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Chassidic Art Institute
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Zev Markowitz, Director
Empathy and memory meet in the work of Meer Akselrod (1902-1970), the Jewish Russian artist who defied aesthetic convention and totalitarian dictates to relentlessly pursue his personal artistic vision of painting the Jewish people. His quiet courage in the face of epochal changes that convulsed his Russian homeland cannot be overestimated. They are amply attested to by his artwork, not the least of which are two pen and ink drawings, Pogrom, from 1927 – 1928, currently at the Chassidic Art Institute.
Pogrom #41 depicts a woman about to be arrested on the steps of her house. Her child clings to her baggy dress as she raises her hand in submission and fright. The hood of her scarf obscures half her face, exposing only her fear and desperation. Akselrod’s expressive use of a black ink wash on the left side echoes the anticipated grasp of her attacker. We can easily see this encounter is not going to come out well.
Pogrom # 41 (1927-1928) by Meer Akselrod
Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute
It is important to historically place this work. Akselrod was then living in Moscow and taught and exhibited at the VHUTEMAS, the Soviet art and design school (similar to the Bauhaus) set up by Lenin in 1920. These drawings most probably reflect his experiences and/or reports of pogroms in Belarus in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War (1917-1923). Whether this drawing is from his own experiences or just reflections of these terrible events, he has fully involved us in the fate of this woman and child. Our empathy is deeply evoked.
A rather different experience is seen in Pogrom #40. Here we witness an attack unfolding in a bizarre scenario. Akselrod’s Rembrandt-like rapid strokes depict a short brutal man grasping a fleeing woman’s shoulder. She is carrying an oddly contented baby while this little man, his fist holding a cane, is about to attack her. Even though he is so much shorter than she is, still he is terribly dangerous, clearly driven by his demented hate. As we are drawn into this unfolding scene we understand that it is the centuries old irrational hate that fuels the pogroms that decimated our people then and continues to attack us even today. Akselrod’s unflinching depiction arouses a historical memory shared by all Jews.
Pogrom # 40 (1927-1928) by Meer Akselrod
Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute
Driven by a fearful Russian government from their provincial Belarusian hometown of Molodechno during the First World War, Akselrod’s family wandered across Russia, finally settling in Minsk in 1917. As a developing artist he gravitated to Moscow and quickly became part of its thriving post-revolutionary artistic environment. He was quickly lauded as a major talent and yet insisted on charting his own aesthetic course. He did not seem to be influenced by the uniquely Russian modernism flourishing at the time, expressed by fellow landsman Marc Chagall or the emerging abstractions of Kandinsky and El Lissitzky. Those artists and others (many of them Jews) would blossom into the highly influential Russian Constructivism, itself espoused in the VHUTEMAS Institute that Akselrod taught in. And yet he stood apart. Independent.
Akselrod’s obsession was with his people. He would sojourn out into the countless Jewish settlements in the countryside, searching for his subjects. Mark (Meer) Moiseevich demanded: “No, We must live in a house, among the locals. To see the way of life. Get to know people. We must try and earn their trust and persuade them to pose for us ” When he was told there were plenty of Jews to paint in Moscow he replied: ” No, they’re not right. The types you’re talking about have become too familiar. There is no freshness of perception. It’s all evaporating, slipping away, while there the Sholom Aleichem atmosphere has been retained ” He saw his job as preserving a vanishing Jewish culture. And over and over he produced “a study of the prominent characteristic of types of Jewish poverty [significantly] an insight into the very essence of national character.” The work of the 1920′s and 1930′s was touched by the expressionism of the times filtered through the influence of the School of Paris, distantly seen from mother Russia. And yet he insisted on his Jewish brethren as his subjects because that world must be preserved. Akselrod’s artwork would not succumb to the newest dictates of official aesthetics, the Social Realism to celebrate the Party and the cut-out Heroes of the Revolution.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at email@example.com
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Leah Katz, a TeenZone camper at Oorah’s TheZone summer camp and an 11th grader at Midwood High School, read her winning essay about how TheZone changed her views on Judaism at the Jewish Heritage Awards Ceremony held at Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office in April. The purpose of the Jewish Heritage Essay Contest is to acquaint public school students with Jewish history and customs and to help foster a deeper understanding of Jewish culture. The contest is open to students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Leah’s essay is reproduced in full below.
Moshe Sharett, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, visited Egypt in 1945. In Cairo he met a most remarkable young woman, a beautiful journalist who was the darling of Egyptian high society – from high-ranking military brass, to culture icons and Muslim sheikhs, to the court of King Faruk.
The two proceeded to talk about everyday things and surprisingly her mother-in-law did not find anything else to criticize. This occurred a few more times, with my client changing the topic every time by complimenting her mother-in-law or mentioning something positive about her.
There is always a lot of confusion surrounding sensory processing disorder – mainly because there are many different diagnoses that fall under the catch-all phrase sensory processing disorder (SPD). Among them are three specific subcategories:
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The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Jewish Press columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder and president of Hineni, the international Torah outreach organization, recently addressed an overflowing audience at the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine in southern California. Rebbetzin Jungreis’s address theme, “Making a Good Relationship Magical,” was apropos for the evening’s main mission: raising funds for the Irvine community’s mikveh.
You have probably been planning your marriage since you were about three. Let’s fast-forward to a big milestone– your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. (Don’t worry, you don’t look a day over twenty one!) Now, would you appreciate your husband buying you a dozen roses that some florist recommended?
As I mentioned in my earlier articles about our family trip to Israel, our night flight went pretty smooth, thanks to my children’s willingness to sleep throughout the flight. I, on the other hand, didn’t sleep a wink and I wasn’t feeling too great by the time we landed. But we were finally in Israel, and just being in the beautifully renovated Ben Gurion airport and hearing all the Hebrew around us was exciting enough.
While all the flowers that grace your Shavuos table will surely be a delight to your eye, these will be a delight for your palette as well. Create them at any level, simple or sophisticated; any way you make them they’re sure to be a sensation.
Welcome back to “You’re Asking Me?” where we attempt to answer questions sent in by people who fortunately have fake names, so they won’t be embarrassed. I don’t know how they got through school, though.
Speechless wonder is the reaction to the beautiful vision seen though the Arch of the Keshet Cave at the Adamit Park in the Galilee. One of the most amazing natural wonders in Eretz Yisrael, the Me’arat Hakeshet — also known as the Rainbow Cave or Arch Cave — can be found up against the Israel-Lebanon border just a few kilometers from Rosh Hanikra and the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. It is situated amid the wild scenery on the cliffs of Nachal Betzet and Nachal Namer, on the Adamit Ridge.
In the eyes of the ram lies the artist’s commentary on the Rosh Hashanah piyyut “The King Girded with Strength.” From the Tripartite Mahzor (German 14th century), this illumination simultaneously echoes the piyyut’s praise of God’s awesome power and expresses the terror of actually being a sacrifice to God. The ram is but a reflection of Isaac. It is all in the eyes.
Reaching back in time to reclaim a family for herself and, in a yahrzeit moment, to rekindle lives snuffed out, Diana Kurz’s paintings stand as testaments to victims of the Holocaust. After a successful 20 year career as an artist and teacher, (with a strong feminist bent), in 1989 Kurz happened upon a few surviving photos of her own relatives “who disappeared during the war.” Suddenly her past opened up and possessed her. This spring (April 4 – May 2, 2012) a series of these paintings was shown at the Art Gallery at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.
Examining a choice selection of drawings done by Itshak Holtz over 30 years ago is a rare pleasure that allows for the appreciation of his unique sensitivity and insights. I was afforded that pleasure at the inaugural exhibition of the Betzalel Gallery in Crown Heights this past May. Although this modest selection of 25 drawings and watercolors of this paradigmatic frum artist ranges from 1963 to 1999, the majority of the works is from the 1970s and reveals a special aspect of his inner artistic soul. The selection of images could easily narrate the fabric of ordinary Jewish life.
Earlier this year I was presenting my survey of Jewish art, “A Jewish Art Primer,” in a West Hartford, Connecticut synagogue and during the intermission a local artist, David Holzman, introduced himself to me. He relayed his rich and fascinating artistic background and then produced a portfolio of 8 black and white prints that he generously gave to me as a gift. As a tantalizing glimpse into recent work, they are truly amazing and I would like to share them with you.
Boris Schatz (1866 – 1932) had a revolutionary vision. He believed that the creation of a new modern Jewish visual culture would become a major force to both articulate a Jewish national identity and sustain the Zionist enterprise. In 1904 he approached Zionist leader Theodor Herzl with the proposal to establish a national arts and crafts school in Palestine and got his blessing. Tragically Herzl died later that year, but the Zionist leadership in Vienna assumed responsibility for the project and its funding.
The exhibitions that precede Judaic auctions are rather special events for anyone who has a feeling for the fabric of Jewish life as it has been lived for the last 500 years. Not only is one afforded the opportunity to see a wide variety of Judaica, books, manuscripts and Jewish art of considerable historic importance, but if something strikes your fancy; intellectually or acquisitively, you can actually handle the objects. For most artwork the thrill is in seeing it up close and judging the brushstrokes and details of a painting or watercolor. One stands in the exact proximity as the creator did.
The auction at Christie’s in Paris this May 11 of a Tuscan Mahzor, created and illuminated in the 1490’s, will be an extraordinary event. This rare example of illuminated Jewish art has not been seen publically in over 500 years and, aside from tantalizing internal suggestions, lacks conclusive identification of the scribe and illuminators. Because the gold-tooled goatskin binding was made about 50 years after the manuscript and has a different coat of arms than those found in the machzor, it is assumed that this prayerbook may have quickly changed hands.
One thing is certain about Robert Feinland – he has shuls on his mind. His career has spanned over 40 years, exploring landscape, cityscape, sculpture and abstraction. For many of those years he has focused on the relentlessly changing urban landscape of New York, feeling the necessity to document and, in some way preserve, the physical fabric of the city he loves. A selection of recent paintings, most concentrating on the Crown Heights community, is currently at the Chassidic Art Institute. Many of the images are of shuls.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/meer-akselrod-painting-his-people/2011/08/03/
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