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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Mona Lisa’

Israel’s Mona Lisa Weapon

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Meet Israel’s secret weapon against terrorism, code named “Mona Lisa.”

 

Not only is Mona Lisa an effective weapon against Arab anti-Israel terrorism, she is also one of the most effective weapons in the Israeli arsenal against the guttersnipes screaming about “Israeli Apartheid.”

 

Let us sit back and watch in amusement as Hitlerjugend from the “Boycott and Divest from Israel” movement and their fellow travelers try to cope with our Mona.

 

There are two critical things you need to know about this new secret weapon. The first is that Mona Lisa is the real name of an Israeli woman combat soldier. At her parents’ suggestion, she writes it as a single word, Monalisa.

 

The second thing you need to know is that she is an Arab.

 

Monalisa Abdo is a nineteen-year-old combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. She serves in one of Israel’s elite anti-terror units. Moreover, she wears the legendary red army boots that only Israel’s most elite fighting units wear, the Israeli equivalents of the American SEALS and Green Berets.

 

Monalisa grew up in Haifa. Most Israeli Arabs are not conscripted into the Israeli military but may volunteer if they wish to serve. Some do so out of patriotism and loyalty to the state, and some do so because of the career benefits and training that will help them later in the workplace. Monalisa is clearly among the former. Her story and an interview with her appeared in the December issue of Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

 

She described the nasty comments some Arabs made to her and her family members when she signed up. She dismisses them. And her parents are squarely behind her.

 

“Israeli Arabs need to serve in the Israeli military,” she said, “to give to the country and not just take.”

 

Israel is their country too and they need to serve it, she believes. And military service is beneficial for those who serve, she added, teaching them discipline and responsibility. Monalisa’s older sister Michelin, age 21, has also decided to enlist and will start her service in a few days – in the same unit as Mona.

 

Monalisa not only asked to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces but signed up for an elite combat unit named Karkel, in which both men and women serve side by side on the front lines.

 

Karkel is the name of a wild desert cat that lives in Israel’s south. The unit is stationed in the Arava desert close to the border with Egypt. Hunting down terrorist infiltrators is its specialty.

 

She described her first day in uniform, when she was being outfitted with equipment and fatigues. The orderlies gave her the ordinary black combat boots that non-elite soldiers wear.

 

“You gave me the wrong boots,” she insisted. “I demand the red combat boots.” And she got them. She says that when she first put them on she felt like a super model. (And while old men like myself are not supposed to notice such things, from her photo it is clear she really could pass for a model if she decided to pursue that avenue instead of military service.)

 

Since starting her tour of duty, she has taken the non-commissioned officer training course and is already a NCO. She was asked in the interview how she gets along with Jewish women soldiers.

 

“There are no differences among us,” she replied. “We support and help one another.”

 

About her name – where did it come from?

 

“My father wanted me to always walk with pride with my head erect, and it had just that effect upon me,” she explained.

 

Come to think of it, maybe we have here the most effect countermeasure yet against the Western campus bashers of Israel, the anti-Semitic professors, and the jihadi wannabes holding their anti-Israel protests and whining about Israeli “apartheid.”

 

In reality, of course, Israel is the only Middle East state that is not an apartheid regime. Maybe Israel should let loose Monalisa, her sister Michelin, and the rest of the red-booted fighting tigresses and invite them to apply those boots to some anti-Israel protesters’ posteriors – with extreme prejudice.

 

Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be reached at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Should Looted Art From The Holoucast Be Returned? A Response To Michael Kimmelman

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Gustav Klimt: Five Paintings from the Collection of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer

 

Ever since artists created berry juice paintings of buffalos on cave walls, seeking to offer the hunters mastery over their prey, artists have used limited, physical materials to create transcendent, idealized art. Conventional wisdom holds art as somehow larger than the sum of its parts.


Although each element of a painting – from materials to tools – is finite, paintings are infinite things for which we use terms like “canonic,” “High Art” and “spiritual.” But art is, in effect, a commodity. However ornate one considers a sculpture, it is someone’s property. Whatever beautiful brushwork a painting might boast, it is a tangible thing – crafted of wood, canvas and paints made from the earth. Indeed, the temptation to attribute to art transcendent properties – a practice as old as art itself – turns it into essentially the kind of idolatrous decadence about which the Second Commandment warns us.


It should come as no surprise, then, that disputes about ownership of paintings often erupt. The general public can usually expect to be reminded that paintings are property only when someone tries to vandalize the art (as when a student stuck gum to a Frankenthaler painting in Detroit several months ago), when a painting brings a large sum at auction, or when it is stolen; in short, when it makes news. Recently, a group of paintings by Austrian (non-Jewish) painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) has made the news by qualifying for the last two media-grabbing explanations. One of the paintings from a group stolen from Jewish owners by the Nazis recently sold for a record $135 million to the Neue Galerie in New York.


Klimt’s painting, titled “Bloch-Bauer l” (1907), is being hailed as an Austrian “Mona Lisa” of sorts. Ronald Lauder, president and co-founder of the Neue Galerie, called it “a once in a lifetime acquisition, and a defining moment for the Neue Galerie,” even suggesting that the portrait was “one of [Klimt's] greatest works of art. We are overjoyed to be able to give Adele Bloch-Bauer a permanent home at the Neue Galerie. Her presence will enrich the museum immeasurably.” Renée Price, who directs the gallery, stopped just short of calling the painting as important as “Mona Lisa,” focusing instead on its significance to the museum’s collection. “This painting is as important to the Neue Galerie as the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre.”


 


Gustav Klimt, “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907). Oil, silver and gold on canvas. Neue Galerie, New York. This acquisition made available in part through the generosity of the heirs of the

Estates of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer.

(It is unclear what the gallery means by this last credit line, MW.)


 

Clearly, the painting went for so much money at auction because of the narrative surrounding it. Auctions love stories, and to the extent that a painting can tell a story about its owners, its creator, and the models that posed for it, it will climb in value. That is part of the reason why “Mona Lisa” is so valued and renowned. Much romantic mystery surrounds the identity of the model and her relationship, if any, with Leonardo da Vinci. Additionally, the painting was dramatically stolen from the Louvre and, on another occasion, was attacked with a rock, which accounts for the bulletproof glass that now protects it.

“Bloch-Bauer” rose to publicity for similar reasons. Adele Bloch-Bauer, the Jewish wife of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, the wealthy Jewish sugar merchant, was the only woman Klimt painted twice in a full-length pose. Like discussions surrounding da Vinci and Mona Lisa, many speculate (these are only rumors) that Klimt and Bloch-Bauer had a secret liaison. The proponents of this theory point to the “numerous open-eye and almond shapes in the painting”, “the great tenderness” with which the painting is rendered, and the manner in which Bloch-Bauer “is ennobled by her regal setting”.


But for our purposes, the real question surrounding Bloch-Bauer’s portrait concerns whether it is a work of art. I see this column as an opportunity to raise readers’ awareness about art that they might not otherwise encounter in their day-to-day lives, and to address those works in a language that is relevant to all Jews and art admirers. I do not see this column as a platform from which to attack other art critics’ columns.


However, a recent column by chief New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman is particularly worthy of discussion. Under the title, Klimts Go To Market; Museums Hold Their Breath” (9/19/06), Kimmelman asks some very provocative questions about what it means to own a painting and to potentially reclaim it. “How sad – if unsurprising – to hear that the heirs of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer are indeed cashing in, as planned, and selling four Klimts at Christie’s in November,” Kimmelman begins. “A story about justice and redemption after the Holocaust has devolved into yet another tale of the crazy, intoxicating art market.”


I do not know if Kimmelman is a Jew, and frankly it does not matter one stitch. He is one of my favorite art critics to read, and he almost always comments on art in a manner that is creative and insightful, if not downright brilliant. In this column, he wonders, “Wouldn’t it have been remarkable (I’m just dreaming here) if the heirs had decided instead to donate one or more of the paintings to a public institution? Or, failing that, to negotiate a private sale to a museum at a price below the auction house estimates of $15 million to $60 million?”


He concludes the column: “How refreshing this story would have been had the Bloch-Bauers conceived a way to ensure that that birch landscape, say, ended up in public hands. In so doing, they would have earned not just public sympathy for their family’s struggle but also an enduring share of public gratitude. They would have underscored the righteousness of their battle for restitution and in the process made clear that art, even in these money-mad days, isn’t only about money. Heck, they would even have gotten a tax break.”


I quote at length because I think Kimmelman deserves it. I wonder, though, if we should ask those questions to begin with. Very few people are advocating that a mass return of looted art be returned. No museum is about to offer to return its entire collection of Native American art, of pillaged African art (especially raided Egyptian tombs) and of Eastern art stolen by Western explorers. The British Museum regularly receives demands from governments demanding the return of stolen Greek and Roman artifacts and art.

 


Gustav Klimt, “Adele Bloch-Bauer II” (1912). Oil on canvas.

Estates of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer.


 

In a way, the Holocaust is more recent in the international community’s memory, and the atrocity of the crimes demands special treatment that perhaps is not extended to others. But Kimmelman’s claim, if I understand him correctly, that “art is art,” (which means that it is meant to be viewed, and should be exhibited publicly) is a fascinating one. I do not think he is in any way trying to justify the thievery of the works. But if the very pieces stolen by the Nazis end up in public for masses of Jews and non-Jews alike to view, is that not the greatest kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d’s name?

The pieces, currently on view at the Neue Galerie, should be viewed. Two paintings show Adele Bloch-Bauer, while the other three show a birch forest, an apple tree and houses at Unterach on the Attersee. I am not sure that I agree that the Klimt paintings are more worthy of inspection than the Kokoschka and Schiele paintings in the previous room at the gallery. But I think Jewish art lovers should see the work and be seen at the Neue Galerie.


Kimmelman is right, in a sense, that “art should be art” and that we should try to commodify it as little as possible. The people I spoke with who tell me that they want to get every penny they can back from the Holocaust settlements are right, as are the ones who tell me they want no “blood money” back. The interesting point here, though, is the invasion of politics and law into the museum and, cast in that light, the paintings look eerily different.


In the Neue Galerie, which now houses the most highly priced painting ever sold, Klimt’s use of gold and silver in his portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer lends them a Midas-like touch. Compositions that otherwise may have been seen as triangles and circles are difficult to perceive as anything but curvaceous dollar signs. Perhaps Adele Bloch-Bauer seems firmer in her poses because of the stubbornness of her niece, who fought to win back her family’s legacy. But she also seems apologetic for the whole commotion. However, the story of these paintings is anything but a clear-cut one. They are simultaneously private and public, a source of pride and pain while beautiful and grossly ugly.


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

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/should-looted-art-from-the-holoucast-be-returned-a-response-to-michael-kimmelman/2006/10/18/

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