Photo Credit: Courtesy the University of Haifa
The Oscar Ghez Collection artists

The University of Haifa has launched an exhibit this month featuring the salvaged works of 18 Jewish artists from France whose careers and lives were cut short by the Nazis.

As part of its 46th Board of Governors meeting, the University introduced, “Arrivals, Departures: The Oscar Ghez Collection,” a display that runs at the Hecht Museum in Haifa through Nov. 1, 2018.

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The exhibit reexamines a group of 138 artworks known as the Oscar Ghez Collection. The pieces were donated to the University in 1978 by Dr. Oscar Ghez, and were researched and restored during the past two years by students in University of Haifa’s Weiss-Livnat International Graduate Program in Holocaust Studies.

“Arrivals, Departures” introduces 18 promising Jewish artists of the École de Paris (School of Paris), tracing their varied trajectories as they left their homelands in Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Poland to move to Paris and pursue artistic careers. Racially targeted by the Nazi regime and their French collaborators, the artists were deported and most of their work was destroyed. The exhibit features many of their only remaining pieces.

The Oscar Ghez Collection / Courtesy the University of Haifa

Unfolding chronologically, the works on view are divided into two broad chapters. The exhibition begins with their “arrivals” in Paris in the first decades of the 20th century and concludes with their forced “departures” during the Nazi occupation. It moves from the large, colorful canvases of the 1910s and 1920s inspired by Fauvism, Expressionism, and Cubism, and culminates in works created under duress during the Holocaust.

Grouped according to the major genres the artists gravitated towards (cityscapes, landscapes, nudes, still lifes, and portraits), the exhibit showcases the remarkable range and diversity among the artists. It concludes with juxtapositions between their early and later work, prompting broader questions about how social pressures affect art-making and how artists respond to conditions of persecution.

“Even when rounded-up and interned, artists continued to paint and draw behind barbed wire, in the camps and ghettos, in hiding and in exile,” says Dr. Rachel Perry, the exhibit’s curator, who teaches a course on visual culture and the Holocaust at the University of Haifa International School. “Despite the lack of materials and appalling conditions, they remained fiercely committed to the act of making.”

The students who conducted the research into the collection’s artworks each “adopted” one of the 18 persecuted artists. They delved into every phase of salvaging the pieces, including working in the storage room, digging through archives, installation, documentation, organization, visiting Paris to meet with descendants of the artists, and curation of the exhibit.

The exhibit places the persecuted artists’ work in a broader context for the first time. Original artifacts, documents, and photographs offer a more complete picture of the Parisian art scene in the prewar period and shed light on the ways in which the implementation of the Nazis’ Final Solution affected each artist and his or her work. The Ghez Collection’s pieces are also complemented in the exhibit by loaned works from fellow Israeli institutions including the Ghetto Fighters’ House, Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and Mishkan Museum of Art – Ein Harod, as well as Geneva’s Petit Palais.

“As a university-based museum, the Hecht is the ideal place for this kind of interdisciplinary approach,” said Perry.

The “Arrivals, Departures” exhibit can be viewed through free entrance seven days a week, from 8 AM to 9 PM, in the art wing of the Hecht Museum on the campus of University of Haifa, Mount Carmel.

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