The Arty Semite

Slideshow: Tennis Playing Czars and Chicken Wielding Rabbis in Russia's Silver Age

By Ezra Glinter

Yana Wernick

When you’ve already had 10 solo exhibits by age 12 and been named the world’s youngest professional artist by the Guinness Book of World Records, where do you go from there? In the case of Stanislav “Stass” Shpanin, a 21-year-old artist from the Former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, you just keep painting.

Since arriving in the U.S. in 2005, Shpanin, now a student at the Hartford Art School at the University of Connecticut, has been building on an already impressive career in the Former Soviet Union and Israel. His latest exhibit, “Age of Empires,” is now on view until July 26 at the Waltuch Gallery in Tenafly, New Jersey. An opening reception for the exhibit will take place July 10.

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Slideshow: Micha Ullman's Fixed and Fluid Sculptures

By Akin Ajayi

‘Chair’ by Micha Ullman, From ‘Under,’ 2011. Courtesy of The Israel Museum.

Despite an almost clinical spareness immediately evident at The Israel Museum’s new Micha Ullman exhibition, one quickly comes to appreciate that the works — individually and as a whole — hint at something more than the stark minimalism they first suggest. Chairs appear consumed by the solid ground; plain display boxes contain red earth, coaxed into abstract yet recognizable forms. There is something of the primeval about the exhibit, a sense of complexity stripped to its most basic elements.

“Sands of Time: The Work of Micha Ullman” is, perhaps surprisingly, the first major retrospective of the artist’s extensive output, spanning the better part of half a century and incorporating sculpture, drawing, etching and installations. The exhibit, running until November 12, is divided into four sections: sculpture, sand, drawings and videos of installations. The main room is dominated by iron sculptures and creations in sand; one might think of the solidity of the one and the fluidity of the other as a study in contrasts. Rather, what surprises is the compatibility between the two.

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Slideshow: A Sculptor at Work

By Ezra Glinter

Arnold Newman, Chaim Gross with ‘Happy Mother,’ 1942. Courtesy of the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation and the Arnold Newman Archive.

During the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, sculptor Chaim Gross (1904-1991) spent two summer months outdoors, working in front of crowds that totalled some 80,000 people. “I would look them over and if they looked intelligent I would answer their questions but if not I would keep on working,” he told the New York Herald Tribune.

It wasn’t just tourists and passersby that stopped to see Gross work. LIFE Magazine photographer Eliot Elisofon also came by, and took several striking pictures of the sculptor, busy in the act of creation.

Those photos are part of a current exhibit, “Displayed: Stages for Sculpture,” on view until December 16 at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation in New York. A practitioner of the “direct carving” method who created totemic human figures out of wood and stone, Gross was a perfect subject for photographers who wanted to capture his creative process.

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Of Women, Comics, and Reclaiming Jewish Stereotypes

By Tahneer Oksman

While various critics have noted the strong influence that Jews have had on the creation of American comics, few have fully explored the role of Jewish women. Yet Jewish women have often been at the forefront of creative explorations in the graphic narrative form. And in many of their comics, Jewish identity is a fertile site of exploration of the unstable, contradictory, and ambiguous figurations of the self in a postmodern world.

Aline Kominsky-Crumb

In a June 23 talk at the New York Public Library in connection with the Forward-sponsored “Graphic Details” exhibit, I will discuss how Jewish identity figures in the works of various contemporary cartoonists, especially those of Aline Kominsky-Crumb. In her autobiographical comics, Kominsky-Crumb plays with long-held stereotypes about Jewish women and their bodies, about women and their bodies more generally, and about the representation of such bodies in the interface of various autobiographical modes. While her work has caused some to refer to her as “sexist and anti-Semitic,” Kominsky-Crumb does not simply reject such bodily codings in favor of new, more politically correct portrayals of Jewish women. Instead, she confronts stereotypical representations of Jewish women by recognizing how ingrained they are in her subjectivity and by portraying them as a constant and sometimes even productive influence in how she sees herself and others. Her work offers up the possibility that longstanding categorizations of the Jewish woman can become empowering, depending not only on who is making the statement (or creating the image), but also on how it is being made.

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Human Rights Advocate Shulamith Koenig's Industrial Folk Sculptures

By Jenny Hendrix

Images courtesy of ET Modern

Shulamith Koenig has little reason to be humble. Well-known for her work as a human rights advocate and her role as founding president of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning, she is, with Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter and James Grant, a recipient of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights. Besides human rights activism Koenig also works as a sculptor, and has exhibited and toured with the like of Japan’s Isamu Noguchi. But in “Industrial Evolution: From Art to Industry to Art,” a diminutive five-sculpture show at New York’s ET Modern gallery in Chelsea, the artwork offers no reflection on Koenig’s many accomplishments. Instead, it pays respectful homage to the mundane work of others, offering something like a frame for an invisible, unknown craftsman.

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To-Do Lists of the Famous and Creative

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Adolf Konrad, packing list, December 16, 1963. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

One of my greatest joys and, along with brushing my teeth, one of the great constants in my life, is making lists.

While my abiding affection for ordering, lining up and then crossing out (what pleasure!) the things I need to do every day may strike some as oddly misplaced, I come by this crotchet honestly. My father, you see, happened to be a great one for lists, filling yellow legal pads with line after line of “to-do” this and that.

He was in good company. H.L. Mencken liked making lists, as did Ad Reinhardt and dozens of other celebrated artists and writers whose tabulations are currently on display at the Morgan Library & Museum in a small but winsome exhibition titled “Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts and Other Artists’ Enumerations.”

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Slideshow: Nir Hod's Cigarette-Smoking Child Geniuses

By Ezra Glinter

Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery

In “Genius,” the current exhibit by Israeli artist Nir Hod at New York’s Paul Kasmin Gallery, pouty, fat-cheeked little boys glare out at the viewer, lit cigarettes dangling insolently from their sausage-like fingers. The series of more than 50 paintings, on view until June 18, is the latest installment in Hod’s growing body of arresting, lurid, and occasionally grotesque artworks.

The Tel Aviv-born painter, photographer, poet and video artist, currently based in New York, came to prominence in Israel in the 1990s with “Forever,” an exhibit and book featuring campy, exaggeratedly glamorous images of Israeli soldiers. Hod began painting the current series three years ago, at first as a side project, but eventually as a more concerted undertaking.

As it’s title suggests, the subjects of “Genius” are precocious and often creepy-looking children behaving provocatively like adults. They are dressed in elegant outfits and sport elaborate hair-dos that are obviously dated but whose period is difficult to pin down. Between their clothes and their dismissive facial expressions these little “geniuses” suggest the corrupting and destructive effects of privilege on the young. Both seductive and repulsive, their sad glamour and insistent sophistication seem to mask a deeper vulnerability.

View a slideshow from Nir Hod’s ‘Genius’:

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Sigalit Landau's Bridges at the Venice Biennale

By Caroline Lagnado

‘DeadSee,’ by Sigalit Landau. Courtesy of the artist and Kamel Mennour Gallery.

While pavilions at the Venice Biennale are typically shrouded in secrecy in the months approaching one of the art world’s biggest events, the content of Israel’s pavilion this year is under especially opaque wraps. In June, Israel will be represented by 42-year-old artist Sigalit Landau, who is prone to keeping mum about her work. But in an event held last March at Sotheby’s auction house on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Landau sat down with one of her curators, Jean de Loisy (the other is Ilan Wizgan), to speak about her concept, “One Man’s Floor Is Another Man’s Feelings.” The event was sponsored by Artis Contemporary Israeli Art Fund and by Kamel Mennour Gallery, which represents Landau in Paris.

Though the project was still in formation at the time, we can report that Landau will address the situation in the Middle East while putting it in a larger perspective; de Loisy put it as “speaking of the local, dealing with the universal.” Using water as an overarching metaphor, as well as salt and land, Landau will discuss coexistence and interdependence, reflecting on Israel’s close proximity to its neighbors. She also seemed to be interested in pre-state settlement activity.

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Women's Liberation and Helène Aylon's 'Word of God'

By Savannah Schroll Guz

Helène Aylon, ‘Self Portrait: The Unmentionable,’ 2010

Performance and installation artist Helène Aylon scrutinizes the entrenched, sometimes invisible, belief systems that shape society. Since the 1970s, she has used her work as a tool for poetic dissent and constructive revisionism. Aylon’s early work contributed to the women’s movement, opposing the unrealistic imagery pedaled by magazines like Playboy. In the 1980s, her focus shifted to ecology and nuclear non-proliferation. By 1990, she turned her penetrating gaze to the religious texts that helped to define her female identity.

The Pentateuch, or Chumash, is the focus of Aylon’s exhibition “The Liberation of G-d and The Unmentionable,” now on view at Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum. The show is part of the Warhol’s ongoing series, “The Word of God,” which features art that addresses religion in ways intended to promote understanding between faiths. Aylon’s show follows the series’s controversial first installment, Sandow Birk’s “American Qur’an.” While controversy is also central to Aylon’s exhibition, her approach is more analytical than accusatory. Aylon acknowledges this, dedicating the show, in part, to her fifth grade Hebrew teacher and a female principal, who “encouraged Boro Park girls to question.”

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Magic as a Jewish Family Business

By Gordon Haber

The Great Ramses Egyptian Temple of the Mysteries, 1909–1910. David Allen and Sons, Ltd., London, 1909–1910. Collection of Mike Caveney’s Egyptian Hall Museum.

Perhaps it’s time to stop being surprised by the disproportionate number of successful Jews in any random profession. That’s one of the lessons to take from “Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age,” an entertaining exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on view until September 4.

The exhibit runs concurrently with the Skirball Center’s showing of “Houdini: Art and Magic,” which was at The Jewish Museum in New York earlier this year. “Masters of Illusion” is intended as a complement to “Houdini,” a way of providing some context to the career of the most famous magician ever, Jewish or otherwise.

“The Golden Age” of the title refers to the time between 1875, when magic as live performance bloomed in America and Europe, and the advent of television in 1948. But the exhibit actually begins earlier, with the inclusion of an edition of Reginald Scot’s “The Discoverie of Witchcraft,” first published in the 16th century. Scot’s book argued that his witch-hunting contemporaries were mistaking prestidigitation for witchcraft. To that end, he wrote about a number of tricks that magicians use to this day.

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Picasso and the Cone Sisters

By Julie Reiss

Pablo Picasso, ‘Woman With Bangs,’ 1902. Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Claribel and Etta Cone were born in Baltimore in 1864 and 1870, respectively. Two daughters from a large family of German Jewish immigrants, they were in many ways ahead of their time. Claribel Cone went to medical school and later became a professor at Johns Hopkins University. Neither sister ever married, and together they traveled, met artists and writers, and formed an important collection of modern art, which Etta Cone ultimately bequeathed to the Baltimore Museum of Art. A portion of this collection, along with archival material, is currently on view at The Jewish Museum in New York.

The Cone collection is most renowned for its Matisse holdings, but, as I will explain in a May 16 lecture at the museum, the two sisters were avid collectors of Picasso’s work as well. While the Picasso holdings currently on view at The Jewish Museum are modest, they rekindle interest in the points of intersection between these collectors and the artist.

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Slideshow: Departures, Experiments and 'Degenerate' Art

By Rebecca Schischa

Gert Wollheim, ‘Head of an Old Man’

Among the Nazis’ persecuted minorities were Jewish and non-Jewish artists, musicians and writers branded “degenerate” by the regime.

“Radical Departures: The Modernist Experiment,” an exhibition currently showing at the Leo Baeck Institute/Center for Jewish History in New York, gathers together work by these “degenerate” artists, including Georg Stahl, Samson Schames, David Ludwig Bloch and others.

Although compact, the exhibit presents a whistlestop tour through the major European art movements from the turn of the 20th century, taking in German Expressionism and Weimar Modernism, through to the Second World War period, and the Surrealism and Abstract art of the postwar era.

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'Baroque Synagogues' at Prague Jewish Museum

By Samuel D. Gruber

Exhibition curator Arno Pařík in the restored synagogue in Boskovice, Moravia. Photo by Samuel Gruber.

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

The Jewish Museum in Prague has opened the exhibition “Barokní synagogy v českých zemích” (“Baroque synagogues in Czech Lands”) curated by Arno Pařík. The exhibtion is at the Robert Guttmann Gallery, and will be on view until August 28.

According to Dr. Pařík, “the exhibition seeks to chart in more detail than ever before a group of lesser-known monuments that uniquely reflect the history and culture of the traditional Jewish communities in this country.”

The exhibition presents a selection of the Czech Republic’s oldest synagogues, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, with particular focus on their plans, designs and decoration. The exhibition also includes many ritual and decorative objects form the Museum collection, including a Star of David, a weather-vane, a stone alms box, a brass lavabo, and a wooden Decalogue (from Roudnice) and other items.

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Reading Diaries by Einstein and Dylan

By Gary Shapiro

Beatnik William Burroughs’s dreams, English art critic John Ruskin’s chess moves, and Bob Dylan’s never-ending tour would seem to have little in common.

Albert Einstein’s journal from 1922. Courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum.

All three, however, are chronicled in a remarkable exhibit at The Morgan Library and Museum on personal diaries. Long before there were blogs, people actually wrote their jottings in notebooks.

The exhibition in New York, titled “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives,” which is open until May 22, shows just how varied such entries can be. Visitors can squint at Charlotte Bronte’s tiny letters, which are nearly impossible to read without a magnifying glass. Forget English diarist Samuel Pepys’s entries altogether: He wrote in a shorthand that resembles a kind of military code. Diaries allow the viewer to tune in (so to speak), to the thoughts and action of Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) on the opening night of “Pirates of Penzance.” (Spoiler: He downs 12 oysters and a glass of champagne.)

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Video: 'Next Year in Uman: A Journey to Ukraine'

By Ezra Glinter and Nate Lavey

Photo by Ahron D. Weiner

In 2004, photographer Ahron D. Weiner took his first trip to the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine. Before his death in 1810, Nachman is said to have promised that if his followers came to his grave on Rosh Hashanah, he would intercede on their behalf in heaven, even “pulling them out of hell by their peyes.” In recent years Uman has become the largest Jewish pilgrimage site outside of Israel, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year, a scene Weiner describes as “Mt. Sinai meets Woodstock.” For six years Weiner returned to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, taking thousands of photographs. In the video below, Weiner describes his experiences in Uman, interacting with and taking pictures of the pilgrims who flock there. An exhibit of these photos titled “Next Year in Uman: A Journey to the Ukraine” is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art.

Watch a video of ‘Next Year in Uman’:

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The Ghosts of Kentridge Past

By Akin Ajayi

“Drawing for II Sole 24 Ore [World Walking],” by William Kentridge, 2007, Charcoal, gouache, pastel, and colored pencil on paper. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

At a remove, William Kentridge’s work can seem like a study in contradictions. His work is heavily influenced by the once repressive — now merely turbulent — politics of his native South Africa, but often features a lightness sometimes bordering on whimsy; his observations have a universality of tone, yet are underpinned by a distinctly personal, at times autobiographical twist. The works themselves — collages, charcoal drawings and animations that Kentridge himself has likened to “stone-age filmmaking” — are functional in form, yet touched with an unexpected gracefulness and charm.

Showing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem through June 18, “Five Themes” explores the last two decades of Kentridge’s prolific output in five mediums — drawing, sculpture, animation, print and stage design. Kentridge is a restless artist; the exhibition demonstrates the breadth of his artistic scope. Even so, a theme does recur, one of preoccupation with the ghosts of the past and their influence on the present.

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Ex-Haredi Artists Grapple With Their Pasts

By Shulem Deen

‘Protection’ by Leah Vincent

A photo of a woman wrapped in phylacteries might not seem very bold after Leonard Nimoy’s “Shekhina” project. But to many of the artists at the opening of a new art exhibit called “All in the Eye,” a photograph of a woman adorned with tallit and tefillin, eye to the camera with a slight smile, represents the height of sacrilege.

The woman in the photo is ex-Hasidic, as is the artist who took it. Both hail from a culture in which the act is still shocking and offensive: a woman entering a man’s domain in search of spiritual fulfillment. The portrait, of course, is powerful both for its rejection of traditional values and the re-appropriation of its ritual objects — especially given its personal context. But it’s the playful, slightly mischievous smile that is most captivating. It is as if both subject and artist, still, after many years, delight in the act of ritual subversion.

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Slideshow: The Ruins of Goodash

By Renee Ghert-Zand

‘Memories 5’ by Gideon Spiegel

In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, Gideon Spiegel, the Tel Aviv-based Israeli artist also known as Goodash, entered an abandoned Egyptian house and leafed through family photo albums that had been left there. That experience of connecting to photos of a family amid the ruins of what was once their home led to his creation of “Memories,” a series of digital collages, or “photodrawings,” which Spiegel says “use imagery that connects to ideas surrounding ancestry, collective memories, and abandoned spaces.” A selection of these works is on view at the Koch Gallery of the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Calif., until mid-June.

By blending his photographs of Christian, Muslim and Jewish buildings in Israel and the Palestinian Territories that have been abandoned since 1950 with antique photographic portraits, and then adding hand-drawn elements, Spiegel aims to evoke a bygone era, “reoccupying [the buildings] with images of former inhabitants.”

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Murdered at Auschwitz, Charlotte Salomon Survives Through Her Art

By Joel Schechter

Gouache from “Life? Or Theatre?” Courtesy of the Charlotte Salomon Foundation.

Three hundred of Charlotte Salomon’s beautiful expressionist paintings illustrating a young German Jewish women’s self-discovery can be seen at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum until July 31. The same week that the San Francisco exhibit opened, an enormous comic book convention nearby attracted thousands of young readers searching for their latest superhero (Green Lantern this year) and his predecessors. I would like to report that all the comic book readers paraded a few blocks across town to pay homage to Salomon’s landmark project, “Life? or Theatre?,” after hearing that her gouaches painted in 1942 anticipated contemporary graphic novels and the films based on them.

Regrettably few of the comic book acolytes left their convention center, as far as I know; but Salomon already has quite a following, thanks to prior exhibits of her masterwork in other cities. First brought to public attention in 1971 by the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam, the series of 1,300 paintings was celebrated over a decade ago at New York’s Jewish Museum, as well as at Boston and Toronto exhibitions. (Amsterdam’s Joods Historisch Museum, repository of the collection, organized the selections in the current West Coast premiere.) By now Salomon’s work also has been well documented in scholarly books, and inspired a fine play by Elise Thoron and a volume of poems by Anne Barrows.

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Generations of Tradition, and Rare Books

By Katherine Clarke

From Ten copper plate etchings by Ira Moskowitz (1912-1985) for Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Satan In Goray.”Courtesy of Cantor Bob Scherr at the Jewish Religious Center

An exhibition of rare Jewish books, now on display at the Jewish Religious Center at Williams College, Massachusetts, marks the center’s 20th anniversary. Alumnus and Jewish art collector Sigmund R. Balka loaned the books — part of his own personal Judaica collection — to the center as a means of honoring its contribution to his alma mater and passing his love of Jewish heritage on to the next generation.

Balka had a different experience from the current Jewish students at Williams: “When I began at Williams there was no Jewish center. In fact, there were very few Jewish students and certainly no place they could worship. There was compulsory chapel,” Balka, who graduated in 1956, told the Forward.

The passing of multiple new administrations since Balka’s college years has rendered the college more accepting and multi-faith, he says. Balka feels an emotional connection to the Jewish center as a symbol for Jewish students and a focal point for religious and cultural activity; “It was moving,” he remembers, “to be at the initiation of the Jewish center 20 years ago, when the prior history of the college, which was not empathetic to Jewish students, was frankly spoken about. Jewish students were able, for the first time, to have a home on campus, to be part of the student body instead of outsiders.”

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