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January 22, 2017 / 24 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Sigmund Freud’

Are the Jews Good for Andy Warhol?

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?

Written and performed by Josh Kornbluth

Directed by David Dower




Andy Warhol: 10 Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century in Retrospect

Through May 2

Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery



The joke about “old and tribal” Jews, who are always pathologically wondering if everything is good for the Jews, goes that when they see a new lint filter on the dryer, they want to know if the new mechanism is good for the Jews. So says Josh Kornbluth in his one-man performance “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?”


Although one understands the absurdity that Kornbluth is mocking, there is actually something a little inspiring about a worldview in which every seemingly ordinary object can carry vast spiritual implications. Whether the dryer – through some religious chaos theory – holds the Jewish fate in its lint filter, Kornbluth devotes his performance to the question of whether Warhol is good for the Jews, a question of which he is initially quite skeptical.


The Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco commissioned Kornbluth to create a monologue about Warhol’s 1980 series, “Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century,” which depicts Sarah Bernhardt, Louis Brandeis, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, George Gershwin, Franz Kafka, the Marx Brothers, Golda Meir and Gertrude Stein. Though he says he felt he should be the target audience for an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum – “I’m Jewish and I live now, it should be just for me!” – Kornbluth, who was not a practicing Jew at the time, grew frustrated with and offended by the banner announcing the CJM show: “Warhol’s Jews.”


Andy Warhol. “Albert Einstein” from Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, 1980. Screen Print on Lenox Museum Board, 40 x 32 inches. Photo courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York / feldmangallery.com and

Menachem Wecker

Warhol’s Jews

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Warhol’s Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered Jewish Museum

1109 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10128; (212) 423 3200


Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; 11 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8p.m.;

Admission free on Saturday; $12 adults; $10 senior citizens, $7.50 students and seniors, children under 12 free; until August 3, 2008



When an artist creates, intention – elementary to the creative process – is paradoxically secondary to the finished work. Once the artwork is on view in the larger world, it must stand on its own, engaging the audience on its aesthetic merits and creating a meaningful dialogue by means of its content and subject matter. The artist’s intention becomes a historical footnote, a peripheral fact that may or may not relate to how and what the artwork has to say. The artist’s job is over now and the artwork takes on a life of its own.

Therefore, it is quite beside the point that when Andy Warhol created Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, (1980) now at the Jewish Museum, his primary goal was to make as much money as possible on this project. Initially, he made an edition of 200 silkscreen prints, quickly followed by five sets of 10 acrylic paintings, all using the exact same images and line drawings for each of his “Jewish Geniuses,” only varying the colors.


Equally immaterial is the fact that the original idea for this project came not from the artist, but from his dealer Ronald Feldman. Additionally, the actual choice of the individual Jews was directed by Feldman with help from Israeli art dealer Alexander Harari and Susan Morgenstein (director of JCC of Greater Washington), who provided the relevant biographical details about each individual. Warhol was shown hundreds of vintage photos and copious background information on each to finally choose ten famous Jews to depict. He chose Sarah Bernhardt, Louis Brandeis, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, the Marx Brothers, Golda Meir, George Gershwin, Franz Kafka, and Gertrude Stein. When asked exactly why he chose these particular ten, Warhol responded, “Because I liked the faces.” Evidently not because of the role they played as Jews in the 20th century, just nice images.



Martin Buber (1980) acrylic and ink on canvas by Andy Warhol – “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” – Jewish Museum, New York.



At first glance, the images are big (40″ x 40″ paintings), brash, commercial and superficial. They all begin with a black and white photograph enlarged into a transparency. Warhol did a line drawing over the image and then a collage of transparent colored paper was assembled over the image. Finally silkscreen prints were made. The same image and drawing was silk-screened over an arbitrarily textured canvas as the foundation of the acrylic painting. The technique and style flows directly from Andy Warhol’s early years as a commercial artist with more than a hint of Matisse’s colorful late cutouts.


Warhol had gained notoriety as one of the founders of Pop Art in the early 1960’s with a series of paintings of “Campbell’s Soup Cans” and paintings of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, developing a style that depicted mass-produced products in a technique of mass production, i.e. silkscreen.



Franz Kafka (1980) acrylic and ink on canvas byAndy Warhol – “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” – Jewish Museum, New York.



His celebration of popular culture, fame and commercialism scandalized much of the art world by attacking modernist icons of originality and self-expression. Many years later, his work would be characterized as an early expression of Postmodernism, an approach to art and culture that delights in deconstructing the normative, reveling in the ironic and, seemingly whimsical, finally refusing to take a principled stand on almost anything.

Warhol quickly became wildly popular, featured at the Whitney Museum and in countless major collections. Between 1972 and his death at age 58 in 1987, he produced hundreds of commissioned portraits of the rich and famous, the glitterati, socialites and celebrities in the same technique he used for the “Ten Jews.” Additionally, much of his work feted the underground, low-life culture rampant on the fringes of 1970’s culture. What distinguished this series of “Ten Jews” was the nature of the subjects and reaction it engendered.


Warhol’s Jews were all no longer alive but had been serious cultural figures and, in what is the series most surprising aspect, overwhelmingly at the heart of profound social change. At the exact moment Warhol was engrossed in debunking the sacred cows of Modernism by celebrating the superficial, he made icons of the profound Jewish influence in 20th century culture and thought. The Jews responded enthusiastically while the critical elite excoriated the entire endeavor as crass, “Jewploitation” of the worst kind and an affront to Jewish values. They were both right.



Gertrude Stein (1980) acrylic and ink on canvas by Andy Warhol – “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” – Jewish Museum, New York.



Warhol correctly calculated that the Jewish upper middle class and their cultural institutions would buy up many of the silkscreen editions, effectively buying their way into the chic avant-garde. The series premiered in March 1980 at the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland quickly followed in September 1980 by premiers in Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida and in the Jewish Museum, New York. The wall texts gave short biographies of these individual Jews thereby providing a crucial educational aspect to what was primarily billed as a hip cultural experience. The series toured synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and regional museums to great acclaim that was undoubtedly due to a sense of pride that one of America’s most famous artists had chosen famous Jews as his controversial subject.


Warhol’s effacement of the faces of these famous Jews successfully rendered them into icons, pure ideas of what the individuals represented. The face of Sigmund Freud stares out, an off register double image echoing his then revolutionary notion that the human mind is composed of multiple parts; a conscious and unconscious, seething with scars from a childhood that cannot be successfully suppressed. Warhol highlights his forehead and eye, sharply cutting off the remainder of his face into a bluish nightmare.



Sigmund Freud (1980) acrylic and ink on canvas by Andy Warhol – “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” – Jewish Museum, New York.



While all of the Warhol images have the effect of deconstructing the photographic likeness of the famous, only some of the individuals represent a kind of postmodernism. Surely the radical writer Gertrude Stein represents a reassessment of language and non-narrative form that takes stream of consciousness and word play into a realm quite beyond modernism; “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Her stern frontal face is the most disorienting off register double image in the series. Likewise Franz Kafka’s novels and short stories, such as “The Metamorphosis,” explore the horrors of modern life in inextricable and surreal narratives. Warhol’s image of Kafka is predominately blue with a simple red ochre outline drawing pierced by a triangular sliver of yellow that slices his lips and cheek. The implicit violence is as unnerving as Kafka’s visions.


What emerges is that this series is far from superficial; rather it simply refuses to romanticize or personalize these individuals. They are made into “famous Jewish people,” a distinction well deserved and the closer examined, the more radical the claim that these Jews deserve to be “famous” in the wider world culture. Warhol’s Jews were thrust into the consciousness of the Jewish community in the 1980’s by his own obsession with fame and fortune. Paradoxically, his insightful treatment of these individuals was taken more seriously by a wider audience than almost any of his substantial artistic output.


Each Jew depicted challenged societal norms of their time: Louis Brandeis – the first Jew on the Supreme Court in 1916; Golda Meir – the first woman Israeli Prime Minister in 1969; Martin Buber who synthesized philosophy and Hasidic thought; Albert Einstein who reinvented physics with his Theory of Relativity in 1905; George Gershwin who fused symphonic music with jazz and popular music in 1924; the Marx Brothers who attacked, in comedy, the rich and pretentious and Sarah Bernhardt who adamantly defended Alfred Dreyfus throughout his anti-Semitic trial in 1894.


These ten Jews were not just famous; they are ideals of Jewish activism and thought in the modern world. Andy Warhol, according to his own words, had no intention to depict any of this. According to him, this project was a good way to make some art to sell. Just goes to show you how unimportant the artist’s intention can be when making some very important art about Ten Jews.


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Richard McBee

Swastikas And Couches

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Freud’s World in Photos: A Photographic Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s Birth

Through October 6, 2006

The Austrian Embassy

3524 International Court, NW Washington, D.C.




Edmund Engelman’s photograph, Entrance of Berggasse in Vienna’s 9th District with Number 19 in the Middle, unfolds like a Twilight Zone episode. The cobbled street and storefront signs (in German) seem inviting enough at first, until the viewer sees the dark banner with a swastika hanging over the entrance to building number 19.


Building number 19 is of particular interest, as Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) lived there until 1938 when he fled from the Nazis after the Gestapo arrested and interrogated his youngest daughter Anna for five hours. Although this abduction assured Freud that he and his family were in serious danger, it could not have been the first time that Freud planned to emigrate. He might have escaped earlier if not for his age and health (he was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw and palate as early as 1922). Still, it could not have been easy for the renowned psychoanalyst to leave his home of 50 years, where he also held his practice and where his iconic couch sat (see image).


Upon his colleague’s, August Aichorn, suggestion, Freud agreed to have the contents of his apartment photographed by an amateur photographer that Aichhorn knew, Edmund Engelman (1907-2000). Freud was an avid collector, with more than 3,000 sculptures in his collection, and in May of 1938, Engelman photographed Freud’s artifacts, just weeks before Freud left Austria on June 4, 1938. Freud died later that year in London, after continuing to battle with cancer. Engelman would emigrate from Austria six months later to France and then New York City.


Were it not for Aichhorn’s suggestion and Engelman’s photographs – and the exhibit at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. – there would be no documentation of Freud’s artifacts and the apartment where he lived and practiced.


Freud’s World in Photos – an offshoot of Freud and Vienna, which previously hung at the Leica Gallery in New York City – gathers together 36 photographs by Engelman and two other artists, Ferdinand Schmutzer and Trude Fleischmann. (Fleischmann was Jewish, and she managed, like Freud, to flee Vienna in 1938.) Schmutzer’s and Fleischmann’s images largely provide a historical and sociological backdrop to the Austria where Freud lived, without emphasizing images of Freud and of his house as Engelman does (though two of Schmutzer’s photographs of Freud do hang in the show).


Freud’s Couch and Room. Estate of Edmund Engelman, courtesy of Leica Gallery, NYC.



Jewish responses to Freud have plastered him with a wide spectrum of labels: “prophet genius, self-hating Jew” to “dirty old man”. The creator of psychoanalysis, nevertheless, is without a doubt, one of the most important thinkers of the past century who changed the way people speak about abstract concepts, such as of the mind and human behavior, in a manner that puts him in a league with Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, and Jacques Derrida (who, incidentally, are all Jewish). Now, everyday terms like free association, consciousness, repression, neurosis, instinct, ego, id, unconscious, gratification, Oedipus complex, Freudian slip, Eros, and Thanatos owe their existence to Freud’s writings.

Although he wrote in 1925, “My parents were Jews, and I remained a Jew myself,” Freud was not observant. He famously admitted that he did not know Hebrew, nor was he a Zionist (in the preface to a Hebrew edition of his book, Totem and Taboo). But he opposed baptism, and he was member of the B’nai B’rith lodge in Vienna.


At age 83 (the year he died), Freud wrote Der Mann Moses und die Monotheistische Religion (Moses and Monotheism), where he argued that Moses had been an Egyptian (so far so good), and that he had taught an Egyptian version of monotheism to the Jews. But, Freud’s decidedly un-biblical account then has the Children of Israel rebel against Moses and assassinate him – an act so awful that it caused Jews to subconsciously feel guilty, even centuries thereafter. Although this theory of Freud’s offers a mythological explanation for Jewish guilt, it is understandable that it was widely unpopular at the time, to say the least – both in Jewish and non-Jewish circles.


However, even those who oppose some of Freud’s methods must accept him as a Jewish thinker of mammoth significance. Freud was born in Priber (Freiberg in German), Moravia, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic. Freud studied in Vienna and enrolled in university to study medicine. There he escaped the anti-Semitism on campus by working in Ernst Brucke’s physiology lab. Freud also befriended fellow Austrian, Jewish physician, Joseph Breuer and in 1895, the two published their collaborative work on hysteria, Studien ueber Hysterie (Studies in Hysteria).


Freud’s Couch (close-up).Estate of Edmund Engelman, courtesy of Leica Gallery, NYC.


Freud was so widely known that he must have been difficult to photograph in any meaningful way that would probe beneath the surface. Engelman’s photographs capture Freud with somewhat of a human touch. Surrounded by his sculptures on his desk (as in Portrait of Sigmund Freud at desk with antiquities), Freud looks particularly cerebral – like a chess master manipulating his chess pieces. In many of his pictures, Engelman frames his images through doorways, so that the viewer is very aware of interior and exterior space – a technique reminiscent of the famous painter Vermeer. Engelman captures a somewhat contemplative Freud in Portrait of Sigmund Freud, wearing a vest, photographed in a three-quarter view, looking off to his right.


But it is Ferdinand Schmutzer who captures the most interesting images of Freud. Schmutzer’s pigment print on Hahnemuehle Fine Art Photo Rag (stamped with the Austrian National Library seal), Sigmund Freud (1926), portrays the iconic Freud without his glasses, holding a cigar while facing the viewer. Freud looks closed off, perhaps bothered by something. This photograph reminds one of some of the works of the Jewish photographer, Richard Avedon (1923-2004), who photographed a sad, scared-looking Marilyn Monroe, where many of his colleagues only caught the glamorous actress in highly-posed circumstances.


The real star of the show, though, is Schmutzer’s Sigmund Freud with pocket watch on vest (1926). In this photograph, Freud’s thick eyebrows seem weighed down (he wears no eyeglasses), and he appears momentarily caught by surprise to be photographed. With his lips pursed, Freud might even be displeased. Schmutzer’s camera sheds light upon Freud the man, and ironically seems to turn a critical psychological eye on the founder of psychoanalysis.


On a purely historical level, the fact that the embassy of Austria has hung pictures that deeply analyze Freud as a man and a thinker, without shying away from his Jewishness, is to be commended. That the embassy has unabashedly shown an image with a swastika hanging over Freud’s apartment is remarkable. But far beyond the history, the photographs by the three artists in Freud’s World in Photos capture real people in unposed contexts. This is one of the greatest challenges of photography, and one of the most rewarding things photography can hope for – capturing the posed and the artificial in a manner that looks so unposed that it appears natural.



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.


I graciously acknowledge the articles about Freud in Encyclopedia Britannica Online www.britannica.com and in Encyclopedia Judaica. I used both encyclopedias for much of the background information for this review.

Menachem Wecker

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/swastikas-and-couches/2006/09/27/

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