Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

WE WILL NEVER DIE: RUSSIAN JEWISH ARTISTS IN A CENTURY OF CHANGE, 1890 - 1990

BY: GAD NAHSHON

The Jewish Museum, presents a unique exhibition, 'Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change, 1890 - 1990', to remain on view at 1109 Fifth Avenue through January 18, 1996. A must see for every Jew; it is the first comprehensive investigation of prominent Russians and Soviet Jewish artists spanning the period from the end of the Tsarist Empire through the fall of the Soviet Union. On view: 300 works by 50 artists, including paintings, sculpture, photographs, porcelain and graphics, by such notable figures as Nathan Altman, Mark Antokolsky, Leon Bakst, Isaak Brodsky, Eric Bulutov, Marc Chagal, Ilya Kalakov, Anatoly Kaplan, Isaak Levitan, El Lissitzky, Oskar Rabin and others.

This exhibition is certainly a rare illumination of the history of the 100-year period in which the art was created. Many of the works of art have never been seen in the United States before and a significant number have rarely been exhibited outside of Russia. The two floor exhibition comprises four major historical periods, each commemorating how key social and political events had a profound impact on the art created by Russian Jewish artists:

  1. Twilight of Imperial Russia 1890 - 1917;
  2. Identity and Revolution 1917 - 1930;
  3. The Stalin Era 1930 - 1953;
  4. From Thaw to Perestroika 1953 - 1990.

This exhibition chronicles the importance of the Jewish artists in Russia as well as in the Soviet Union. Their contribution to the Russian culture was unique. This exhibition also focuses on one of the central dilemmas of modern Jewish existence: the degree to which Jews can integrate into their surrounding culture without losing or effacing their own heritage, traditions and future. Jews were prevented from pursuing their own culture, yet it was not possible for them to fully assimilate into the majority Russian population. In fact, Jewish artists in Russia had multiple identities which they sought to fuse in the face of inextricable tensions between their status as Russians, Jews and artists. As Jews they were victim to anti-Semitism, pogroms and persecution. Some, like Yehuda Pen, the founder of the Vitebsk School of Art, the great teacher of Chagal, Lissitzky, Abel Pann, Iuolovin and many others were murdered in 1937 on Stalin's orders.

It should be noted that a new audio soundtrack has been created to accompany the exhibition. The audio tour is narrated by the famous actor Theodore Bikel. He presents both the history of the 100 year period, the artists and their art in a storytelling format. Also, one can buy at the Jewish Museum's Cooper Shop the 272- page illustrated catalogue of this enriching exhibition, which was organized by Susan Turnarkin Goodman, Chief Curator of the Jewish Museum


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