web analytics
September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Museum’

Is There Religious Significance To Man Ray’s African Obsession?

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens


Through January 10, 2010


The Phillips Collection


1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, D.C.



 

 

Jews, and particularly Jewish kings of the biblical period, are not supposed to be too keen on horses. An unhealthy love for things equestrian, according to the admonition in Deuteronomy 17:16, will tempt the king to return the Jewish people to Egypt.  That being said, it must be admitted upfront that it is quite a stretch to ask whether a biblical prohibition against amassing royal stables of Egyptian horses applies to Jewish artists today. There are countless representations of the Genesis and Exodus narratives in Haggadahs and other Jewish books – some of which might even have been made by Jewish artists – so there was surely no ban on representing Egypt in art. Yet, if the bible espouses what we can only describe as an anti-Egyptian perspective, which anyone who attends a Passover Seder cannot help but confront, this could trickle down to artists.

 

So when Isaiah 31:1 curses “Woe (hoy) unto those who go to Egypt for help, who depend on horses” and fail to realize “Egyptians are men not G-d, and their horses are flesh not spirit” and Ezekiel 17:15 promises the Jews who send representatives to Egypt seeking horses and servants will not prosper, what, if anything, do they have to say about the Jewish artist Man Ray?

 

“Egypt appears most notably in Man Ray’s chess sets, in which he designed the king as an Egyptian pyramid. But I never considered the biblical connection to Egypt when thinking about those pieces,” said Wendy A. Grossman, curator of the exhibit Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens at The Phillips Collection, in an email. In addition to the show at the Phillips, Man Ray, born Emmanuel Radnitzky (1890 – 1976), is also the subject of an exhibit at The Jewish Museum called “Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention” (through March 14).

 

 

 

Man Ray, Comtesse de St. Exupery Modeling an African Hat, Mode au Congo, 1937, © 2009 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADGAP, Paris, Baltimore Museum of Art.

 

 

According to Grossman, who specializes in Man Ray, the history of photography, early 20th century European and American Modernism, and the relationship between African and modern art, it would be “highly uncharacteristic” of Man Ray to have associated the Egypt of his chess board with the Egypt of Exodus. Indeed, on the website of the Museum of Modern Art, which owns a silver-plated and oxidized silver-plated brass version of Man Ray’s “Chess Set” (1920 – 26), the bible is not mentioned.

 

“Moreover, while Egypt is indeed part of the African continent, the avant-gardes’ embrace of African objects was focused on Sub-Saharan Africa,” Grossman said, “which was rarely considered in relationship to Egypt at that time.” Thus when Man Ray photographed African sculptures and masks, he embraced the objects for “the challenge they presented to Western culture as a whole and classical artistic hierarchies in particular,” according to Grossman, and “the taboo nature of such objects specifically for his Jewish peers was far from his conscious concerns.”

 

But even if Man Ray did not have biblical slavery in mind, there is actually quite an interesting Jewish narrative surrounding one particular photograph (Man Ray’s most famous, of the artist, singer and model Kiki of Montparnasse with an African mask) that appears in both the Phillips and the Jewish Museum shows, according to Grossman. In the black-and-white image, Kiki’s white face with black hair sharply contrasts with the black mask, although there are similarities between the softly modeled features of the mask and the model. Though the two faces have many differences (cultural, ethnic, racial), they share a similar olive-shape and striking beauty.

 

 


Man Ray, Black and White (Noire et Blanche), 1926, © 2009 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADGAP, Paris, Baltimore Museum of Art.

 

 

Writing in “Unmasking Man Ray’s Noire et blanche” (American Art, summer 2006) with co-author Steven Manford, Grossman notes that varied interpretations of Man Ray’s “enigmatic” photograph of the mask reflect the image’s “ambiguous and provocative character.” Instead of turning out to belong to “a phantom French collector of African art,” the mask, Grossman and Manford discover, belonged to the American George Sakier (1897 – 1988), a Paris-based art director for Vogue, which published the photograph.

 

“Although the relationship between these two individuals has been largely overlooked, they knew each other growing up in Brooklyn, where Sakier’s Russian Jewish family (then Sacken) had immigrated around the same time as Man Ray’s,” Grossman said. She says it is “anyone’s guess” whether Jewish artists at the time like Man Ray may have been more likely to have been sympathetic to art of other marginalized groups (like Africans) since they were considered outsiders themselves.

 

“But it is worth noting that a Jewish artist, Max Weber, was instrumental in bringing African art to the American avant-garde after his studies in Paris,” she said, “just as an artist of Jewish origin (viz., Man Ray) was instrumental in introducing African art to a large audience through his photographs.”

 


Man Ray, Untitled (Akan goldweight), c. 1933, © 2009 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADGAP, Paris, Private Collection.

 

 

Man Ray certainly tried to distance himself from his Jewish identity, which the Jewish Museum website calls “conflicted,” though it “was central to an artist who yearned to escape the limitations of his Russian Jewish immigrant past.” But he may have intentionally embraced props that were familiar to him since his father worked in a garment factory and ran a tailoring shop, and his mother was a seamstress: tailor’s dummies, flat irons, sewing machines, needles, pins, threads and fabric.

 

References to Egypt, biblical prohibitions against creating taboo idols and interest in marginalized art might amount to nothing more than a series of coincidences, but what is clear is that viewers seeking Jewish relevance to Man Ray’s work can find it not only at The Jewish Museum, but also at the Phillips Collection fantastic examination of the artist’s approach to African iconography.


 


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.

Menachem Wecker

Is Abstracting The Holocaust The Same as Denying It?

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Abstraction and the Holocaust


By Mark Godfrey


Yale University Press, 2007, $55


http://yalepress.yale.edu/


 


 


 


         When Mark Godfrey first stumbled across Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered European Jews in Berlin, he did not recognize it. On a walk, he found himself in “a huge space that I have since read is the size of two football pitches,” which was “cordoned off by a wire fence.” The space was “all pretty messy: the grass had not been cut back; there was the odd portacabin here, a small truck there,” yet Godfrey could tell “something was definitely happening: I could see, against the sandy soil, groups of grey concrete rectangular blocks.”

 

         Though he is a lecturer in history and theory of art at University College London, Godfrey can be forgiven for being confused when viewing the site of the Berlin Holocaust monument. It is abstract, after all, resembling the prehistoric structures of Stonehenge, if a mighty wind blew the tops off. But in a time where rogue world leaders are being charged with Holocaust denial, do abstract memorials which confound art scholars help or harm Holocaust memory?

 

         Godfrey acknowledges Eisenman’s work raises many important questions, “all of them difficult.” He asks: “What does it mean to memorialize Nazism’s victims in the centre of Berlin?” and “What, and who exactly is being remembered in this site?” But the aspect that caught Godfrey most off guard, which is the central subject of his book Abstraction and the Holocaust, is the way that “abstraction and Holocaust memory,” which has a bittersweet 50 year history of being ignored, “had come together in such a public way.”

 

 


Cover shot,  Abstraction and the Holocaust.

 

 

         The sort of inquiry Godfrey conducts navigates several complicated terms which require unpacking. To define abstraction, he cites Briony Fer’s definition, “a type of art which does not allow us to interpret it with reference to what is depicted.” Godfrey explains, “Abstract artists eschew depiction and figuration and sometimes, overt symbolism, but this is not to say their work refuses signification. In front of abstract art works, the lack of a depicted image tends to heighten our awareness of materials, of compositional (or anti-compositional) structures, of the process of looking itself.”

 

         The “process of looking itself” and “our awareness of materials” make for insightful conversations in museums and galleries, but does abstract art, insofar as it is divorced from subject matter, really convince the viewer of its content?

 

         When Picasso drew a Cubist painting, he surely saw the model sitting in front of him. He chose to leave viewers not with a mug shot of that model that would help identify her in the street, but with a work that had more to do with paint, color, line and perhaps time, than it did with a woman. This sort of representation (which is of course non-representational) can be viewed either as transcending realism and capturing something about the model that is more than skin deep, or as neglecting the model altogether. “If my husband ever met a woman on the street who looked like the women in his paintings, he would faint,” Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s second wife, once said. The same ought to extend to artists depicting anything abstractly, including the Holocaust.

 

         Godfrey briefly entertains the possibility that abstraction is the best form of representing “an event that is beyond representation.” He quickly rejects the model that the Holocaust is “sublime” or “unrepresentable.” Just because we cannot fathom the evil of genocide, does not mean we cannot discuss it in paint or words. If the reverse were true, only murderers could truly understand Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Julius Caesar.

 

 



Frank Stella. Chodorow II, 1971. National Gallery of Art. According to Godfrey, Stella’s “Polish Villages” series was based upon synagogue architecture.


 

 

        Abstraction and the Holocaust explores the works of several artists, including: Barnett Newman, Louis Kahn, Frank Stella and Beryl Korot. But Godfrey’s discussion of the work of Morris Louis, reviewed in this column on November 13, 2007, specifically the Charred Journal: Firewritten paintings, offers the most interesting perspective on the question of abstraction’s ability to engage the Holocaust.

 

         According to Godfrey, the “firewritten” aspect of Louis’ piece references Nazi book burning, as well as the original form of the Torah, which, according to Midrashic and Kabbalistic texts, consisted of white fire letters composed on black fire. Godfrey notes the sources “are extremely visual, describing the origin of the book through the distinction of figure and ground that occurs when white fire is seen against black, but also when black ink stands out against white parchment.”

 

         Further, “the white lines become suggestive of the renaissance of writing since the Jewish book, though destroyed by flames, was born as flames.” Louis’ work shows that the letters of the books burnt by the Nazis may have flown away like those of the 10 Commandments Moses destroyed, “since unlike the stone they were indestructible.” Godfrey speculates, “Perhaps Louis wished to suggest that like G-d’s letters, the writing burnt by Nazi fires would not be destroyed, but would fly away unharmed.”

 

         As a fair art historian should, Godfrey explores what he calls the “modernist” position, typified by renowned art historian Michael Fried, which holds the woks to be unconnected to any Jewish material. “Michael Fried, for instance, would never have looked at the title in order to explain the possible significance of the works; he would never have begun to read the white lines, even as unreadable or destroyed or proto-writing. He would have seen them simply as figures against a ground,” Godfrey writes. “It is possible to imagine another viewer before the paintings, at first considering associations and forming readings of the kind suggested in the last section of this chapter, and then suddenly halting, viewing the surfaces anew with the eyes of a modernist critic, and seeing them just black and white, paint and canvas, figure and ground.”

 

 


Joel Shapiro. Loss and Regeneration, 1993. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, DC. According to Godfrey, “From some perspectives, the shape appears as an angular tree, and from others, it resembles a falling ‘stick man’ whose ‘head’ tips downwards towards the left, and whose ‘arm’ is raised upwards to balance the fall.”

 

 

         Godfrey admits this sort of interpretation renders his analysis of Louis as a Jewish artist “extremely precarious,” but he has the insight to ask the further question: “what should be made of this precariousness?” The question is particularly potent given the fact, as Godfrey later discusses, that Barnett Newman’s widow claimed that his own “White Fire I” bore no Jewish or Kabbalistic relevancy beyond its title.

 

         Newman himself had written an angry letter to Hans van Weeren-Griek, then curator of The Jewish Museum in New York, about the 1965 symposium, “What about Jewish Art.” Newman wrote he wanted to “express my disgust at the Jewish Museum’s sponsorship of the debate ‘What about Jewish Art’ … What the Jewish Museum has done is to compromise me as an artist because I am Jewish. Please therefore notify all concerned not to ask me to cooperate ever with any of your shows since you have made it impossible for me to show my works in your museum.”

 

         In asking the question whether he has wasted his time interpreting abstract work symbolically, as Newman charged The Jewish Museum had done, Godfrey discovers that “There is surely something important about the unfixability of the references to the book burnings and to the renaissance of Jewish writing. There is something compelling about the idea that the paintings can encourage interpretations of the kind I have suggested and also of the kind made by the modernists.”

 

         If a “realistic” painting of Auschwitz approximates a literal photograph of the location, an abstract work, according to Godfrey, can include many levels of interpretation. As the joke goes, 20 Jews will undoubtedly voice 21 opinions, and an abstract Holocaust memorial can contain as many interpretations as there are people. This undoubtedly will cause some people to worry, for multiple interpretations can quickly degenerate into chaotic misinterpretations.

 

         But Godfrey returns to his experience of Memorial to the Murdered European Jews at the end of the book. Wandering throughout the different paths of the piece, he discovered “the memorial would exceed my attempts to fathom it. To walk within the memorial was to become at once conscious of the random nature of my own navigation, and of the uniformity of the directional choices available to me.”

 

         It might be better if we could forever continue to remember the Holocaust in a linear way, but as we approach the time where there will be no living witnesses of World War II, this sort of memorial will become the norm. As art lovers and as people interested in preserving Holocaust memory, viewers would do better to examine its potential than to bemoan its relativism.

 

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

Menachem Wecker

The Un-chosen Artist

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007


Frida Kahlo: Public Image, Private Life.


A Selection of Photographs and Letters


July 6, 2007-October 14, 2007


The National Museum of Women in the Arts


1250 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC


http://www.nmwa.org


 


 


 


         In a 1972 study, Stanley Milgram found that “familiar strangers” who share a repeated experience (like riding the same bus every day) are likelier to communicate when cast into an unfamiliar setting, than are two strangers with no such shared experience. Apparently, Milgram found, strangers recognize some form of “real” relationship in chance encounters, in which they do not communicate or even know each other’s name. Perhaps Jews who seek to claim celebrities like Chagall hope to share a similarly “familiar” religious experience with him. Many artists who are claimed as Jewish do not identify as such, like non-Jewish painters Paul Klee and Max Ernst, whom the Nazis denounced as Jewish “degenerate” artists. Indeed Chagall painted not only shtetl scenes, but also crucifixions, and many historians consider Chagall a Christian artist, as Rowena Loverance of the British Museum argues in “Christian Art” (Harvard UP, 2007).

 

         Klee and Ernst would have preferred that Hitler not identify them as Jews, but Mexican-born painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) happily celebrated her “perceived” Jewish lineage, at least in the narrative of the show “Frida Kahlo: Public Image, Private Life” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. According to the exhibit wall text, Kahlo, who was the third of four daughters born to “a German Hungarian-Jewish father and a mother of Spanish and Mexican Indian descent,” strongly identified with native Mexican traditions, though her public identity and personal reality were complex and multifaceted. “She was equally proud of her father’s German Hungarian-Jewish heritage, spoke perfect English, studied German, and was well acquainted with European intellectual currents,” the text claims. “Frida Kahlo’s identity, public and private, was a unique synthesis of influences, a simultaneous powerhouse of radical politics and traditional aesthetics.”

 

 



Frida Kahlo. Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937. Oil on Masonite 30 × 24 in. National Museum of Women in the Arts.


 

 

         “I believe, without a doubt, that Frida Kahlo was a Jewish artist,” said Jason Stieber, archivist at the NMWA, through e-mail. But Stieber said other aspects of Kahlo’s identity played much greater roles in her life and work. “Frida was many things … and she embraced wholeheartedly everything that she was,” he said, noting that Frida “was proud of this lineage” and greatly delighted in “wheedling anti-Semites in America,” such as her famous inquiry put forth to Henry Ford of whether he was Jewish. Although she was an atheist, “she abhorred the Catholic religiosity of her mother,” and she “did embrace her Jewish ethnicity, if not the tenets of Judaic faith.”

 

         “So yes, Frida was a Jewish artist,” Strieber continued, “however, I think she would have been more likely to refer to herself as a Mexican artist. Mexico held a very special place in heart and in her art.”

 

         But Gaby Franger’s and Rainer Huhle’s new book Frida’s Father: The Photographer Wilhelm Kahlo (Schirmer, 2005) reveals that Wilhelm Kahlo was in fact German Protestant rather than Hungarian-Jewish. In “Frida Kahlo’s father wasn’t Jewish after all,” an article in the Jerusalem Post (4/20/06), Meir Ronnen observed, “Frida herself was probably the source of the claims to her Jewish connection.” Ronnen speculates that Frida’s identification with Judaism was an effort in distancing herself from the Nazis. “My guess is that German connections during the Nazi era were an embarrassment to her,” he wrote.

 

 



Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at home, 1941. By Emmy Lou Packard. Platinum/palladium print. Throckmorton Fine Art.

 

 

         Gannit Ankori, chair of the art history department at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and curator of the Jewish Museum’s 2003 show, “Frida Kahlo’s Intimate Family Picture,” also cited the position, that Kahlo sought to distance herself from the Nazis based upon the fact that testimony about Wilhelm Kahlo’s Jewish background surfaced most frequently between 1936 and the 1940s. But she said over email, “I think in light of the new findings, these issues require further investigation. What is of great interest to me is not Wilhelm Kahlo’s ‘real’ religion, but Frida Kahlo’s construction of her self-image” insofar as it “impacted Kahlo’s self-image as manifested in her art.”

 

         In a press release to Ankori’s show, the Jewish Museum promised to reveal important aspects of Kahlo’s “hybrid and multicultural identity, as the daughter of a European Jew and a Mexican Catholic mestiza (a woman of mixed European and Mexican Indian descent).” It also quoted Ankori, “Kahlo was interested in her Jewish roots and viewed them as part of her ‘genealogical identity.'”

 

         Ankori, who has not read the Franger and Huhle book (it is in German), readily admitted Frida was not Jewish. “Frida Kahlo was certainly not Jewish since Judaism is a matrilineal religion and her mother was a Catholic mestiza,” she said. “Moreover, as is well known, Frida was raised as a Catholic, later became a communist and an atheist, finally – towards the end of her days (as her diary indicates) she espoused oriental beliefs.” Ankori added that Kahlo testified “many times” about her Jewish identity, “stressing that her paternal grandparents, Henriette Kaufmann and Jakob Kahlo, were Jews from the city of Arad.” Further, many people who knew Frida and Wilhelm, such as Frida’s biographer, Hayden Herrera, and Frida’s husband Diego Rivera’s biographer, Bertram Wolfe, personally repeated this fact, Ankori said.

 

 


Frida Kahlo with pigeons, ca. 1940s. By Juan Guzmán. Gelatin silver print. Throckmorton Fine Art.

 

 

         To Ankori, the question is whether Henriette Kaufmann was Jewish, since her Jewishness would make Wilhelm Jewish “according to both Jewish Halakha and Nazi laws.” If instead Wilhelm was a German Lutheran (Ankori says Lutheran, while Ronnen wrote Protestant), “why would Frida Kahlo ‘create’ a Hungarian Jewish genealogy for him and for herself?” Ankori wondered.

 

         In her column “Draft Picks” at Nextbook.org  (5/18/06), Robin Cembalest, executive editor at ARTnews magazine, wrote of the claim that denies Wilhelm Kahlo’s Jewishness, “The revelation, if true, throws an awkward shadow on the multiplicity of efforts to tease out the Jewish identity of the multiply hyphenated artist, who famously got a kick out of asking Henry Ford if he was Jewish.” In her article, Cembalest cited the Jewish Museum’s show, which centered upon Kahlo’s 1936 painting, “My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree)” and a book from Kahlo’s library on the Inquisition’s torture of Mexican Jews. Over email, Cembalest said she interviewed Franger and Huhle, and they said no one had contacted them to contradict their book.

 

         “In my world the process of defining Jewish art, or what is Jewish in art, is both parlor game and intellectual exercise,” Cembalest wrote. “Either way, clearly it reveals as much about who is doing the assessing as it does about the figures we are claiming for our team.”

 

         Stieber of the NMWA phrased it a bit differently. “Sharing a common trait with someone of greatness brings us a step closer to that greatness. Jews can say with great pride that, as a people, they have produced some of the world’s greatest artists, scientists, musicians, and so forth. Cultural, racial, and religious pride contributes to cultural, racial, and religious cohesion.

 

         “To that extent, it is important to account for an artist’s religious/ethnic identity when examining his or her work,” he added. “Artists work within a constellation of influences, and it is one of the jobs of the art historian to discover what those influences are or were. More often than not, religious and ethnic identities are the most powerful influences in an artist’s life and work.”

 

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

Menachem Wecker

All Around The Town

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 13

         Anger’s Way Out – Helping Children Deal With Their Feelings. Join author and counselorKarin Biron-Deckel, as she discusses her new book Anger’s Way Out. 7:30 p.m. Friedberg JCC, 15 Neil Court, Oceanside, L.I. 516-766-4341 ext. 114. www.friedbergjcc.org.

 

         Rich Cohen, author of Sweet and Low, will speak as part of Jewish Book Month at the JCC, 411 E. Clinton Ave., Tenafly, N.J. 8 p.m. 201-569-7900 x 233.

 

         “The Last Days” – film screening at Rosenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, CUNY, 265 Fifth Ave., N.Y.C. 6:15 p.m. 212-807-1949.


THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14

         The Tanya: GPS For The Soul, by Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, introduces concepts of Chassidic spirituality in: “The Tanya: GPS For the Soul – Navigating Your Way Through Life”. 7 p.m. Chabad Lubavitch of Midtown Manhattan, 509 Fifth Avenue. 212-972-0770.

 

         “Beyond Eruv” – Winner, Best Feature Documentary. Screened at Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manahttan. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15

         Russian Shabbat: Join RJeneration, a dynamic social network of young professionals with Jewish roots and Soviet heritage. Hear from journalist Boris Fishman, author of a recent article in The New Republic, “Glasnost Grows in Brooklyn.” 7 p.m. RSVP. Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manhattan. 212-601-1000.  www.makor.org


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16

         Shabbat Luncheon, with singing by Nachum Deutsch. Yorkville Synagogue, 352 E. 68th St., N.Y.C. Shacharit at 9 a.m. Divrei Torah by Rabbi J.D. Bleich. 212-249-0766.

 

         Sephardic Music Festival. Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manhattan. 8 p.m. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17

         Chanukah Party. Friedberg JCC, 15 Neil Court, Oceanside, L.I.  11 a.m. 516-766-4241. www.friedbergjcc.org

 

         Dreidel House, featuring Small Wonder Puppet Theater. Chabad Lubavitch, 419 E. 77th St., N.Y.C. 11:45 a.m. 212-717-4613.

 

         Chanukah Art Fair, ages 3+. Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave., N.Y.C. Noon; Gallery Tour, ages 8-12 at 10:30 a.m.; Concert, Hot Pea’s and Butter Celebrate Chanukah, ages 3+ at 2 p.m. 212-423-3271.

 

         Sephardic Concert and Scholarship Series. 8 p.m. Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manhattan. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org

 

         The Menorah: Symbol of Truth – talk by Rabbi Eliyahu Kirsh. Beth Chaim Learning Center. 8 p.m. 718-851-1237. Call for location.


TUESDAY, DECEMBER 19

         The Bnai Zion Chanukah Party. 7:30 p.m. High Chai, 18 Avenue B, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. 212-725-1211 ext. 222.

 

         Rosh Chodesh program for women. JCC, 411 E. Clinton Ave., Tenafly, N.J. 7:30 p.m. 201-569-7900.


WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 20

         The Art of David Schwab – reception and talk at the Friedberg JCC, 15 Neil Court, Oceanside, L.I. 7:30 p.m. 516-766-4241 ext. 114. www.friedbergjcc.org.

 

         The Chai Center will “Light up the Night” with a giant outdoor menorah at the intersection of Deer Park Avenue and Vanderbilt Parkway.  501 Vanderbilt Pkwy., Dix Hills. 6 p.m. 631-351-8672. mail@thechaicenter.com

 

         Menorah Lighting at the Plainview Shopping Mall, Woodbury Rd. at S. Oyster Bay Rd. junction. 4 p.m. 516-682-0404. Town of Oyster Bay Chabad.


THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21

         Makor Dreidel Slam. Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manhattan. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org

 

         All-night Chanukah bash featuring live klezmer by the Alex Kontorovich Trio, theater performances and ninja puppetry with Dov Weinstein. Latkes, jelly doughnuts and wine included. 7:30 p.m.

 

         Chanukah Party. Israel American Foundation. Workmen’s Circle, 45 E. 33rd St., N.Y.C. 2 p.m. 212-869-9477.


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24

         Zionism: Yesterday and Today – talk by Rabbi Eliyahu Kirsh. Beth Chaim Learning Center. 8 p.m. 718-851-1237. Call for location.

 

         Jewish walk and talk of the Lower East Side with Dr. Phil. Meet outside Katz’s Deli, 205 E. Houston St., N.Y.C. 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. 888-377-4455.


MONDAY, DECEMBER 25

         Family gallery talks, storytelling and art workshops. 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave., N.Y.C. 212-423-3271.

 

         Jewish walk and talk of the Lower East Side with Dr. Phil. Meet outside Katz’s Deli, 205 E. Houston St., N.Y.C. 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. 888-377-4455.


DECEMBER 25-JANUARY 1, 2007

         18th annual Yeshivas Yarchei Kallah of Flatbush. One Week Kollel at Congregation Bais HaKnesses, 1040 East 17 St. (near Ave. J). 9-5 daily. Call 718-998-5822 to enroll.

Dr. Ari Korenblit

What’s New With Jewish-American Superheroes?

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Masters of American Comics


September 15, 2006-January 28, 2007


The Jewish Museum


1109 Fifth Avenue – at 92nd Street, New York


212-423-3200, www.thejewishmuseum.org  


 


 

 “Take a sock at Hitler! Sock your dough in bonds and stamps!” says one comic. Another shows Captain Marvel, Jr. defeating a Nazi and insisting, “Come on, you Nazi man, we’ve got a date with the American Embassy.” Another shows Captain America breaking into a Nazi lab to rescue a patient from an evil Nazi doctor (with a green face), who is performing unethical paralyzing experiments. A fourth one still shows Superman bending the gun of a tank with swastikas, rendering it harmless.

 

 The Masters of American Comics at the Jewish Museum is accompanied by a show by the same name at the Newark Museum. They differ in chronology (the Jewish Museum looks at the second half of the 20th century, while the Newark Museum looks at the first half) but both show a slew of comic book artists, many of them Jewish. Some of the names are familiar, while others will only prove recognizable to comic book “junkies”: Winsor McCay, Lyonel Feininger, George Herriman, E.C. Segar, Frank King, Chester Gould, Milton Caniff, Charles M. Schulz, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb, Gary Panter and Chris Ware. Still others surface in the Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics section of the Jewish Museum show.

 



Jack Kirby, splash page from Fantastic Four #51 (published June 1966), comic book. Private Collection. FANTASTIC FOUR: ™ and © 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. Used with permission. (The character depicted, The Thing, is one of several Jewish superheroes.)


 

 

 Many of the artists have been reviewed in these pages, particularly Eisner, Joe Kubert and others in an exhibit on Jewish comic book artists a few years ago at the JCC in Manhattan. As I and Richard McBee have written several times, it was the children of Jewish immigrant parents that, in many ways, started comic books in this country. These teenagers created the superheroes that were mighty enough to defeat the Nazis.

 

 But what is new with Jewish comic book art? The Jewish Museum and Newark Museum shows are to be commended for their tremendous research and ability to collect comic books and strips. There are nearly 600 objects in both museums, according to the press releases, which is remarkable – even to those who see comic books as the domain of kids. Yet, unless the exhibits can add something vital to the discussion of American comic books and superheroes, they are doomed to just be a parking garage of once-significant strips.

 

 One strip that might offer some relevance is Still Life by Jerry Robinson. In the strip, a cannon addresses a nearby cannon ball. “What is a limited war?” the gun asks. “That’s one where the casualties don’t exceed the birthrate,” the bullet replies. Especially after the recent commemoration of the 9/11 horrors and with American troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan, this strip carries a significant message.

 

 The way we, as Americans, measure a failure in war often involves one or two soldiers killed in battle. This attention to each and every soldier as a human casualty rather than a statistic is just the sort that arises in the battle at the city of Ai in the Book of Joshua, in which 36 Jewish soldiers are killed by the soldiers of Ai because Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, stole from the siege. Thirty-six casualties are enough to lead Joshua to fall on his face and ask how G-d could have taken the Jewish people out of Jordan “to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?”

 



Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts, newspaper, Sunday page (published October 13, 1968), pen and ink. Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. PEANUTS © United Feature Syndicate, Inc.


 

 

 Joshua has not lost faith because of 36 casualties; he simply has the utmost respect for each and every one, which is why he responds to such a small number of casualties with such tragic concerns. (Consider that at war’s end, the casualties on the Ai side “both of men and women were 12,000, even all the men of Ai.”) Joshua ends up resolving the conflict in superhero fashion by catching the culprit with the use of a divinely inspired lot. But as the cannon strip ironically suggests, oftentimes the human element is overlooked at war.

 

 There is a lot at stake in the Robinson strip, which uses a somewhat juvenile form to convey a very mature narrative. Like blogs, comic strips were and are a medium that could be used for bolder and more honest tales than novels. In the show, a Peanuts strip by Charles M. Schulz further underscores this comparison. Charlie Brown is sitting on the floor drawing, when Lucy comes up and tells him that his drawing, which he describes as “a row of trees, and I’m going to color them green,” is not art.

 

 Disturbed, Charlie offers to add a lake in front of the trees to turn his drawing into art. “That still won’t make it art,” Lucy insists, to which Charlie offers to add a tiny log cabin beside the lake. And, so it goes, Lucy demands a waterfall, a sunset, the sun going down “sort of orangey,” some red streaks in the sky, smoke from the chimney and a forest with a deer to turn the drawing into art. “Now you have trees, a lake, a log cabin, a waterfall, a deer and a sunset That’s art!” she yells. As she walks off, Lucy mutters to herself, “Sometimes it takes a layman to set these people straight.”

 



George Herriman, Untitled (Krazy Kat), 1939, watercolor, inscribed with a dedication to Boyden Sparkes (in a golden Magen David). International Museum of Cartoon Art. © 2005 Reprinted with permission of King Features Syndicate.


 

 The Jewish comic book artists who drew superheroes beating up Nazis were laymen. They had a great imagination, and they managed to bring interesting technology and complex, secret military plans into their narratives. But like Lucy, they were just offering fairly unproductive, though imaginative, criticism.

 

 In the cover of the March, 1941, (No. 1) issue of Jack Kirby’s and Joe Simon’s Captain America,the issue is teased, “Smashing thru, Captain America came face to face with Hitler” On the cover, Captain America, while blocking Nazi shots with his red, white and blue shield, punches Hitler in the face, knocking him to the ground. In many ways, Kirby and Simon were just giving an image to their fantasies about accessing and reprimanding the Nazi regime. Many will find this immature and disrespectful to the victims.

 

 But stories were all that the young Jewish American comic book artists had – much as they are all we have now – as we face the threats of global terrorism, with much of it specifically targeting Jews. Masters of American Comics is so important because it not only stresses that in some ways nothing has changed and we are still in danger, but also because it teaches us to hope and dream for heroes and leaders who can set things straight by defeating evil.

 

 Menachem Wecker is a painter and assistant editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Menachem Wecker

A Gift From Tattie – A True Story

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

      Some may say that certain unlikely events and their timing are a matter coincidence, but we who believe that Hashem is the Eternal Mastermind of the Universe – know better.

 

      Mr. “Goodman” (not his real name) was a Jew who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. While many of his peers stopped believing in God, Mr. Goodman stood firm in his belief in His Creator and accepted all that had happened to him and his family will full emunah.

 

      Mr. Goodman and his wife, an aishes chayil in the full sense of the word, rebuilt their lives and established a family of several children. Both he and his wife worked hard to support these children, living a simple life without luxuries so that they would have the funds to send their children to yeshiva as well as ensuring they would lack for nothing. While their friends vacationed in Florida during the winter or updated their furniture or appliances, the Goodmans worked non-stop, squirreling away their money so that their kids would have what they needed.

 

      The years went by and, as it is the way of the world, both Mr. and Mrs. left the family they had created to join the families they had been born into – all of whom eagerly awaited them in the Next World.

 

      Yet even in death, the giving to the children continued.

 

       For ’round the time the Goodman children were emptying out their parents’ home – one they had lived in for over 30 years – a distant relative visited from out of town. She volunteered to join them one evening as they cleared the house that was full of old bills, magazines, Yiddish newspapers etc. As the relative took out some trash, she noticed a tattered folder in an open garbage bag. Curious, she opened it and found an identity card with Mr. Goodman’s photo with wording in German. There were several other documents all in German and she had no clue what they said. She mentioned the “find” she had rescued from the trash and was told to toss it. She decided to keep it and perhaps offer the documents to a Jewish Museum or even Yad Vashem next time she went to Israel, but she never got around to it.

 

      Later that year it was decided that a one-time payment be given to Jews who could prove that they were slave laborers in Nazi concentration/labor camps. Even though he was no longer alive, Mr. Goodman still qualified based on the deadline that had been established.

 

      The children, busy with raising families of their own and very aware that gathering documents that were over 50 years old would be time-consuming – if not futile – were not interested in pursuing the matter further. They did not have the time nor emotional stamina to visit that dark place in their father’s life.

 

      But their relative did. And so she sent in the ragtag documents in German with no idea what these documents meant. It was a long shot – one that would take years since the applications of the living Survivors, numbering in the thousands, were given precedence. Those of the deceased would be reviewed only after the living.

 

      Five years passed and the older Goodman grandchildren grew up. This spring, three became engaged. As their respective parents scratched their heads as they made a cheshbon – reckoning – of the wedding expenses, a check from Germany for thousands of dollars – Mr. Goodman’s “wages” – arrived.

 

      Even in death, this loving father and zaide was still looking out for his children.

Cheryl Kupfer

Circular Art: Two Eva Hesse Shows

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

Eva Hesse Drawing


Through July 15, 2006


The Drawing Center


35 Wooster Street, New York


212-219-2166



 


Eva Hesse: Sculpture


Through September 17, 2006


The Jewish Museum


1109 5th Ave. (at 92nd St.), New York


212-423-3200



 

 

Throughout her career, German Jewish artist Eva Hesse (1936-1970) was obsessed with the motif of the circle. In her diaries, Hesse connected her circular images with her own life. “I go in circles. Maybe therefore my drawings” she wrote. Indeed, her life followed a circular path, punctuated by pain and tragedy on both ends. At age three, Eva’s parents put her and her sister Helen aboard a children’s train from their native Hamburg to escape the Nazis. Eva and Helen successfully circumvented the war, and later were reunited with their Holocaust surviving parents.

 

The Hesse family moved to Manhattan and lived in Washington Heights. When Eva was 10, her mother committed suicide shortly after divorcing Eva’s father. Eva would graduate from Yale in 1959, and she married Tom Doyle, also a sculptor. In 1969, Eva was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and died the following year at age 34.

 

Much of Eva’s work – currently on view at both the Jewish Museum and the Drawing Center – has the feel of commemorative monuments. “Repetition Nineteen III” (1968), on view at the Jewish Museum, reminds me of yahrzeit candles. The installation shows 19 oval forms made of fiberglass and polyester in a sickly orange that look like collapsed slinkies. Much of Hesse’s sculpture has the same feel as Matthew Barney’s work (which was shown in the “Cremaster Cycle” at the Guggenheim recently), grim, dark and dangerous. Aught” (1968) is an installation that includes hanging “curtains” of latex and filler over canvas stuffed with polyethylene sheeting, rope and “unidentified materials.” The canvases have borders and look from a distance (if viewers can overlook the creases) like faceted gemstones. To more cynical viewers, the canvases could be dangerous, like Samurai war flags.

 



Eva Hesse, Repetition Nineteen III, 1968, latex and filler over canvas stuffed with polyethylene sheeting, rope and unidentified materials. The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of Charles and Anita Blatt, 1969. © The Estate of Eva Hesse. Hauser & Wirth Zürich London. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.


 

 

But Hesse refused to be pigeonholed, and she would surely take issue with the yahrzeit interpretation and the gemstones or war flags interpretations. Most art history textbooks refer to Hesse as a post-minimalist, or at the very least as a transitional figure between the minimalist and post-minimalist periods.

 

As the name implies, minimalism refers to the “breaking down” of art to its bare necessities. Hesse spoke and wrote of wanting “to get to non-art, non-connotive, non-anthropomorphic, non-geometric, non-nothing; everything.” Hesse wrote this in a 1969 catalog. “It’s not the new, it is what is yet not known, thought, seen, touched; but really what is not and that is.” In a sense, then, Hesse is the ultimate minimalist by expressing her desire to reduce art to not only the smallest components; but to none at all. In fact, this attempt to create nothingness sounds remarkably similar to Kabbalistic notions of meditation, in which the mystic would try to erase everything from his mind before focusing on Hebrew letters or various symbols to launch the meditative process.

 

But Hesse did not really make art that was empty and nothingness. Her work pursued notions of wholeness and completeness, especially through her circles. The audio guide to the Jewish Museum show includes a quote of Hesse’s: “I think the circle – it was very abstract. I could make up stories of what the circle means to man but I don’t know if it was that conscious. I think it was a form, a vehicle it wasn’t a circle representing life and eternity. I think that’swould be fake.”

 

Circles were simply too normal and regular to Hesse, so she had to do mischief to them. She once bore a hole in a circle and inserted a flexible surgical hose. “It was the most flexible rubber I could get,” she said. “And I would make it very, very long. I mean that was the extreme you could get from that perfect, perfect circle!” This time of damage done to the perfect circular form recalls the work (although clearly Hesse did it first) of Aliza Olmert (reviewed in these pages under the title “Repairing Tikkun Olam” on 6/29/05). Olmert took eggshells and subjected them to all sorts of makeovers from sticking them with safety pins to tying them with wires to smashing the shells to tiny pieces. Olmert then photographed them with dark black backgrounds, lending the photographs a feeling of renaissance paintings, which also used dark backgrounds to highlight the depicted objects or people. Just as Olmert’s shells carried feminist symbolism (such as birth), Hesse’s circles also seem deeply feminine.

 

Hesse’s “No Title” (1966), a black ink wash and pencil drawing, is one of many drawings on exhibit in the Drawing Center show. The image shows three circles – one large and two small. Each circle contains many circles that are increasingly smaller, which makes the work appear like tree bark rings. The forms seem to interact and play off each other, although they don’t touch, strictly speaking. Hesse writes of the absurdity of her circles, which seem to go on forever. “If something is absurd, it’s more absurd to repeat it.”


Circles, surprisingly, do not bear tremendous significance in Jewish symbolism. They appear in a few contexts. Circular forms can be threatening, as in Honi HaM’agel’s circle that he drew and refused to leave until rain was promised to the famine-plagued Jews. Circles suggest bereavement and life, as in the egg eaten during periods of mourning, symbolic of the continuous “circle of life.” Kippot are circular, reminding us to look up to the heavens for inspiration. Additionally, the Sanhedrin sat in a circle.

 



Eva Hesse, no title, 1966. Black ink wash and pencil, 11 3/4 x 9 in.


Collection of Tony and Gail Ganz, Los Angeles. © The Estate of Eva Hesse, Hauser & Wirth Zürich London.


 

 

But generally, Jewish symbolism takes the form of trajectories of movement and transcendence. Circular movement always arrives back at the point where it started, like the move G-d commands Moses to perform to deceive the Egyptians into thinking the Jews were lost beside the Red Sea. Although Jewish ritual objects – think lulav, Torah-reading yad, mezuzah, and many others -have a long history of interpretation, they do not seem to focus on circles. Perhaps these efforts were an attempt to get away from idolatry since much pagan imagery surrounds the sun, moon and stars. In fact, tefillin cannot be made in a circular form, although the rabbis account for this due to safety reasons.

 

It is therefore interesting that an artist like Hesse would be so fascinated by the circle. The Jewish Museum show focuses a lot on Hesse’s Jewish identity. The final room showcases many letters and other documents and photographs, including a diary entry of Hesses with the Hebrew words from the Seder (the word Pesach appears below) indicating “Now we are slaves; next year we will be free.” Hesse’s life was clearly one punctuated by exile, redemption and then more sadness and pain. But it is the liberating feeling of “next year we will be free” that surfaces in her circles.

 



Ruth and Wilhelm Hesse, Eva Hesse Tagebuch (Diary) 1, Hamburg, Passover 1936. Collection of Helen Hesse Charash; Ruth Marcus Hesse, “proud Mama with her two daughters,” Helen and Eva. The Hebrew headline reads, “This year we are slaves, next year we shall be free.” Wilhelm Hesse wrote, “Evchen’s [little Eva’s] first yom tov [holiday]. She doesn’t understand anything about it yet, but it concerns her that diet needs to be changed.” This is a rare entry, in that it was co-written by Wilhelm and Ruth Hesse. This was the last time Eva’s mother wrote in her tagebuch.


 

 

It might be most useful to think of Hesse’s circles as Hegelian in form. The philosopher Hegel conceived of history as unfolding cyclically, but he always saw history as progressing towards something. The image Hegel used was more one of a funnel that got increasingly great; it was a space of cyclic movement, but upward movement. Hegel was not a Jew by any means, but in Judaism, history progresses toward the messianic age, much like Hegel’s history progresses.

 

And in that sense, Hesse’s work can be viewed as Jewish. Hesse insists her circles are not symbolic of life. But rather than appearing stagnant, they are dynamic and they seem to be searching to break out of their paths. Hesse’s life was a vicious circle from which she couldn’t escape. But her sculptures and drawings managed, to some extent, to liberate her.

 

Menachem Wecker is a painter and assistant editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com 

Menachem Wecker

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/circular-art-two-eva-hesse-shows/2006/07/05/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: