At last I succeeded to get to Jerusalem and visit the exhibition I have already read so much about, witnessed so many discussions and disputes, and even written about its catalog, or better say the catalog of the first staging of the exhibition at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Now it is the turn of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to host the exhibition, named here Jewish Avant-Garde Artists from Romania, which is open until April.

 

source http://www.imj.org.il/exhibitions/presentation/exhibit.asp?id=780

 

All the disputes set aside, the works in the exhibition make a strong and credible case about the role of the Jewish artists from Romania in the Avant-Garde movements of the first half of the 20th century. The three exhibition halls include enough solid pieces of art that bear witness about the quality of the artists and their perfect integration with all the main streams of the period including post-Impressionsm, Dadaism, cubism, expressionism, surrealism. This exhibition does not need to demonstrate influences, it actually proves that the Jewish artists from Romania were a significant part of the revolution in art that was happening and that especially in the 20s Bucharest was one of the principal centers of the avant-garde.

The visitors need to pay attention where they start their tour, as the main entry of the exhibition seems to be in the second hall. Actually it is the first hall with the the poster and newpapers poll and the window including some of the representative journals of the Romania avant-garde where the journey starts. Unfortunately there are too little background explanations and most of the visitors of the exhibition may be quite uninformed about the history of Romania (as were a group of three younger folks I met there who were wondering when was Romania occupied by the Nazis). The informative timeline in the catalog would have been so useful.

Arthur Segal‘s works are presented in the first room. I would not really include Segal in the avant-garde, as he belongs to an older generation, but his works connect to some of the important trends of the beginning of the century like post-Impressionism and Pointillism.¬† Woman Reading is one of the best examples. His work and teaching influenced some of the artists of the next generation.

 

source http://www.imj.org.il/exhibitions/presentation/exhibit.asp?id=780

 

The Dada moment is amply represented in the exhibition with documents and works of Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco (Iancu) that include the ball scenes at the Cabaret Voltaire (which I like a lot) and some of the masks created for the theater there that remind and connect to the curiosity of the artists of the period for ‘primitive’ art and its different forms of expressions (we find works with similar themes at Brancusi and Modigliani realized at about the same time or a couple of years earlier).

 

source http://exhibitions.europeana.eu/exhibits/show/dada-to-surrealism-en/jhm-bucharest/m--h--maxy

 

As I was guessing from the catalog, the revelation of the exhibition are the works of M.H. Maxy (above you can see Nude with Veil). His Cubist paintings from the 20s show a strong and original artist, exuberant in colors and sure on his means, exploring and breaking the reality in pieces to mend it back into sophisticated mosaics of geometric forms and striking colors. The fate of this artist invites to a reflection about how artists make compromises and bend under the hard times. His deplorable work made in the 60s when he tries to reconnect with the revolutionary art he was part of 40 years before but cannot exceed the limitations of his own compromises with the ‘Socialist Realism’ makes the strong backwards point of reference.

 

source http://exhibitions.europeana.eu/exhibits/show/dada-to-surrealism-en/jhm-bucharest/item/158

The same second room includes several of the early works (from the 1920s) of Victor Brauner. A few double side painted canvases draw the attention, as well a few works brought from the Eco-Museum Research Institute in Tulcea (city located the Western edge of the Danube Delta). I wonder how these paintings got there, this may be an interesting story. I was a bit disappointed to see none of the major works of Brauner from his Surrealist period included in the exhibition.

 

source http://exhibitions.europeana.eu/exhibits/show/dada-to-surrealism-en/jhm-younger-generation/item/179

 

Another artist who compromised with times and had his own period of abandoning revolution in art for the mirages of the Communist revolution was Jules Perahim. He is present is Jerusalem with a few works from his young days (including  Organic Lanscape) in the third and last room which is largely dedicated to younger generation of Jewish artists who appeared in the 30s to be brought down by the persecutions of the World War to re-surge shortly in the mid 40s just to be buried back by the Communist taking over Romania. That was the end of the Avant-Garde, and the Jewish artists made no exception although the personal destinies of the artists in the exhibition were quite different.  Janco came to Israel in 1941, at the time of the darkest period in the history of Romania and of the Jewish community, to become a leader of school in the Israeli painting and head of the artists community in Ein Hod. Tzara and Victor Brauner were living for decades in Europe and never returned to Romania. Maxy and Jules Perahim stayed in Romania (Perahim emigrated later) and compromised in order to survive as artists. The pages in the history of the European art that include the contributions of the Jewish artists from Romania were closed, but their work survives and this exhibition is a proof of their quality and importance.