The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Chassidic Art Institute
375 Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn; 718-774-9149
Sunday – Thursday from Noon – 7pm
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
To what extent is your child displaying defiance?
This therapist kept focusing on how “I could do better,” never on how we could make the marriage work.
Mistrust that has lingered after the fiasco in Ferguson, Missouri, has edged the issue forward.
“The observance of a kosher diet is a key tenet of Judaism, and one which no state has the right to deny,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union.
Two weeks of intense learning in the classroom about Israel culminated with Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Students attended sessions with their teachers and learned about history, culture, military power, advocacy, slang, cooking, and more.
The nations of the world left the vessel to sit rotting in the water during one of the coldest winters in decades and with its starving and freezing passengers abandoned.
Rabbi Yisroel Edelman, the synagogue’s spiritual leader, declared, “The Young Israel of Deerfield Beach is looking forward to our partnership with the OU. The impact the OU has brought to Jewish communities throughout the country through its outreach and educational resources is enormous and we anticipate the same for our community in Deerfield Beach as well.”
Our goal here is to offer you recipes that you can make on Yom Tov with ingredients you might just have in the house. Enjoy and chag sameach!
Gardening can be a healthy, wholesome activity for the whole family.
Unfortunately, the probability is that he will not see a reason to change as he has been acting this way for a long time and clearly has some issues with respecting women.
“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.
A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.
Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).
Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.
Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/meer-akselrod-painting-his-people/2011/08/03/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: