Harold Holzer’s having a big year. “Lincoln and the Jews,” a new exhibition he helped assemble, is on through June 7 at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan. His book “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion” (Simon & Schuster) just won the $50,000 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, awarded annually to a scholarly work on Abraham Lincoln or the American Civil War era. And Holzer himself shook up the art world by announcing his retirement from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he’s been a highly respected public affairs official for 23 years. The Forward talked with Holzer about the New York Historical Society show — and Lincoln’s unusual affinity for Jews, who made up a tiny American minority in his lifetime.
The exhibition gathers original documents, artifacts, photos, and Lincoln’s own writings, many from the private Shapell Manuscript Foundation, which collects original manuscripts and historical documents related to both Jewish and American life. “This show is not just for Jewish visitors,” Holzer said. “I don’t think we’ll get the chance to see this much treasury in one place again, if ever.”
Michael Kaminer: Was there anything that surprised you — one of the world’s foremost Lincoln scholars — as “Lincoln and the Jews” came together?
Sigalit Landau is known for provocative work, like the notorious video piece that showed her spinning a barbed wire hula-hoop, naked.
But Landau’s new show might be her saltiest yet.
The haunting assemblage of objects in “Snow in Jerusalem,” which runs through April 25 at Toronto’s Olga Korper Gallery, includes a bridal gown, violin, and fishing net completely encrusted in gleaming white salt crystals from the Dead Sea.
While the works weren’t created with the Canadian city in mind, “ice, snow, and salt have meanings in Toronto that might have brought some kind of additional value,” Landau said. “Things have different meanings in different places. In Toronto, the work has its own radiance.”
It took years for Landau to perfect her technique of encasing objects in the Dead Sea’s mineral-laden salt; the effect is hypnotic, and a little disconcerting. “When something gets filled with crystals, it becomes part of memory, dysfunctional and quite beautiful,” she said. “I put the violin under the water for several months in the summer until it became encrusted. For the wedding dress, I copied a black dress that was used in a production of ‘The Dybbuk.’ I put it in the Dead Sea; we took high-res video of how this black dress transformed into white. It ended up weighing 300 kilos.”
The Dead Sea looms large in Landau’s new work. “It’s so close to Jerusalem, where I grew up,” she said. “It’s like being next to a volcano. Or an anchor — an archaic anchor. It grounds me.”
“No man in Whitechapel drives a busier or a more paying trade than does the shadchan,” observed the writer Louise Jordan Miln in 1900. In fact, a ledger belonging to a shadkhen, or matchmaker, is one of the objects on display for the first time in “For Richer For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled,” the latest exhibition at the Jewish Museum London. Written entirely in Yiddish, the 1940s ledger shows a list of his prospective clients. A stamp depicting two hands shaking next to the names of a couple indicates when a successful match had been made.
“For Richer For Poorer” celebrates the story of the Jewish wedding in Britain’s Jewish community from the late 19th century to the mid-20th, focusing in particular on the immigrant community who settled in London’s East End. It showcases a range of objects and artifacts, including wedding dresses, photographs and hand-designed ketubot. Invitations, seating plans and menus provide further examples of how the community went about marking the occasion.
Many of the exhibits are from the museum’s own collection but have remained hidden until now. Their inclusion demonstrates a historic partnership with the public, says Abigail Morris, CEO of the Museum, and provide an insight into the traditions, cultural norms and social aspirations of the community. There are some real gems, such as the wedding dresses, which have been painstakingly restored for the exhibition and date from the early 20th century.
Samy Elmaghribi was a hugely popular Moroccan-music star. Salomon Amzallag was a beloved Sephardic cantor in Montreal.
That the pop star and the liturgical giant were the same person has inspired a new exhibition that opened in Montreal February 25.
“Sacre Profane: Samy Elmaghribi” explores the “seemingly opposite” notions of sacred and secular in Elmaghribi’s career; the show also delves into the rich cultural and spiritual life of Moroccan Jewish Montreal.
Posters and ephemera from Algeria, Morocco, France, Israel and Montreal “express Salomon Amzallag’s migration back and forth between these places,” said Stephanie Schwartz, curator of the exhibition and research director of the roving Museum of Jewish Montreal, which organized the show. The singer “was never happy getting cornered into one thing,” Schwartz said. “He was moved by the arts. And he was an observant Jew. But he was still able to tour as a popular singer.”
Yolande Amzallag, Elmaghribi’s daughter, agreed. “It was never a dichotomy in his eyes,” she told the Forward by phone from downtown Montreal, where she works as a translator. “In his life and practice, he didn’t see or live a contradiction. He blended both aspects very harmoniously. The only thing he didn’t reinterpret is some of his earlier songs — they’re more explicit, more erotic.”
Jonah Kinigstein, ‘Coney Island.’ Courtesy the artist and Society of Illustrators.
A certain Jewish weekly rejected one of Jonah Kinigstein’s scathing cartoons back in 2004; responding to the furor over Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” Kinigstein had drawn Jesus tossing the movie into a bonfire in front of the White House.
“I’d sent it to the Forward,” Kinigstein laughs. “They told me, ‘Sorry. We don’t publish cartoons from the outside.’”
Inadvertently, that exchange captured the paradox of Kinigstein’s career. An art-world pariah most of his life, he’s become an unlikely star at age 92, with an acclaimed exhibition of his savagely satirical cartoons at the Society of Illustrators in New York and a new book from comics powerhouse Fantagraphics that shares its title, “The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Tower of Babel in the ‘Art’ World. “
As that name attests, Kinigstein’s work rips into what he sees as the vapidity, pretension and inanity of 20th-century modern art, from institutions like MoMA to gallerists like Ilona Sonnabend to critics like Clement Greenberg. Sacred-cow artists — Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns – don’t escape his poison pen, either.
“I put the cartoons up on walls all over Soho,” he says. “I really gave these people the business. And I got a lot of pushback. Some people wanted to fight with me.”
In its United States premiere, Dani Gal’s short video installation addresses the relationship between a Jewish Holocaust survivor/ Nazi hunter and Hitler’s chief architect/armaments minister. This fictionalized story draws from real-life conversations found in letters between the two men. The show compels the viewer to choose to agree or disagree with the relationship onscreen as it unfolds and knots back together.
Anya Rubin, ‘Natalia,’ 2014
Red on black on crimson on white. Repeatedly layered color arrangements are typical in the work of Anya Rubin, especially when the Russian-born and New York-based artist is depicting her friend’s wine-stained lips or glittering eyes on a canvas. In this way, Rubin’s paintings produce interlocking patterns of abstract color studies that double as portraiture. Two of Rubin’s recent portraits were recently on view at Onishi Project’s current group show in Chelsea.
Titled “Images of Nature and the Nature of Images,” the exhibition explores the representation and function of the image, a Herculean task. The 11 artists’ work ranges from photographs to paintings to sculptures, but the variety in the show barely begins to decipher the age-old question of imagery’s presence and potential in our oversaturated world.
What the show lacks in answers, however, Rubin’s paintings provide in investigation. Do we see color before we see shapes? These two elements intertwine in Rubin’s patchwork painterly effect. Do two circles on a face always correlate and translate as eyes to the viewer? There are too many circles to count on Rubin’s paintings, but the eyes are immediately recongizable. Do we feel convinced or distracted by the illusion of depth depicted on a flat surface? This list of questions can become endless the longer the viewer looks at Rubin’s paintings.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Photo: Rea Ben-David
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?
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.
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.
“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.”
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.