Exhibit Shows Jews' Paris Paintings
BETH J. HARPAZ
Mar. 08, 2000
NEW YORK (AP) _ They came from Eastern Europe, some from traditional Jewish villages and Orthodox families, others from well-to-do circumstances in big cities like Warsaw.
But regardless of their backgrounds, the artists featured in a new exhibit at The Jewish Museum all ended up in cosmopolitan Paris between 1907 and 1939, an era when Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism served up a heady brew of influences. Drawn like other bohemians and immigrants to the art capital of the world, they achieved success and renown for their work without hiding their Jewishness in the decades before Nazism scattered them again.
``Paris in New York'' features 38 works by 12 artists including Marc Chagall, Max Weber, Chaim Soutine and Amedeo Modigliani. Yes, Modigliani was Jewish. But thanks to the magic of assimilation and an Italian name and upbringing (he's the only one of the 12 who wasn't born in Eastern Europe), it's not well-known. And unlike Chagall, who grew up in a Russian shtetl and incorporates Jewish symbols and images into his work, Modigliani's instantly recognizable portrait style with its oval faces, swan necks and irisless eyes offer no clues to his religious identity.
All but two of the 38 paintings and sculptures featured here are borrowed from private collectors located in New York City; hence the exhibit's title ``Paris in New York.'' The goal of the show was to highlight rarely seen works. While that deprives viewers of the chance to revisit better-known masterpieces, it also brings to light unknown treasures. The unique audio-tour even features quotes from the private collectors, and hearing their honest, intimate reactions to the art is like comparing notes with a friend on how you personally relate to a certain piece.
Kurt Olden, the collector who loaned Jules Pascin's ``The Turkish Family,'' says that the painting of nine cheerful individuals, from a little girl to a jaunty man in a top hat, gathered beneath a blissful cherub, reminded him of how his own clan arrived in New York from Hitler's Germany: ``We were like Pascin's Turkish family, like the refugees who escaped from Turkey in the late 19th century.''
Two bronze nudes, each about 2 feet tall, by Elie Nadelman, were loaned by Bernard Goldberg, who is quoted as seeing the two in a sexual courtship: ``The woman _ very coy, very, very guarded. And the male, although he is kind of androgynous, is saying, you know, 'Come on, let's get on with it.' ... When the museum asked if they could borrow one, I said, 'You can't borrow one without the other because I think they relate to each other.'''
There are two Chagalls in the exhibit: ``Rabbi,'' a moody painting in blacks and grays of a man standing with his eyes shut, lost in thought and stroking a long beard, a crowd of tumble-down houses in the background; and ``Carpenters and Fishes,'' a brightly colored picture of two men working a handsaw, with a whimsical blue fish floating in the corner of a yellow sky.
The Modiglianis include several portraits, among them the 1916 masterpiece ``Portrait of Anna (Hanka) Zborowska,'' an almost classical depiction of a serene, elegant woman with the artist's trademark hollowed-out eyes, like a statue's gaze gone one-dimensional.
Chaim Soutine's work is the most unsettling with its grim depiction of even the most benign subjects. ``Little Girl With a Doll'' shows a waif with haunting black pools for eyes, her lips turned down, clutching a lump of a doll with eyes but no face. Both girl and doll bring to mind Edvard Munch's famous Expressionist work ``The Scream.''
Soutine's ``The Communicant,'' which interestingly portrays a Catholic subject, shows a girl dressed in a wedding-like gown, but her expression conveys sorrow and dread. The bloody ``Hanging Turkey'' bears a gruesome resemblance to a human corpse. And in ``House at Oiseme,'' even his landscape is infused with foreboding _ black trees, a ghostly mansion, wispy clouds hanging like question marks.
The exhibit also features two enchanting sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz: ``Acrobat on Horseback,'' a joyful study of motion, curves and lines; and ``Detachable Figure: Seated Musician,'' a cello player that is both a realistic wooden statue and a Cubist construct of geometric shapes.
Moise Kisling's ``Large Reclining Nude, Kiki,'' is a sexy 1925 portrait of a well-known artist-model and cabaret singer whose curvy white body nearly floats above the floral chaise she reclines on. Mane-Katz's Post-Impressionist ``Landscape'' uses short, heavily layered streaks of paint to portray a jumble of simple peak-roofed homes.
The exhibit runs through June 25 at the Jewish Museum, located on Fifth Avenue at 93rd Street. You may want to go a few blocks down the avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is showing ``Painters in Paris: 1895-1950.'' The Met show includes Chagall and Modigliani among 100 other artists and makes a good companion to the more modest show at the Jewish Museum.