“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.
Dutch artist M. C. Escher (1898-1972) is known for his impossible landscapes, like waterfalls and staircases that operate in continuous loops, and his fantastically interlocking “tessellations,” like these dovetailing blue and white birds.
But as viewers ascend the grand staircase in the Escher museum in The Hague and examine the works spanning Escher’s 55-year career, they might be most surprised by some of the Dutch artist and illustrator’s more “realistic” works.
Escher in het Paleis (“Escher in the Palace”), a three-story mansion and the former winter palace of the Netherlands’ Queen Mother Emma, recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary as a museum devoted to Escher. (As full disclosure, the Netherlands Board of Tourism partly supported my trip to Holland, where I visited the museum.) The staircase provides an optical illusion worthy of the artist, who was not only a gifted mathematician but also a skilled draftsman. Although the stairs seem to ascend to the third floor, they only service the ground and first floors; servants had to climb a hidden and much smaller staircase to access their quarters above.
Scanning the works in museum and trolling around on the official Escher website, it immediately becomes clear that Escher created quite a few works that have religious content.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
One of the most exciting — certainly among the most crowded — of exhibitions in New York at the moment is the Met’s “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.” And for good reason. Training its sights on the triangulated relationship among these three mighty cultural forces of the late 19th century, the exhibition opens our eyes to what makes us truly modern: our clothes.
As visitors in casual attire take in the somber black suits, oversized cashmere shawls, dainty shoes, upstanding hats, ever-so-tight bodices and enormous bustles that inhabit this exhibition both visually and artifactually, they’re hard pressed at first to associate them with modernity. Exercises in modulation and constraint, these articles of dress seen anything but modern.
Thanks, though, to the smart and allusive writing on the wall and to the canny juxtapositions between painting and object, which echo and reverberate, we come away with an entirely fresh perspective on late 19th-century dress and, more broadly still, on why clothing matters as much as it does. As Anatole France put it, “If I were permitted to choose amidst the jumble of books that will be published a hundred years after my death, do you know which one I would pick? … A fashion magazine in order to see how women will dress a century after my passing. And these rags would tell me more about humanity’s future than philosophers, novelists, preachers, or scholars.”
What does it mean to reduce the contemporary Jewish experience to a series of quotes, objects and stereotypes, and to conclude an exhibit by placing a live human in a glass box to answer the questions of museum-goers? On March 22, Jews gathered across the world to observe the start of the Passover holiday, recalling our central narrative of what it means to move from slavery to liberation. On the same day, the Jewish Museum Berlin opened an exhibition promising to “showcase Jews,” hoping to create a space for dialogue. The show, entitled “The Whole Truth…everything you always wanted to know about Jews,” runs through September 1, 2013. The timing of this exhibition takes on a new level of irony ⎯ liberation seems to have taken holiday in Germany!
How is this exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin different from all other exhibitions about Jews? Promotion for the exhibit included an illustrated trailer beginning with the moment of conception asking, “What makes someone a Jew?” thus framing the entire exhibition from a biological or racial perspective. A few moments later, a series of changing faces further illuminate the point, asking, “How do you recognize a Jew?” In keeping with centuries of tradition regarding Jewish caricatures, viewers will be astonished to realize the nose is the only thing that does not change with each face and grows larger towards the end of the digital mash-up.
As visitors walk though “The Whole Truth” exhibit, a vote is cast using coins to determine if Jews are “good at business,” “smart,” “good looking” or “animal lovers.” The votes are tallied and displayed at the conclusion of the walkthrough. For the finale, you cannot miss the most controversial inclusion of all — a Jew in a box. Yes, that’s right, an installation in which German Jews sit in a glass box to answer questions posed by curious onlookers.
The History Channel’s highly-rated “The Bible” mini-series is coming to New York. Or at least, a part of it is.
Rare biblical artifacts including fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls (portions of the books of Daniel, Jonah and Jeremiah), a 14th-century Torah scroll and a 12th-century prayer book from Egypt in the Karaite Jewish tradition will be on exhibit in New York at 450 W. 14th St. from March 20 to 27.
Called “The Bible Experience,” the exhibit it is part of a promotion for the successful series, which continues its run on Sundays through Easter and comes out on DVD April 2.
The collection has been on exhibit in the Vatican, where it will return after finishing in the Big Apple. It is part of a larger collection owned by the Green Family, founders of Hobby Lobby, described as the world’s largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer. The collection will be housed in a permanent museum scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. in 2017.
“I’m interested in pushing young people to get involved, to take ownership of history,” declared Zev Moses, founder and director of the Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal.
For Moses, this means getting people out into the original Jewish neighborhoods of Montreal for an “immersive experience” that combines computer technology with actual visits to historic sites.
“People have called it a ‘virtual museum,’ but that’s a misnomer,” Moses explained in a phone interview with The Arty Semite. The IMJM has collected a trove of archival photographs, oral history recordings, musical recordings, and films about the 250-year-old community that can be enjoyed online from anywhere. But the optimal situation is for people to access these resources through their mobile devices as they physically stand at the locations (IMJM calls them “exhibits”) that the information is meant to illuminate.
Moses and Stephanie Schwartz, IMJM’s research director, are working with their staff of 10 student researchers and project coordinators to curate the museum’s material into tours that highlight specific subjects. The only tour so far (and the only portion of the IMJM website that is currently mobile browser-compatible) is called “Between These Walls: Hidden Sounds of Hazzanut in Montreal,” focusing on cantors who sang at downtown synagogues between 1934 and 1965.
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.
“The Emigrants” a circa-1930 oil painting by Julius Bloch, is the signature image in a new exhibition at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, “Jewish Artists in America 1925-1945.” “It conveys the experience of immigrants, one that is intimately and deeply tied to this museum,” said Josh Perelman, NMAJH’s chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections. “It is evocative and beautiful, and it tells a deep story.”
The painting by Bloch is one of 21 artworks (18 paintings and three lithograph prints) from the collection of Steven and Stephanie Wasser that tell the un-romanticized story of immigrants and all Americans during what many would argue was the most trying period in the 20th century.
On view at the museum until the end of June are Depression-era works by political artists, working independently or under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, chronicling the hardships seen on city streets and in rural fields, at work and at home. Among them are Aaron Berkman’s ”Subway,” Louis Ribak’s “City Rooftops” and Saul Steinberg’s “One Summer Night.”
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Over the next few weeks, those seeking respite from the clamor of talking heads should make a beeline for the Corcoran College of Art + Design where the work of recent graduates of Israel’s storied Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is on display.
The exhibition will take your breath away, especially if your idea of Israeli art and craft is that of olive wood plaques and patinated greenware. Holding its own — and then some — with the best of what Milan has to offer, the objects on view are the very last word in innovative and sophisticated design.
For nearly a year now, Bezalel has been making the rounds of the United States, showcasing its handiwork and captivating audiences at venues as varied as Sotheby’s in Chicago, the Maltz Museum in Cleveland, and MICA in Baltimore.
While a bunch of musty old books may not, at first, sound like a diverting idea for an exhibition, Columbia University has succeeded in bringing to life an illuminating collection of Judaic manuscripts.
“The People in the Books: Judaic Manuscripts at Columbia University Libraries,” on display in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library until January 25, is all about bringing to life the stories behind the manuscripts — who were the authors, owners and real people who handled these books, papers and letters hundreds of years ago? This is all about the “paratext” — the scribbled notes written in the margins of books, the changing ownership of a manuscript, the physical aspect of text. In other words, all the bibliographical clues that lead us to visualise the interaction real people had with a manuscript during its active life.
The exhibition, broken up into sections such as “Travellers,” “Congregants,” “Mystics,” “Doctors” and “Timekeepers,” gathers together diverse and rare manuscripts such as philosophical treatises, sefarim, letters, ketubot, and calendars, which are written in Hebrew, Dutch, Judeo-German and Spanish, among other languages, each giving its own vignette of Jewish community life in Europe and beyond.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Over winter break, I didn’t want for activity. There were people to see, films to screen and a wealth of exhibitions to behold, one of the most inventive of which was a modest but arresting show at the Jewish Museum, on until February 3, called “Collection Tableaux.” Taking the form of four distinctive mediations — in paint, paper, glass and fabric — on the role of the table in Jewish life, the exhibition highlighted the connections between the material and the cultural dimensions of the Jewish experience.
I relished each of the artworks but, as a practicing historian, I took particular delight in Izhar Patkin’s “Salonnière,” a large scale, stenciled and framed collage of a fussy end table crowded with the kind of stuff one was likely to encounter in the determinedly bourgeois setting of a 19th-century German Jewish home: books, bric-a-brac, a tea cup and other appurtenances of the cultured.
A closer look, however, disclosed that what was on display was studded with actual historical references. As the artist would have it, the table belonged to Dorothea von Schlegel, Moses Mendelssohn’s daughter, who not only changed her name but her station in life by becoming a saloniste of the highest order. On its surface rested a couple of books, one of which, “Florentin,” she had penned. Slightly off-center, upsetting the balance, the elegant proportion, of things, was a rather unappealing and hulking porcelain figure of a monkey.
In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of the most important Jewish exhibits of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.
The Jewish Museum: “Kehinde Wiley / The World Stage: Israel”
Kehinde Wiley’s paintings of young, urban black men in the poses, and sometimes trappings, of famous European history paintings boldly challenge the art historical canon. For his recent exhibit, “The World Stage: Israel,” at Jewish Museum in New York, he traveled to Israel to find and photograph his models, young men he met in the streets and nightclubs, whose ethnicities range from Ethiopian to Arab Israeli.
Fowler Museum: “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews”
At a time when Iran is ever-present in the American consciousness a major exhibition about the Jews of Iran, which originated at Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, opened at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews,” traces the 3,000 year-long history Iranian Jewry with more than 100 objects ranging from archeological artifacts to intricately made Judaica to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary photographs and art installations.
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.
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.
At a time when Iran is in the American consciousness thanks to both Washington and Hollywood, a major exhibition about the Jews of Iran has opened in Los Angeles. “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews,” which originated at Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, is at the Fowler Museum at UCLA until March 10, 2013.
The show, the first ever in the United States on Iranian Jews, traces the 3,000 year-long history Iranian Jewry with more than 100 objects ranging from archeological artifacts to intricately made Judaica to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary photographs and art installations. According to Smadar Keren, Beit Hatfutsot’s curatorial department director, it took two years to collect the various objects and mount the exhibition, which ran in Israel for most of 2011 and was a huge success.
Moti Schwartz, Beit Hatfutsot’s director noted that “Light and Shadows” represented a major turning point for his museum, which does not have its own artifact collection, save for a few items. Based on the positive response to the exhibition, the museum is now set to open one on the Jews of Bukhara, with exhibits on other Jewish communities in the works, as well.
The Black Star Collection’s journey to Toronto hasn’t quite been as dramatic as the flight of its Jewish creator, Ernest Mayer, from the Nazis. But its recent landing at Ryerson University — which acquired nearly 300,000 Black Star images with the help of an anonymous donor — caps a colorful history.
Ryerson will unveil the collection, and a $70-million “Image Centre” purpose-built to house it, at a grand opening September 29. The collection is “the single largest gift of cultural property ever made to a Canadian university,” according to a Ryerson press release. Ryerson — which launched Canada’s first graduate program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management — wouldn’t identify the donor, but did note “no Jewish connection” to the gift.
It’s hard to picture in an age of smartphones and Pinterest, but Black Star looms large in the history of 20th-century journalism — and of the century itself. Its photographers included Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Britain’s Bill Brandt and Germaine Krull, a pioneering female lenser. Black Star photo essays documented century-defining events from World War II to the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights movement, and iconic news-portrait subjects ranged from Marilyn Monroe to Muhammad Ali to Marc Chagall to Fidel Castro.
Asya Geisberg, a painter and Jew from St. Petersburg, has lived in the U.S. since 1977. She opened her eponymous gallery in 2010, favoring exhibitions that encompass the crossing of cultures. This summer’s group show, “Centaurs & Satyrs,” on view until August 17, is dedicated to the notion of hybridity. Mythological creatures with magical powers, centaurs and satyrs are fusions of man and horse, or man and goat.
All of the seven artists featured in the show use combinations of materials to create composite images, and each separate material brings its own properties. For example, Naomi Safran-Hon, an Israeli artist living in the U.S., applies cement and lace to an inkjet photograph. The cement implies grittiness and heft, and when one thinks of its use in the construction of foundations and walls, its meaning develops. Attach some lace and the canvas develops further. Not only the textures of the materials but also their functions infiltrate the work.
In Safran-Hon’s artist’s statement, she states her concern with Middle Eastern politics. Her piece, “One Green Line,” is made of cement, thread and fabric enclosed in a wood frame. The title clues the viewer in to the concept. Looking at the chaotic knots of thread and fabric embedded in the concrete, one experiences the consequences of trying to separate populations by erecting borders, real or imaginary. The fact that the lines in the piece are threads that are not straight, and that do not divide but tangle in confusion, reflects the sense of mayhem that this particular separation has caused.
For “Home on Native Land,” a beautifully presented show of provocative new work by Indigenous and Aboriginal artists at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox cultural center, curator Steven Loft channeled his Mohawk heritage. But the exhibit’s dominant themes — home, roots, historical injustice — might also speak to Loft’s Jewish identity. Aboriginal on his father’s side, Loft is the son of a Jewish mother whose parents escaped Germany before the Holocaust. By day, Loft is a Trudeau National Visiting Fellow at Ryerson University in Toronto, where he researches Indigenous art and aesthetics; until 2009, he was the Curator-In-Residence of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa. He talked to The Arty Semite about the intersections of Jewish and Aboriginal culture, First Nations art and how his parents met.
Michael Kaminer: First of all, can you talk about your background? Even in New York, we don’t often meet Mohawk Jews.
Steven Loft: My mom was a bit of a rebel, and was a bit of a handful for my grandparents. At 16, she met a dashing young man at a local dance. His name was Howard Loft, and he was a Mohawk, living in Hamilton [Ontario], but originally from the nearby Six Nations Reserve. I was born the following year.
Did each side of your family accept the other? Did the Jews embrace the Mohawk, and vice-versa?
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.
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.
Unless you live in Toronto, it’s difficult to grasp the cultural, commercial, and Jewish significance of Honest Ed’s. Opened in 1948 by Ed Mirvish — the American-born son of Lithuanian immigrants — the 160,000-square-foot discount emporium has become a kind of landmark for its casino-like exterior, mind-numbing array of goods, and retail showmanship epitomized by trademark signs touting irrationally low prices.
For mid-20th-century Jewish immigrants who lived nearby, Honest Ed’s was a kind of beacon, melting pot and shopping destination rolled into one; for Asian, African, Caribbean, and other newcomers now, its role hasn’t changed. With that in mind, the Koffler Centre of the Arts — a Jewish arts institution whose mission is “to bring people together through arts and culture to create a more civil and global society” — invited six Canadian artists to mine Honest Ed’s history and identity through “interventions” throughout the store.
“Summer Special,” which opened this week, isn’t an explicitly Jewish show; in fact, only one of the artists, Sarah Lazarovic, is Jewish herself. “We like the fact that sometimes our exhibitions are about implicit or inferred Jewish content and we like our viewers to try to decipher and determine it for themselves,” said Lori Starr, the Koffler’s executive director and the vice president for culture at the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. The exhibit is the 13th in the Koffler’s series of off-site exhibitions, which has inserted sometimes-provocative art in venues as diverse as a condemned building, disused photo-processing hut, and an old synagogue. (Full disclosure: the Koffler presented my Forward-sponsored show, “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” at the Gladstone Hotel gallery in 2011.)
As someone who has spent a lifetime working in museums, I’ve long been sensitive to the decisions made in the process of selecting or omitting works for display. According to a recent article on Tablet Magazine, and another in The New York Times, The Jewish Museum in New York made the decision to remove “Stelen (Columns), 2007-2011,” a photographic installation by artist Marc Adelman, consisting of 50 profile pictures from a gay dating site that show men posing against Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The Jewish Museum’s decision to remove Adelman’s work from the exhibit, titled “Composed: Identity, Politics, Sex,” suggests that the issue of censorship in museums has arisen once again. But casually tossing around that accusation every time a museum conflict arises is to do an injustice to the serious nature of real censorship.
Patrons (that is, funders) have often jerked around the creative people hired for their talents. That may be exasperating, but it doesn’t automatically constitute censorship. Nor does a museum’s decision not to display something. Rather, The Jewish Museum’s decision is about a much more troubling issue that doesn’t get much attention: the unauthorized use of images of people in a wide array of photography exhibitions.
You've successfully signed up!
Thank you for subscribing.
Please provide the following optional information to enable us to serve you better.
The Forward will not sell or share your personal information with any other party.
Thank you for signing up.Close