Entries tagged with “Israel Museum”.

A visit today at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem was the occasion to see the very interesting exhibition ‘Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art’. I do not plan to write about the whole exhibition which could have been titled differently, as there are enough works of non-Israeli Jewish artists  (presented as background) – maybe on another occasion. One of the revelations was meeting one period of the work of Reuven Rubin which had close relation with the Biblical text including the New Testament and the story of Jesus.




The period we are dealing with is the one between the years 1921 and 1923. Romania-born Rubin had studied at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem between 1912 and 1913, and then in France, but returned to Romania during the WWI years. In 1921 he traveled to New York together with his friend Artur Kolnik, where they met Alfred Stieglitz who organized an exhibition of their works. That was a period of self discovery which ended with the decision to emigrate to Palestine and start a new life in the Jewish Home in building.  The Biblical connection of the Jewish people with the history and Land of Israel was part of this spiritual process, which was combined with the Christian connotations, as Rubin was very familiar with the New Testament stories and symbols from the country of his birth. The self-portrait above which has as a second title ‘My first Day in New York’ represents the tormented Rubin in an almost Christ posture, taking upon him not only his personal doubts but the sufferings of all mankind.





‘Temptation in the Desert’ takes the Jesus identification one step further, representing the fight of the artist with his own personal daemons and the desire to focus on his art as a way of transcending. It’s a daring metaphor for a Jewish artist, and Rubin is among the first to walk the path of acknowledging the Jewish fate and identity of Jesus (more followed later in the 20th century), which was kind of a taboo in the Jewish tradition.





The dialog between the fate of the Jewish people and the Christian Messiah is almost explicit in the 1922 work ‘The Encounter (Jesus and the Jew)’ probably painted in Romania, while Rubin was preparing his departure to Palestine. A suffering Jesus sits on a bank near a religious Jew who covers his face. Maybe he is deploring his fate, maybe he does not want to acknowledge the presence of the ‘false Messiah’ (in the Jewish tradition). The landscape behind them is from Eretz Israel, one of the first works were the new Zionist landscape show up in Rubin’s works – they will become a major theme later.





From the same period dates ‘Jesus and the Last Apostle’. It is Jesus’ face which is covered here, and he seems to ask pardon from the Last Apostle, whose figure is the one of priest and writer Gala Galaction, a pro-Jewish personality in the period in Romania, who tried to face nationalist and antisemitism and promoted reconciliation.





The Zionist dream of returning to the sources in Eretz Israel is also present in ‘The Madonna of the Vagabonds’ using again a New Testament metaphor. The Vagabonds are wandering Jews coming back to the land of their ancestors, now resting in deep sleep around a woman (mother Mary?). The lake behind with its fishermen boats is the Lake of Galilee where Jesus walked, preached and performed some of his miracles.





The last two works belong to the first year after Rubin arrived for good in Palestine. The self-portrait dated 1923 is already using colors from the new palette that Rubin starts using in the new country to represent the landscape and atmosphere of the Land of Israel. His attitude is much more serene and determined compared to the one of the 1921 self-portrait. Elements from the Christian iconography are however present here as well, for example the glass containing the white lily often present in Annunciation representations. Paired with the brushes he holds in his other hand they talk about the mission of the artist to build a new world (and new art) in the Land of the Bible.




The last work here also dated 1923 is part of a cycle of prints ‘The God-seekers’ and represents ‘The Prophet in the Desert’. It’s one of the last works (that I am aware about) with strong and explicit Biblical connotations. Rubin will become in the coming decades one of the leading artists of Jewish Palestine and then of Israel, and a legendary presence in the Tel Aviv bohemian life. He will return to Romania in 1948 as the first diplomatic envoy of the new-born State of Israel.



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.



The turn of events made that I first received the catalog of the the exhibition From Dada to Surrealism dedicated to the Jewish Avant-Garde Artists from Romania organized at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. I visited Amsterdam in May, a few weeks before the opening of the exhibition so I could not see the initial installment, and as it will be also hosted starting with November at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, I will visit it only in a few weeks. However, a friend of mine from the Netherlands bought and brought me (to Quebec City from all places) the catalog created by Radu Stern, the curator of the exhibition. It’s an exceptional book, both from a graphic and content point of view, and it made for an exquisite Yom Kippur reading.


Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam, source http://www.flickr.com/photos/mandywax/3294207937/


The book is organized in three sections. The first one includes three essays written by Radu Stern – one asking and answering the question ‘Why so many Jews?’ (in the Romanian avant-garde movement), and the other two analyze the moments ‘Zurich’ and ‘Bucharest’ in the evolution of the Dada and other avant-garde currents in Romanian culture in general and graphic arts in particular. The key theme of the essays are the cultural environment and the historical conditions that pushed many of the artists of Jewish origins to detach themselves from the mainstream currents in the Romanian culture characterized by the search for the Romanian ‘national specificity’ and look for alternate ways of expressing their own personalities, their search for new means of expression and for social justice. With the raise of extreme nationalism and antisemitism in Romania in the years between the two world wars the choice of modernity and synchronicity with the developments in modern art in Europe was both an aesthetic and a political choice. The most important in the group of artists presented in the exhibition were not only synchronous with the most advanced trends in European art, but actually part of the avant-garde of the avant-garde from the period of the first world war and of the Dada movement. The current exhibition as well as the book by Andrei Codrescu Post-Human Dada Guide make a convincing case of the roots of the personal, artistic and political choices made by these Jewish artists born in Romania in their becoming leaders of the avant-garde movement. (Codrescu’s book makes one step further in pointing to the fact that the anarchistic and creative nature of the Dada avant-garde ends by entering in conflict with the Communist doctrine, fact confirmed by the ultimate abandonment of the extreme left leanings by that part of the artists who were for a while tempted by the mirage of the proletarian revolution.)


source http://fondane.net/2011/05/22/from-dada-to-surrealism-exhibition/


The second section of the book presents the works of art. As I said I have not visited the exhibition yet, so I do not know if all the works are reproduced in the catalog, but even if these are not all, the selection is superb, the graphical conditions and the format make for a very comfortable reading, and the comments of many of the works are eyes-opening. The selection of the seven artists starts with precursor Arthur Segal, continue with some of the graphical works of Tristan Tzara, and bring many of the major works of Marcel Janco (Iancu), M.H.Maxy and Victor Brauner. The last two artists in the exhibition, Paul Paun and Jules Perahim belong to the second generation of avant-garde, the one who started their careers in the 1930s and continued it under the duress of the Communist dictatorship. Actually with the exception of Maxy all the other artists ended by leaving Romania, and either starting in new directions (as Janco who became one of the pillars of the Israeli school of art) or got back to their styles in the young days (Perahim in Paris, after leaving Romania and two decades of Socialist Realist intermezzo). The only observation I would make is that the selection could have benefited from including a few of the works of Janco in Israel, or of the late Perahim works (he had an exhibition in Romania earlier this year with works of surprising good quality) which would have shown their later evolutions (only Maxy is present with two later works). But even so, the gathering is remarkable, and I cannot wait to see directly for example the early works of Victor Brauner, or the works of Maxy, a testimony how great a painter this controversial figure (later) was  in the period between the two wars.


Victor Brauner - Portrait of Andre Breton, source http://imaginarypart.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/jewish-identity-and-radical-modernity/


The last section in the catalog is documentary and includes detailed biographies of the seven artists and a historical chronology by Mijke Derksen which traces in parallel the history of the Jewish presence in Romania with the milestones of the evolution of the avant-garde and the biographies of the artists present in the exhibition. These are very useful for the overall putting in context that this exhibition succeeds to make. One information missing is whether the figures of the Romanian Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust (280,000 to 380,000) include the Jews from Northern Transylvania occupied by Hungary during the war, most of them deported to the death camps. Also mentioning the number of Jews currently living in Romania (below 10,000) would have added to the overall picture of a country where Jews lived for centuries and brought such an important contribution in art and other fields.


M.H.Maxy - Electrical Madonna, source http://www.arttown.nl/Actueel-729.html?language=_L2


The exhibition opens in November at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Until then a virtual tour of the exhibition with some of the exposed works and more commentary is available at http://exhibitions.europeana.eu/exhibits/show/dada-to-surrealism-en.