The Arty Semite

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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Exhibit Shows Hidden Side of Amy Winehouse

By Anne Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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R.B. Kitaj Returns to London

By Anne Joseph

Lee Friedlander, Courtesy Frankel Gallery, San Francisco

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

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

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

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Isaac Babel's Last Days in Lubyanka

By Sarah Kessler

Isaac Babel, NKVD Photo, May 1939.

During a script reading at the Jewish Museum London on October 24, two writers with mortality on their minds came face to face: the bushy-eyebrowed 83-year-old East End poet and kitchen sink dramatist Bernard Kops, and the eternally 45-year-old journalist and playwright Isaac Babel.

“Some things grab you; you know what makes a play,” explained Kops on the phone the next day, reflecting on the public debut of his new work “Whatever Happened to Isaac Babel.”

Babel, a one-time protégé of the activist and publisher Maxim Gorky, was a writer held in high esteem among the Russian literary elite, widely translated as he moved between languages and lovers in Moscow and Paris. But during the 1930s, his depictions of corruption in Soviet life (not to mention an affair with the wife of the head of the NKVD), came to a head during Stalin’s Great Purge. Babel was arrested in 1939 for so-called anti-Soviet activities.

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