The Arty Semite

How Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis Got Past Race and Gender

By Aimee Rubensteen

Left: Lee Krasner with Stop and Go, c. 1949 (detail). Photographer unknown. © 2014 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Norman Lewis, n. d. Photographer unknown. From the Willard Gallery Archives. Collection of Kenkeleba House. Art © The Estate of Norman W. Lewis, Courtesy of Iandor Fine Arts, New Jersey

Look! It’s a white female artist! And, an African-American male artist! And, their art has something in common!

At face value, the painters Lee Krasner (1908-1984) and Norman Lewis (1909-1979) share more than their paintings suggest. This fact is practically shouted by The Jewish Museum’s current exhibition, “From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945-1952,” on view until February 1, 2015. Bringing Krasner and Lewis from the fringes to the foreground produces a liberal parallel of exploration, experimentation and expression.

The recognition of these two painters who contributed to Abstract Expressionism is paramount, since Krasner and Lewis were once overlooked figures. But the way in which they are presented counterbalances the problem of marginalization. As the Museum’s didactic exhibition broadens the understanding of each artist’s development and artistic process, the wall text will not let you forget that you are gazing at a painting made by a woman or by an African American. The show opens with two self-portraits that not only show both artists’ colorful palettes, but also the identity of the sitter, as if to say: Look! Neither painter is a white, male artist.

The visual language of both artists is examined chronologically through the exhibition’s four sections: “From the Margins,” “Influence and Experiment,” “The Language of Painting” and “Evolution.” The paintings by Lewis, for the most part, are made up of softer hues and matted surfaces. In contrast, Krasner’s bright pigments shine and the canvases glow in the gallery.

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Bernice Eisenstein Plumbs Memory in 'Genizot'

By Michael Kaminer

The concept behind genizot is simple. These spaces, usually housed in synagogues, would store disused documents that contained the written name of God — and thus couldn’t be discarded.

But genizot also symbolize remembering. And that’s what Canadian artist Bernice Eisenstein so brilliantly explores in “Genizot: Repositories of Memory,” her new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

For Eisenstein, now artist-in-residence at Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Center, genizot become a launch pad to plumb the prismatic complexity of memory, whether personal, historical, literary, religious, or some combination thereof.

At first glance, “Genizot” seems like a loose assemblage of work. Eisenstein pairs her black-and-white portraits of figures like Antoine de St.-Exupery and Marcel Proust with elliptical text treatments; a glass display case houses casually arranged found objects. But as with all of Eisenstein’s work, there’s a compelling internal logic that unites the project into a powerful statement about memory, its weight, and its fluidity.

Memory is a favorite subject of Eisenstein, who created last year’s acclaimed “Correspondences” with Anne Michaels, and is the author of the award-winning graphic novel “I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors.”

“Genizot” was created for Holocaust Education Week in October, but the project will run through February 8, 2015 (Eisenstein is also one of the artists in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” which I co-curated and The Forward sponsored.)

“I’m not didactic,” Eisenstein told the Forward from Toronto. “I want whoever sees “Genizot” to engage in it however their own memory works.”

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Sukkahs for the Homeless

By S. Bear Bergman

Courtesy of Kehilla

At Sukkot, as we build or assemble and decorate our temporary shelters in the backyard, we might complain about the chilly weather or having hammered our thumbs or the rising cost of etrogim. One Toronto organization is using the opportunity to draw community attention to a much more serious problem: homelessness. Kehilla, a community organization devoted to serving Jewish household experiencing a gap between their housing costs and what their families can afford, presented the 4th annual Sukkahville art show and competition this year to raise money (and awareness) around homelessness.

For the competition, Sukkahville solicits artist and architect proposals from across the world, requiring that the structures be built in accordance with Jewish laws that govern sukkah construction — they must provide shade in the daytime but be open to the sky, the roof must be made of natural materials that grow in the soil like leaves and branches, and the structure must provide some shelter from the elements. Beyond the traditional strictures (overseen by a Toronto rabbi) and a few practical matters, designs are beautiful and wild, opening the senses to the beauty and possibility of a sukkah that dazzles. Eight finalists are chosen from the designs submitted, and those sukkot are the ones exhibited during Sukkahville.

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Mysticism, Heresy and Multimedia Art

By Michael Kaminer

Ira Eduardovna, ‘A Thousand Years’ (video still), 2014.

In the Talmudic legend called “Four Entered the Orchard,” a quartet of wise men who explore Jewish mysticism meet severe ends: One dies, one loses his mind, and one forsakes Jewish tenets altogether. Only one leaves intact.

Here’s hoping that the artists in “Pardes,” a new exhibition at Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts, meet gentler fates. Inspired by the ancient tale, the exhibition “brings together four Israeli sound and multimedia artists to investigate notions of mysticism, heresy and the occult from secular perspectives, as they relate to contemporary society,” according to Mona Filip, the Koffler’s director.

The Talmudic story “becomes an overarching metaphor and theme of research for the show,” Filip said.
Pardes is also “a metaphor for the transcendent,” according to Toronto-based curator Liora Belford, who organized the exhibition. ”Where traditional transcendent and institutionalized religions are waning, alternative forms of non-physical yet non-transcendent ‘spirituality’ are emerging.”

“Having lived in Israel, where religion is a significant part of everyday culture, I often wonder about the impact of mysticism and tradition on contemporary secular life,” Belford told the Forward. “Even from an atheist perspective, I find interesting correlations between religious experience and the experience of a work of art, both in its creation and reception.”

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When Fashion Gets Political

By Michael Kaminer

Photo: Pascale Richard

Journalist Jeanne Beker has shaped fashion as much as the designers she’s covered. As longtime host of Canada’s much-missed Fashion Television, her zingy runway reports and designer interviews aired in more than 130 countries; she still hosts a spinoff on a Canadian cable channel, and has opined on fashion for The Toronto Star. Now, she’s added “curator” to her resume. “Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics,” which she guest-curated, opens at Toronto’s Design Exchange museum this week; it’s a provocative look at fashion “as a mirror of society by highlighting how clothing has been used as a tool for communicating identity and political expression.”

With 200 pieces, from PETA t-shirts to Stella McCartney’s 2000 plastic-and-glass jacket to historic pieces from ‘60s icons Rudi Gernreich and Mary Quant, the exhibition is a provocative look at subversive clothing at a volatile time in history. Beker herself carries an especially keen sense of personal politics to the show; she’s the daughter of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Toronto in 1948. Educated at Toronto’s Talmud Torah Jewish schools, Beker’s a mainstay on the Jewish-giving circuit, most recently as producer of a fashion-show benefit for Zareinu, a school for children with severe developmental issues. The Forward caught up with her from her Toronto home.

Michael Kaminer: The exhibition’s called “Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics.” How much of the political content in fashion is part of someone’s agenda, versus an accident or subconscious expression?

Jeanne Beker: That’s exactly what’s at the crux of the show. It is deliberate. I’ve worked with and interviewed designers, and covered their collections, for nearly three decades. I’ve met many who wanted to say more through their garments than just a perfect design or something that makes a woman look sexy. A lot of designers have a point of view, and want to enlighten people. It’s the power of fashion to communicate all kinds of ideas. Those can come from political beliefs and convictions. Those are the types of garments we’re featuring.

But some controversial collections, like Jean-Paul Gaultier’s infamous 1993 take on Orthodox garb, didn’t make the cut.

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Remembering a 20-Year Protest for Soviet Jewry

By Menachem Wecker

Photo Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington

Long before Occupy Wall Street, protests were held from 12:30 to 12:45 p.m. every day from December 10, 1970, until January 27, 1991, in front of the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., in an effort to raise awareness about the mistreatment of Soviet Jews. Those demonstrations, held rain or shine — including through muggy District summers — are the subject of the exhibit “Voices of the Vigil: D.C.’s Soviet Jewry Movement,” which is on view at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md., until October 19.

“Washington Jews organized rallies and marches, waged letter-writing campaigns to pressure politicians, sent packages and Rosh Hashanah greeting cards to refuseniks, and visited Jews in the Soviet Union,” according to the exhibit website.

Some gems from the exhibit include photographs of the actor Theodore Bikel speaking at the September 1965 Eternal Light Vigil on the National Mall (he shares the stage with a man holding a twisted shofar); of 3-year-old David Sislen burying his face in tears in his mom Bonnie’s coat after a police officer removed the placard from his sign, which violated a rule prohibiting any signs within 500 feet of an embassy; and a youthful Senator John Kerry marching, arms locked, with colleagues and with Avital Sharansky en route to the Soviet Embassy demanding Natan Sharansky’s release.

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An Israeli Artist's Abandoned Spaces

By Aimee Rubensteen

Naomi Safran-Hon, ‘Wadi Salib: Living Room with 4 Windows,’ 2013

Art is a language of its own, and Naomi Safran-Hon is redefining its words. “Hard Times: Paintings,” is a small solo exhibition of the Israeli artist’s most recent work currently on display at Slag Gallery in Brooklyn. The gallery explores the evolution of mediums (Slag is a recyclable waste product in metal smelting) and celebrates the way Safran-Hon utilizes unconventional materials such as concrete, sequins and lace in order to transform worthless objects into meaningful pictures.

When the artist returned to her hometown of Haifa in Israel, she photographed abandoned interiors. While Safran-Hon does not suggest a particular political agenda, her canvases present a multitude of questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The gallery explains that the depicted spaces “have been abandoned for the past half-century following a mass Palestinian exodus — a migration whose causes and effects differ depending on the historical narrative to which one subscribes.”

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Abram Games Designed Posters for Humanity

By Anne Joseph

Photo courtesy Estate of Abram Games

“To be an artist you need talent and you haven’t got it,” the young Abram Games was told by his headteacher, advising him to pursue a career as a bank clerk instead. Regardless, with what appears to be characteristic tenacity, sheer hard work and obvious talent, Games went on to become one of the most influential British designers of the 20th century.

“Designing the 20th Century,” a major new exhibition at the Jewish Museum London, marks the centenary of his birth, and celebrates Games’s life and art. The show successfully juxtaposes the professional and the personal elements of Games’s life, and visitors will leave having gained a significant insight into Games’s creative output and character.

Games was an exponent of the poster, particularly those produced during the Second World War. His 60-year career also included stamps and emblems, as well as product design.

The son of Eastern European immigrants, Games grew up in London’s East End, often assisting his father, who was a professional photographer. He attended art school for just two terms before deciding to build his own portfolio, establishing himself as a freelance designer. The exhibition displays many of his iconic works, as well as personal objects and a re-creation of his north London studio, which was attached to the family’s Golders Green home.

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Israeli Artist Assaf Evron Takes Chicago By Storm

By Michael Kaminer

Photo: Rea Ben-David

When September’s Chicago magazine tipped Assaf Evron as one of “four rising artists worth investing in,” it was the first many in the Windy City had heard of the Israeli-born creator.

But Evron has long been a name to watch among the cognoscenti. In Israel, his work is in permanent collections of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Haifa Museum of Art and the Petach Tikva Museum of Art. In Chicago, where he’s lived since 2011, he’s got work in two major area shows. A group show at the Little Wolf, WI venue Poor Farm includes his photographic installation based on infrared kinect sensor light; at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, the show “Phantoms in the Dirt” showcases his repurposed photos of 1930s French colonial settlements. A November group show at the Haifa Museum of Art is next.

Evron’s sculptures and photographs “play with perception, often distorting everyday objects into abstract images,“ Chicago magazine wrote. “His work consists of things we can’t easily see or decipher,” a local curator told the magazine. “It’s smart and subtle and appealingly enigmatic. It lingers with you.”

One-half of an art-world power couple, the 37-year-old Evron is married to acclaimed Israeli artist Nelly Agassi, who late last year had her own exhibition of video works at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Evron spoke to the Forward from their home in the Chicago neighborhood of Wicker Park.

Michael Kaminer: You’ve got an unusual background for an artist. How did your studies at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University influence your work?

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Jews of the Civil Rights Movement

By Menachem Wecker

The Honorable Emanuel Celler, chairman, Judiciary Committee U.S. House of Representatives. From the Emanuel Celler Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Among the more than 200 items which are slated to appear in the Library of Congress exhibit “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom” in Washington, D.C. — which will be on view until September 12, 2015 — are documents written by civil rights leaders, newspaper clippings, legal briefs and artwork.

According to a library release it constitutes “some of the most important materials in [its] collection,” and it “will highlight the legal and legislative challenges and victories leading to its [Civil Rights’] passage, shedding light on the individuals — both prominent leaders and private citizens — who participated in the decades-long campaign for equality.”

What there won’t be are troves of artifacts tying Jewish activists to the struggle for civil rights. “It’s not a show that specifically deals with the role of Jews in the Civil Rights movement,” said Betsy Nahum-Miller, one of three directors of the exhibit. But, she added, Jewish elements exist.

Nahum-Miller thought right away of Arthur Spingarn, the Jewish civil rights activist who is profiled in the exhibit. A photograph of Spingarn, who held leadership roles at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, addresses the early days of the organization. And upon further reflection, other connections surfaced.

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Bergen-Belsen Scarred Alex Colville for Life

By Michael Kaminer

Image courtesy Canadian War Museum

The hazy images take up just one small corner of a massive new exhibition on revered Canadian artist Alex Colville at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

But his depictions of corpses at Bergen-Belsen, where a young Colville was dispatched to document World War II atrocities, hold the key to understanding the artist’s worldview and work.

“Seeing that really marked Colville for the rest of his life,” Andrew Hunter, the AGO’s curator of Canadian art, told the Forward. “More than just seeing war, what he saw at Belsen really cast a shadow over his view of the world and of what people are capable of doing.”

The experience also shaped the signatures that came to define Colville’s painting, said Hunter, who curated the exhibition. “He thought a lot about the chaos that lies under the surface of order,” Hunter said. “It sounds simple, but those who ran the camps did it in a way that was very structured. On the surface, it was all highly rational. He was conscious of how order could also lead to great evil.”

In Colville’s iconic 1967 painting “Pacific,” a shirtless man, visible from the back, stares at the ocean while a gun rests on an old sewing table in the foreground. The gun, Hunter explained, represents the possibility of chaos; the ruler built into the sewing table presents a symbol of order.

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100 Years of the 'Joint'

By Michael Kaminer

“I live. Send help.”

With that hopeful but heartbreaking dispatch, a survivor named Luba Mizne implored the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for rescue amid the devastation of 1945 Warsaw.

Now, her original telegram is one of more than 100 artifacts in “I Live. Send Help,” a moving exhibition at the New York Historical Society that marks the centennial of the JDC, which calls itself “the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian organization” and today operates in more than 70 countries.

The exhibition pulls from the JDC’s massive archives, which includes three miles of documents, more than 100,000 photos, and hundreds of items. An astonishing range of objects, from a bar of soap given to Bergen-Belsen survivors at a DP camp to a child’s dress distributed at Ellis Island in 1949 to a letter urging passage for a rescue caravan out of Sarajevo in 1992, makes the show much more than an academic exercise.

“Our archive is one of the most important repositories of modern Jewish history in the world,” said Linda Levi, the director of the JDC’s global archives and a curator of the exhibition. “Given the significance of our work over the last century, it seemed fitting to have an exhibition at a major institution.”

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Did Photographer Garry Winogrand Exploit Nude Subjects?

By Menachem Wecker

Garry Winogrand, New York, 1968, gelatin silver print, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Walking through the many rooms in the National Gallery of Art’s exhibit “Garry Winogrand” (through June 8), I was surprised to see several groups of transfixed boys. Winogrand, after all, was born in 1928 and died more than 20 years ago; he had an ingenious eye for interpreting urban street scenes and the pedestrians that passed through them, but his work has nothing to do with Instagram or iPhones. Why, I wondered, were these young boys so interested in black-and-white photographs from the 1970s?

When I crossed over the room toward the boys, I realized they were gawking at some of the photographs from Winogrand’s 1975 series of 85 works: “Women Are Beautiful.” The images showed women in various stages of undress. “Whenever I’ve seen an attractive woman, I’ve done my best to photograph her,” Winogrand wrote of the series. “I don’t know if all the women in the photographs are beautiful, but I do know that the women are beautiful in the photographs.”

Winogrand’s program of photographing beautiful women has been controversial. The photographer, born to Jewish parents who left Budapest and Warsaw for the Bronx, is “routinely criticized for exploiting the subjects of his work,” according to the website of the Worcester Art Museum, which showed works from the series in 2013. The photographs of the young women in the series are “typically composed to emphasize their breasts and backsides,” the site adds.

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Britain's Stained Glass Master

By Anne Joseph

“Life and Art Through Stained Glass,” a new exhibit at the Ben Uri Gallery in London, examines the artistic career of architect, painter, designer and stained glass innovator Roman Halter (1927-2012). A survivor of the Holocaust, Halter channeled much of his creativity into narrating the horrors of that experience. It was essential to him that the truth was shared, especially with younger generations.

This current exhibition is a celebration of a remarkable man who, despite the darkest of childhoods, was “devoted to the design of pure color and light,” said curator Thomas Hughes. In featuring over 70 works, Ben Uri has successfully managed to portray the range, depth and skill of Halter’s extensive oeuvre.

Born in Chodecz, a small village in western Poland, Halter was the only member of his immediate family to survive the Lodz ghetto. After its liquidation in 1944, he was one of the metal workers selected for slave labor, but instead was transferred to Auschwitz. He was later moved to Dresden via the Stutthoff concentration camp and after the RAF raids in 1945, Halter escaped and returned to a deserted Chodecz.

In 1945 Halter came to London where he became an architect, establishing practices in London and Cambridge. In 1973 he moved to Israel where, using his architectural skills within a design context, he was commissioned to design and construct the main gate to Yad Vashem. On his return to London in 1976 he decided to become a full-time artist.

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A Royal Menorah in Amsterdam

By Menachem Wecker

A Hanukkah lamp that was recently given to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam may have one of the most compelling provenances of any Jewish ritual object.

The lamp was created by a Christian (Dutch Reformed) silversmith, Harmanus Nieuwenhuys, for the Dutch Jewish community in 1751 — when Jews were still barred from guilds. (Harmanus’ son Hendrik also created ritual objects for Jewish patrons.)

By all accounts, it appears to have gotten a good deal of use, and a condition report from the museum identifies the object as “good (dent in back).” In 1907 Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) of the Kingdom of the Netherlands bought the lamp at auction and gave it as an Easter gift to her mother, Queen Emma (1858-1934).

Staff at the Jewish Historical Museum may have learned of the lamp’s existence following its inclusion in 1965 in the book “History of Dutch Silver,” according to Irene Faber, the head of collections at the museum. The lamp was given on short-term loan to the museum at some point in the 1980s, she adds. “We do not know what the occasion was, probably an exhibition on ceremonial objects or about history of the Jews in Holland.”

And now, the lamp, which this reporter recently viewed in a museum back room, has found its way to the Jewish community again through Christian hands.

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Anselm Kiefer Says Jewish Collectors Boosted Career

By Michael Roddy

(Reuters) — German artist Anselm Kiefer, many of whose huge canvases examine the legacy of the Third Reich, attributes much of his success to Jewish collectors in New York who latched onto his art early in his career when his fellow Germans were not all that interested.

Charles Duprat/Opera National de Paris

Kiefer spoke on Tuesday at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which will mount the first British retrospective of the 69-year-old artist’s work in an exhibition opening at the end of September.

“These were the first big collectors, who admired and made my career, it wasn’t in Germany,” Kiefer said at a news conference to announce the works that will be in the exhibition.

They include art from private collections and some of the world’s most prestigious museums.

Among them are canvases Kiefer painted in the early years of his career looking at the legacy of the Third Reich, including his paintings of spaces designed by Hitler’s favorite architect, Albert Speer.

Others are paintings of Kiefer himself in his Occupations and Heroic Symbols series of the late 1960s and early 1970s which show him re-enacting the Nazi salute in locations across Europe.

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The Jews Who Fought for Britain

By Anne Joseph

During the early stages of the First World War, Yiddish recruitment posters, published by the Joint Labour Recruiting Committee, were displayed in London’s East End. They appealed to Jewish youth, “to do their duty to the country.”

In England there are thousands of Jews who should be grateful to it for their freedom and justice … and in general they have been accepted here, free from racial prejudice and racial hatred. We, who have many times raised our voice for the welfare of the Jews, ask them now to demonstrate that we were justified in saying what we did.

The poster is one of the many exhibits in “For King and Country?,” a new exhibition that opened earlier this week at London’s Jewish Museum, in partnership with the Jewish Military Museum. It explores the British Jewish experience of the First World War and includes oral histories, memorabilia, letters, embroidered postcards, sepia coloured photographs as well as personal artefacts like identity tags, symbolic silk handkerchiefs and uniforms.

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Meet Drew Friedman, Picasso of 'Old Jewish Comedians'

By Michael Kaminer

Did you hear the one about the old Jewish comedians who got hung on the wall?

Seriously, a new show at the Society of Illustrators gallery in Manhattan is showcasing original paintings from Drew Friedman’s cult trilogy “Old Jewish Comedians” (Fantagraphics), along with a trove of memorabilia from Friedman’s own collection.

Spread across two floors, the 110 nightmarishly funny illustrations also include Friedman’s warts-and-all illustrations for media outlets like The New York Observer, and a terrifying Woody Allen portrait for “He Said/She Said,” a 1996 comic book about the director’s split from Mia Farrow.

Friedman attended New York’s School of Visual Arts from 1978 to 1981, where he studied under legendary comics masters like Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Edward Sorel, Stan Mack and Arnold Roth, as his bio explains. He launched his career in the 1980s writing and illustrating what he calls “morbid alternative comics,” often collaborating with his brother, writer Josh Alan Friedman. He’s gone mainstream since then, supplying illustrations to everyone from The New York Times to Esquire to The New Republic.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the old comedians have struck such a chord. “The subject of humor speaks to everyone, and the cultural aspect of Yiddish theater and comedy has huge appeal,” says Anelle Miller, the Society of Illustrators’ executive director. “But I’d also rank Drew with people like Ed Sorel, who did this great satirical work while continuing his illustration practice.”

The Forward caught up with Friedman a week after the show’s opening, where he mugged for photos with OJC subjects like Robert Klein and Abe Vigoda — and future OJCs like Gilbert Gottfried.

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Painting Pictures of India's Jews

By Leah Koenig

Last month, while researching an article for The Forward about Indian Jewish cuisine, I spent the afternoon in Montclair, New Jersey with Siona Benjamin. A home cook who grew up in Mumbai’s Jewish community, Benjamin demonstrated how to prepare a traditional Shabbat coconut curry and a sweet rice and coconut dish called malida that Indian Jews make in honor of the Prophet Elijah. But, as often happens when I cook in other people’s kitchens, I learned about much more than food.

Benjamin’s home is filled with art — specifically her own technicolor paintings and multimedia pieces, which weave together Jewish and Indian images. A classically trained artist (she has two MFAs in painting and theater set design), who is inspired by “traditional styles of painting, like Indian/Persian miniatures, Byzantine icons, and Jewish and Christian illuminated manuscripts,” her work has been exhibited across the United States, Europe and Asia.

In 2011, Benjamin traveled to India on a Fulbright scholarship to interview, photograph, and document the lives of more than 70 of Mumbai’s remaining 5,000 Jews. Back at home, she transformed these stories into a stunning collection of oversized photo collage paintings called “FACES: Weaving Indian Jewish Narratives.”

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When a Toy Is More Than Child's Play

By Michael Kaminer

Toronto isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of Pharrell Williams, the peripatetic Grammy winner and Daft Punk collaborator.

But this spring, Williams’ name adorns the marquee of the city’s Design Exchange museum. And it’s Shauna Levy, the museum’s new director, who’s responsible for the coup.

“THIS IS NOT A TOY,” a blockbuster show of toys as art, includes work from Williams’ personal collection, and from artists around the world who blur art, design and street culture. The exhibit, whose centerpiece is a $3 million, diamond-encrusted sculpture by Japan’s Takashi Murakami, is Levy’s latest swipe at clearing the dust from what had been an esoteric gallery with a wonky reputation; last year, she shook up the staid DX with a retrospective of French shoe guru Christian Louboutin.

A Montreal native, Levy founded Toronto’s popular Interior Design Show, which she sold to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Properties in 2012. “I started to feel restless for a great big new challenge,” she told the Forward from Toronto. “Days after I acknowledged this to myself, I was contacted by a recruiter on behalf of the Design Exchange board. There is something to be said for putting it out there.”

Michael Kaminer: You’ve scored big with Pharrell Williams as guest curator for “This Is Not a Toy.” How did you get him?

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