for the prudish. Her current exhibition at Ben Uri The London Jewish Museum of Art displays graphic imagery of the male and female form alongside pieces addressing the notion of female subjugation and masculine power. Yet nestled next to artworks that can challenge and shock are collaborative needlework gems of absolute beauty.

Judy Chicago, ‘The Crowning,’ 2009. Courtesy Donald Woodman/ Ben Uri Gallery.

Approximately 170 examples of Chicago’s works are on display in her first U.K. exhibit since 1984. Selected from both her personal archive and from public collections in the U.S., they range from her early feminist images to unseen recent pieces, such as a seven print series, “Retrospective in a Box.” Exploring themes including autobiography, erotica, feminism, pregnancy and birth, the exhibition is contexualized with pieces from artists Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick and Tracey Emin, whose work has tackled similar issues. Two smaller shows are also being held at galleries in Soho and Liverpool.

Chicago’s work has been at the forefront of the women’s art agenda since the 1960s, though she is most renowned for her 1979 installation, “The Dinner Party.” An icon of 1970s feminist art, the work features a huge triangular table and place settings for 39 significant women from history. Along with other works in The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, where it is permanently housed, the installation helps account for almost a third of visitors at the museum. “People come from all over the world‘to see [it] which attests to its ongoing relevance to both women and men,” Chicago told the Forward by email.

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Faced With Demolition, Bedouin Seek Answers

By Anne Joseph

Set in an unnamed village in the Negev desert, Ami Livne’s low budget directorial debut, “Sharqiya,” tells the story of a Bedouin family whose home is served a demolition order by Israeli authorities. The film won the 2012 Jerusalem Film Festival’s Haggiag Award for best feature film, screened this month at the U.K. Jewish Film Festival and will make its American premiere November 8 at Manhattan’s Other Israel Film Festival.

One of the most striking aspects of “Sharqiya” is its breathtaking cinematography. But though the wide-angle panoramic views of the Israeli desert linger after viewing, the film offers far more than just aesthetic pleasure. Through its thoughtful, sensitive portrayal of Bedouin life and conflict, it examines concepts of home and place.

Two brothers, Kamel (Ednan Abu Wadi) and Khaled (Ednan Abu Muhrab), one single, the other married, live in tin shacks on land that has been in their family for generations. The audience sees the simplicity of their lifestyle: food is cooked on open fires, their electricity is supplied from a generator and water is sold from a tank.

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British Artist Gets New Home and Recognition

By Anne Joseph

Outside the entrance to London South Bank University’s (LSBU) Southwark campus (previously known as Borough College), a crest of arms sits below an ornate art deco glass window with the inscription, “Do It With Thy Might.” The insignia has a contemporary resonance; in June the building became home to the Borough Road Gallery, housing the first permanent exhibition dedicated to the British artist David Bomberg and five of his former students.

David Bomberg, Self Portrait, 1937

Bomberg (1890-1957) is regarded as one of the 20th century’s most significant British artists and teachers. He rose to prominence before World War I with his abstract geometric forms, though after the war he abandoned that approach in favor of a more expressionist, figurative style, painting many portraits and landscapes. Much of his later career was dedicated to teaching and he had a strong following, which included artists such as Frank Auerbach. Yet for most of Bomberg’s lifetime the British art establishment ignored him, and he died little known and penniless. A major retrospective at Tate Britain in 1988 restored his reputation, as did a comprehensive 1987 book, “David Bomberg” by art historian Richard Cork.

The new gallery space — the smell of fresh paint is still in the air — was created from an old classroom and is situated just three floors below the studio where Bomberg taught during the 1940s and early ‘50s. He and his students formed The Borough Group, with Bomberg assuming the presidency in 1948. It is possible, explained professor Andrew Dewdney, the gallery’s co-curator and project director, that two exhibited paintings: Seated Figure (1949) by Cliff Holden and Seated Nude (1949) by Dennis Creffield, were painted upstairs.

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An Orphan in Pre-State Palestine

By Anne Joseph

In the opening frame of Dina Zvi Riklis’s film “The Fifth Heaven,” which will be screened June 15 as part of SERET 2012, London’s first Israeli Film & Television Festival, we receive an explanation of the movie’s title.

Courtesy of SERET

“There are seven heavens in the sky,” the movie tells us, quoting the Talmud. “The fifth one is called Ma’on, in which ministering angels chant divine songs by night.”

Set in Palestine in 1944, at a girl’s orphanage on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, this sensitive, coming-of-age drama is based on Rachel Eytan’s autobiographical novel of the same name.

Thirteen-year-old Maya (Amit Moshkovitz) has been deserted by her mother and is deposited at the orphanage by her father, Hermoni, who has remarried and finds it difficult to raise her.

Life in the orphanage is tough and Maya struggles to adjust, seeking solace in writing stories at night. The film charts a succession of potential “angels,” each of whom fails in their ministering duties, until there is just one, unshakeable ally at Maya’s side.

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To Vitebsk and Back Again

By Anne Joseph

“Do the dead know that life still exists, somewhere?” the 17-year-old literature-loving, sex-obsessed Samuel Glass asks in “The Odyssey of Samuel Glass.” Since his adored father’s sudden death, he is desperate to leave the confines of his north London suburban home. His desire to “get away from the doom-laden cloud that pervaded the house” is acute. Life has lost its purpose.

Then a strange, foul-smelling, bedraggled creature known as the Red Rabbi appears to take him on a voyage of discovery, back to where “the past awaits.” Sam travels through time and space to 1881, in Vitebsk (now Belarus), Russia, where he meets his great-great-great grandmother, leader of a group of anarchists called Narodnaya Volya, or The People’s Will. It is there that he learns the secret purpose for which he has been chosen.

This set-up is classic of author Bernard Kops. Readers familiar with his life and work will recognize certain themes; much of Kops’s writing focuses on the essence of a journey and the importance of the quest. Kops is concerned with individuals who are trapped by the confines of a close Jewish family, and in “The Odyssey of Samuel Glass,” his 10th novel, he depicts his own desire to leave home as a young man.

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Slideshow: UK Jews From Punk to Prayer

By Anne Joseph

“What does it mean to be British and Jewish in this century?” That’s the question that photojournalist Judah Passow asked himself when formulating the guiding principles for “No Place Like Home,” his photographic exhibition that opened at the Jewish Museum London on February 1.

Judah Passow

A winner of four World Press Photo awards, Passow was born in Israel of American parentage. He has lived in the U.K. for 30 years, yet he rarely takes photographs in England. Instead, his work has taken him to many of the world’s conflict zones.

But after completing “Shattered Dreams,” a collection of 25 years of newspaper and magazine coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, published in 2008, Passow decided to “take a look at where I live.”

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