web analytics
September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Apartment 758x530 Africa-Israel at the Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York

Africa Israel Residences, part of the Africa Israel Investments Group led by international businessman Lev Leviev, will present 7 leading projects on the The Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York on Sep 14-15, 2014.



Home » Sections » Arts »

A Jewish Artist, Whether You Like It or Not

 


         Miriam Beerman’s paintings have appeared in more than 100 exhibits, including a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, a first for a woman artist. Her works permanently reside at the San Diego Museum, the Whitney and Yale University’s Sterling Art Library and have made the usual Jewish rounds – the Israel Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Skirball and the Spertus. Her works appeared in the traveling show “Women of the Book: Artists’ Books on Jewish Themes” (1997-2000). But despite her prolific representation at Jewish museums, Beerman, 84, is the first person to question those who overplay her works’ Jewish significance.


 


         Beerman’s paintings, which center on trauma and brutality, are tough to pigeonhole. Some critics have called her an expressionist for her thick colors and bold strokes. Her monsters and demons have earned her comparisons to 18th century Spanish painter Francisco Goya, infamous for his depictions of the Cinco de Mayo massacres and his “Black Paintings” of witches, battles and, perhaps most crudely, Saturn devouring his son. For many curators and critics, interpreting Beerman’s work as related to the Holocaust and Jewish suffering is simply too tempting.

 

         Over the phone from Montclair, NJ, Beerman called herself a “survivor of sorts” or “survivor spiritually,” though she grew up in Rhode Island. She estimated 90 percent of her works refer to the Holocaust. But she stressed her paintings “do not illustrate any aspect of Judaism . . . I’m not a Jewish artist – I am Jewish and an artist.”

 

 



Miriam Beerman. “Imaginary Portrait of V.G. #2.” 1985. Oil on Canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.


 

 

         Still, Donald Kuspit, an art history professor at SUNY Stony Brook and Cornell University, argued Beerman painted Vincent van Gogh as a Jew in “Imaginary Portrait of V.G. #2” (1985). There is no reason to believe that the Dutch painter, whose father was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, was Jewish, but Kuspit wrote in the catalog “Survival: Miriam Beerman” (Queensborough Community College, 2007), “Beerman is Jewish, and the hooked nose she gives to Van Gogh is proverbially Jewish.” Kuspit further referred to the “honorary Jew, a symbol of Jewish suffering and mortification, indeed self-mortification, for Van Gogh cut off his own ear, a prelude to the suicide which was soon to follow.”

 

 



Miriam Beerman in her studio. Photo: Menachem Wecker, 2006.


 

 

         In a review in The Jewish Press (“Beerman’s Plagues,” March 20, 2006), Richard McBee wrote of Beerman’s Plague paintings that “The first thing you notice . . . [is] that the plagues don’t happen to someone else, they just happen, like a permanent state of terror underlying the structure of the universe. The plague itself is dread; anguish and fear of exactly how bad the world can become. In these paintings we are faced with all of our worst nightmares.”

 

         In the column, McBee agreed that Beerman’s van Gogh portrays “a whole people as victims,” and the “stereotypical” profile’s “big nose and thick lips, ostensibly identify him as a Jew.” McBee – who compared Beerman’s van Gogh to Shylock’s soliloquy, “Hath not a Jew eyes?” – said over e‑mail, “I think [Beerman] would agree with what I wrote, especially the quote from Shylock. She is immersed in suffering.”

 

 



Miriam Beerman. “River of Blood” – The Plague Series. 1986. Oil on Canvas. 98.25² x 63.75². Image courtesy of Queensborough Community College.


 

 

         But despite McBee and Kuspit’s confidence, Beerman denied the nose’s Jewishness. So did Kathryn Martini, collections manager at the Syracuse, NY-based Everson Museum of Art, which showed Beerman’s work in “Eloquent Pain(t)” (2007). “If Kuspit sees it as a Jewish nose and sees Jewish identification, I think it’s always possible,” she said, “not something I responded to strongly, but I wouldn’t argue his take.”

 

         Dominique Nahas was not so generous. “Kuspit is hallucinating,” said Nahas, an independent curator, professor at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and critic-in-residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He diagnosed the hallucination as “psychic projection and identification . . . attending to external power agendas” and inadvertent “weak or bad curating.”

 

         Nahas’ own catalog “Bending the Grid: Compassionate Monsters/Wrathful Lambs” (Aljira, 2006) only referred to Beerman’s Jewish identity in three footnotes – two mentioning the Holocaust, and the third, Beerman’s appetite for “Buddhist, Judaic and Christian thought.” Nahas also cited Beerman’s reference to the Hindu god Vishnu, though Beerman said over the phone, “I don’t know at all about Vishnu.”

 

 



Miriam Beerman. “Gulag (Feeding the Muse).” 1990. Oil on Canvas. 58² x 103.5². Image courtesy of Queensborough Community College.


 

 

         Even the Holocaust images, which Beerman acknowledges, are hard to pin down. McBee believes Beerman’s Holocaust references are Jewish due to their emphasis on death. But the “primarily cultural and secular” elements show the artist “willfully ignores the vast and complex narratives and intellectual material found in Torah, Talmud, commentaries, mystical literature and large portions of Jewish history and cultural production,” he said. “She also ignores almost all of the contemporary Jewish and Israeli world.”

 

         Martini said labeling any of the paintings “Holocaust works” is “very limiting,” since the works address “myriad . . . interpretations of the human condition.”

 

         “I haven’t ever felt that Miriam identified or found necessity in being marked a Jewish artist,” she said. “I think the fact that she is Jewish is actually not a very pertinent factor in her work. It only is curious for those who read her work as that of a Holocaust survivor.” Martini added that even Beerman’s series on the Ten Plagues could be seen as relevant to Christians and not strictly Jews.

 

         Despite downplaying the Jewish angle in his catalog, Nahas nevertheless argued that Beerman’s Old Testament references “can be said to relate to and infer her Jewish heritage” and are “classically inclined towards exploring the depths of suffering and its contours and its meanings, which is I think paradigmatically Jewish.” He added that it is fair to assume that religious and social culture has shaped the artist, who is Jewish by birth, “to a more than obvious degree.”

 

         Somehow, regardless of how one views Beerman’s work, it makes some sort of poetic sense that Beerman responded to questions about how to take her work by citing “artists who are more Jewish than I am.” Her example? “Richard McBee.”

 

         Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.  

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “A Jewish Artist, Whether You Like It or Not”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
The Iron Dome was called on for the first time in 2013 to intercept a missile fired by terrorists in Sinai at Eilat.
Iron Dome: Israel Ends the Long Battlefield Reign of the Missile
Latest Sections Stories
Ganz-091214-Fifty

Today, fifty years and six million (!) people later, Israel is truly a different world.

Goldberg-091214

There will always be items that don’t freeze well – salads and some rice- or potato-based dishes – so you need to leave time to prepare or cook them closer to Yom Tov and ensure there is enough room in the refrigerator to store them.

Women's under-trousers, Uzbekistan, early 20th century

In Uzbekistan, in the early twentieth century, it was the women who wore the pants.

Schonfeld-logo1

This is an important one in raising a mentsch (and maybe even in marrying off a mentsch! listening skills are on the top of the list when I do shidduch coaching).

While multitasking is not ideal, it is often necessary and unavoidable.

Maybe now that your kids are back in school, you should start cleaning for Pesach.

The interpreter was expected to be a talmid chacham himself and be able to also offer explanations and clarifications to the students.

“When Frank does something he does it well and you don’t have to worry about dotting the i’s or crossing the t’s.”

“On Sunday I was at the Kotel with the battalion and we said a prayer of thanks. In Gaza there were so many moments of death that I had to thank God that I’m alive. Only then did I realize how frightening it had been there.”

Neglect, indifference or criticism can break a person’s neshama.

It’s fair to say that we all know or have someone in our family who is divorced.

The assumption of a shared kinship is based on being part of the human race. Life is so much easier to figure out when everyone thinks the same way.

Various other learning opportunities will be offered to the community throughout the year.

The new group will also deliver kosher food to Jewish residents in non-kosher facilities, as well as to kosher facilities where the food is not up to par.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/a-jewish-artist-whether-you-like-it-or-not/2008/01/30/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: