Posts Tagged ‘Snow’
Museum of Biblical Art 1865 Broadway @ 61st Street New York, NY 10023 Tues, Wed, Fri, Sunday – 10am – 6pm; Thursday – 10am – 8pm Suggested admission $7, Sunday Free 212-408-1500; www.mobia.org Until January 15, 2012
Ludwig Blum (1891 – 1974) was a deeply complex artist who walked the fine line between pure aesthetics and a radical artistic view of the Zionist enterprise. He clearly loved to paint, make beautiful images and provide aesthetic pleasure. As a committed Zionist and part of the Third Aliyah, he celebrated his newfound homeland with a visual passion, exploring all of Palestine’s unique riches. Much of his work offers well-known views of Israel’s Jewish and Christian tourist sites, expertly painted over a prolific 50-year career. And yet, he also repeatedly painted the most mundane and banal scenes of the unfolding Zionist development. Tel Aviv under construction, a Kibbutz girl feeding chickens, a kibbutz water tower, the Eilat airport and the Timna copper mines are but a few decidedly non-picturesque scenes that flowed from his skillful brush. We see both kinds of paintings in “Jerusalem and the Holy Land: The Paintings of Ludwig Blum,” imported from the Ben Uri Gallery in London and curated by Dr. Dalia Manor. In many ways this current exhibition at the Museum of Biblical Art is an examination of his bifurcated vision of the emerging Jewish state.
Witness the wonderful Blum painting from 1928, Temple Mount. It is suffused with the kind of reflective light and Mediterranean sensibility found in the best of 19th century French painting, immediately bringing the early works of Corot to mind. It is a quickly painted gem, filled with agile brushstrokes and precise recording of the special Jerusalem light. It immediately convinces the viewer of its visual veracity without the burden of a surfeit of details. The tower on the left, the Mosque and the cluster of Cyprus trees on the right establish an ordered compositional structure in conjunction with the distant horizon behind them to allow the gradations of color and light below to delight the viewer’s sensibility. The artist has transported us to the Old City in the waning hours of a beautiful day. Blum became so famous for these lyrically factual renderings of this and other popular tourist views of Jerusalem that he was dubbed “Painter of Jerusalem” in his Czech hometown of Brno – Lisen.
Blum, born in Moravia, was deeply “rooted in the European classical tradition” from his private studies in Vienna in 1910 and his later training at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts until 1920. These were exactly the years of explosive development of Central European modernism, evidenced by Czech Cubism in painting and architecture. It was a time of dramatic change throughout European society. There was a world war raging and new artistic and cultural movements were overthrowing 19th century pieties. Freud, Marx and Herzl (among many others) vied for the attention of young creative minds. Ultimately for Blum, Herzl won out along with the artistic certainties of “realism” as Blum moved to Jerusalem in 1923.
Once he settled in he did his best to relate to the emerging artistic environment, then dominated by the Bezalel School and such Eretz Yisrael artists as Reuben Rubin and Abel Pann. By and large these artists were determined to fashion a unique Palestinian Jewish visual culture, deeply influenced by aspects of European modernism, including Art Nouveau and Symbolism. Unfortunately this was clearly not the artistic vision Blum had come to Palestine to pursue.
He quickly became a specialist in views of Jerusalem, panoramas, holy sites, portraits of “Oriental types” and Christian devotional sites. All of these themes were essentially painted as tourist paintings, souvenirs from the Holy Land. Since at this time tourists were few and far between, Blum frequently had to market his work abroad: Berlin, Amsterdam, London and especially in his native Czechoslovakia.
Much of these works are lovely, straightforward documents of very specific places. The catalogue calls Blum a “topographical artist” and while that is true, it is also incomplete. A close look at the works frequently betrays an agitated brushwork and considerable invention, at times an almost expressionistic painterly gesture. Blum’s work is clear-eyed and optimistic, always bright and colorful with an unerring emphasis on dramatic natural light. It is clear he painted because he loved the very act of painting and making images. It is also clear he painted because he had to make a living and support his family.
In light of all of the above history, Blum’s documenting of many aspects of the Zionist pioneering efforts is all the more remarkable. Yes, it could be argued that these works were also “tourist” works easily saleable to Zionist supporters, albeit even rarer than his other customers. But I sense something fundamentally different in both their message and motivation. They are paintings of Blum’s conviction of the necessity of building a Jewish state, the fundamental belief of Zionism. Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim (1932) was the first kibbutz settled in the Judean Hills, relatively close to Jerusalem. The handful of buildings set at the base of a hill are framed by a lively brushwork of pine trees as three figures establish the foreground: a worker and two children. It is dashed off in the most unheroic manner, representing a most heroic determination to make Palestine a Jewish land.
The same sentiment is expressed in Kibbutz Degania (1934), the very first of all kibbutz settlements, just south of the Kineret. Again the buildings seem secondary whereas the fact that it is landscaped and populated with quickly sketched people, here accompanied by a dog, seems to be the artist’s main statement. The wonderful verticals of the Cyprus and palm trees establish an elegant setting for Jewish possession of the land.
It was a far-fetched scenario as recently as a year ago, but Al Gore is quietly making something of a political comeback. Moderate Democrats who despair that the early frontrunner for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is likely unelectable, can’t help remembering that Gore won half a million more votes than George W. Bush in 2000. Meanwhile, the party’s base voters, appreciably more to the left than the country at large and angry at what they perceive to be Clinton’s drift to the center, are looking for someone other than her to carry the anti-Bush, antiwar banner.
Enter Gore. “Democrats, writes Ezra Klein in the April issue of the liberal American Prospect, are “taking a fresh look at a man they thought they knew” – a man, Klein adds, who seems to be trying “to reinvent himself.”
Gore is, of course, a master at the art of reinvention, having morphed over the years from a generally conservative, hawkish, anti-abortion congressman (whose wife led the fight to label records for the content of their lyrics) into a Howard Dean clone – someone who appears most comfortable when shouting anti-Republican invective in front of crowds of left-wing activists whose worldview is small enough to fit on a placard. (“Bush lied. People died.”)
While it’s true that successful politicians learn to adapt to changing times and expectations, the best of them manage to do so while retaining a set of core beliefs and at least a modicum of principle. With Gore, however, there’s such an obvious transparency to his ideological shifts that he might as well have the word “phony” tattooed onto his forehead.
Gore, wrote Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie back in 1996, “may even be more contemptible than most [politicians] since he has proven himself willing to exploit personal tragedy for public gain.” Gillespie, referring to Gore’s shockingly disingenuous stand on tobacco, continued:
Remember his emotional, apparently heartfelt comments at the Democratic National Convention about his sister’s tobacco-related death? After choking up during the speech, Gore rode a tidal wave of new-found sympathy and respect…. But Gore was hardly being open or honest about his relationship to tobacco, and a fuller accounting of the matter makes it impossible to escape the conclusion that the vice president is little more than a shameless hypocrite who will stop at nothing to pull votes his way.
In his speech, Gore recounted how his sister Nancy had started smoking as a teenager and eventually died from lung cancer at age 45 in 1984. “Three thousand young people in America will start smoking tomorrow,” said Gore, who lauded President Clinton’s limits on cigarette advertising. “One thousand of them will die a death not unlike my sister’s. And that is why until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking.”
Oddly, though, it took quite a while for this political fire to catch in Gore’s belly. While he helped sponsor 1983 legislation that led to new warning labels on tobacco products, until very recently he usually boasted of his tobacco connections. When he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 – four years after his sister’s death – Gore bragged to a North Carolina audience, “Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I’ve sprayed it, I’ve chopped it, I’ve shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it, and sold it.”
That same year, Gore, then a senator from tobacco-rich Tennessee, wrote a letter to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette stating, “I do not believe the answer to curbing our nation’s tobacco use lies in banning tobacco advertising or in prohibiting tobacco use” – two policies he now backs vociferously.
There’s more: The day after his speech at [the 1996] Democratic convention, he admitted to receiving campaign donations from tobacco companies through 1990…. He also acknowledged that his family continued to grow tobacco on their farm and that he got paid for leasing additional property for tobacco production for years after his sister’s death.
And then there’s this breathtaking account of political exploitation from veteran columnist Roger Simon, who in his book on the 1988 presidential campaign, Road Show, described a visit by candidate Gore right before the New York Democratic primary to the neonatal intensive care unit of Interfaith Medical Center in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn:
We look around and see these babies, incredibly small, doll size, almost doll-like, until you see their little hearts beating against their chests or catch the wave of a tiny arm. All sorts of tubes and lines run out of them. Some are in little plastic boxes called Isolettes. Others are in specially warmed beds, hooked to respirators with tubes that snake into their mouths and down their throats….