In the 1980’s, Andy Warhol befriended several young artists of notoriety, including Keith Haring, with whom he also collaborated. Celebrated for his public and socially conscious art, Haring is pictured here with his then-boyfriend, DJ Juan Dubose. This portrait (1983) is rare, within Warhol’s oeuvre and in the visual culture of its time, in its depiction of intimacy between an interracial same-sex couple.
Photographed, Against a Wallpaper Comprised of Warhol’s Silkscreened Celebrity Portraits, in The Jewish Museum in Upper Manhattan
In Arlene Shechet’s sculpture, past, present, and future are subtly intertwined. For Travel Light (2017) she begins with pair of candlesticks that her grandmother brought from Belarus in 1920; the only material objects that the family possesses from their country of origin.
As she sought to learn more about them, Shechet uncovered long-forgotten family documents, from which she was able to track-down previously unknown relatives. The work is a functioning candelabrum grown from the old candlesticks; like them, it may be used for the Sabbath ceremony.
Three more iterations of the work are planned. The artist has embedded an image of the cover of her grandmother’s passport in the sculpture and will ask each subsequent owner to give her a cherished family record, which she will also embed in the piece. Thus, Travel Light will accumulate new stories, as a suitcase acquires travel labels, embracing the future as well as the past.
Amedeo Modigliani’s mother wrote that at about the age of fifteen the artist attended is first seance. His youthful spiritual and esoteric inclinations took him in the direction of the occult, reflected in this drawing, Portrait of a Medium (1906), made from memory, of a session he attended in Venice, where he studied for two years before coming to Paris.
A native of Vitebsk, Mikhail Kunin (1897 – 1972) received artist training from Yuri (Yehuda) Pen and then attended the People’s Art School from 1919 to 1921, taking classes with Marc Chagall and then Kazimir Malevich. Kunin painted this still life, with its colorful objects during Chagall’s class. Its title, Art of the Commune (1919), is inscribed on the lower left, along with the Russian words for ‘Futurists’ and ‘Leap into the future.’ Ambitious and involved, Kunin was a member of the School’s student executive committee and its Communist Counsel. Although he studied under Malevich, he continued to work in a figurative style, not hesitating to criticize Suprematism and its practitioners, notably for what he said were their nihilism and their tendency to destroy painterly culture.
El Lissitzky (1890 – 1941) created the poster Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge (1919 – 20) in Vitebsk (a city in northeast Belarus, known as the birthplace of Marc Chagall). It is an early example of agitprop (Soviet political propaganda) that uses abstraction. The work was produced during the Russian Civil War (1918 – 21) in support of the Red Army and the young Soviet government in their struggle against anti-Bolshevik White forces. In the middle of the composition, a revolutionary red triangle drives into a white circle on a black background. The symbolic significance of these forms — emphasized by the scattered Russian words for wedge, red, beat, and whites — would have been easily understood by the artist’s contemporaries.
This painting, entitled Anywhere Out of the World (1915 – 19) may be a self portrait. Mark Chagall (1887 – 1985) bisected the head of the figure because, as he explained it, it “needed a bank space right there“ to strengthen the composition. The pictorial strategy, which appears in some of his earlier paintings, could be a rendition of the “luftmensch,“ a Yiddish term used to describe a person who is concerned with intellectual pursuits rather than with the practicalities of life. The sideways cityscape adds tension to the scene. The painting’s overall geometrization is reminiscent of El Lissitzky’s Proun paintings — abstract compositions meant to be looked at from various vantage points.
In Florine Stettheimer’s frequent group portraits, her family and friends are not only clearly identifiable, but represented in attitudes that express their inner selves — an idea with roots in Symbolist painting of the late nineteenth century. In Family Portrait I (1915), she shares an elegant afternoon outdoors wither sisters and mother. Ettie, at left with a Japanese parasol is turned away, conversing with Carrie, who gazes at the viewer. Florine, too, looks outward, presiding over each bouquet of flowers and a dish of fruit that pays homage to the apples of Paul Cezanne. Their mother, Rosetta, the proper Victorian in black, is reading a novel by Ettie, the family intellectual.
Thick brushwork, deep jewel-tone colors, shallow perspective, and wealth of surface pattern all suggest Stettheimer’s familiarity with Post-Impressionist painters such as Pierre Bonnard and Paul Gauguin, infused with her own brand of social perceptiveness
Robert Indiana (1928 – 2018) was closely associated with the hard-edged painting and Pop Art movements. Using the formal vocabulary of advertisements, his work often explores the power of words and numbers. In Purim: The Four Facets of Esther II (1967), he represents Stars of David and elements of the Biblical story of Esther, who was Queen of Persia in the fifth century BCE. Esther saved her fellow Jews from destruction, the feat to which Indiana refers in the fourth panel.
The Jewish Museum (where this photo was taken) commissioned this print in an edition of ninety for its annual Purim fundraising ball in 1967.
Marc Camille Chaimowicz (b. 1947) is a London-based, cross-disciplinary contemporary artist whose works challenge the categorical divisions between art and design. His recent career retrospect at the Jewish Museum (which was the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States) transformed the entire second floor of the former Warburg family mansion from an exhibit showcase into a series of fantasy tableaus pristinely curated with unique and whimsical home furnishings and décor. This room was my favorite. Let’s take a closer look at the pieces that make up this dream-like living room set.
Blue Velvet Give and Take Sofa and Pink Glazed Ceramic Rope Vase.
Maquette for Give and Take Sofa
Stainless Steel Magazine Rack with Diamonds Cut Outs
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit, Your Place or Mine, at the Jewish Museum.
Items Shown Left to Right : One Meter Lamp (2016), Glazed Ceramic Rope Vase (2014) Give and Take Velvet Sofa (1994) Stainless Steel Magazine Rack (2014)
Over six decades, Elaine Lustig Cohen (1927 – 2016) moved among diverse activities, including art, design, and rare-book dealing. She began her career as a graphic designer in the mid-1950s, extending the vocabulary of European Modernism — Constructivism, Dada, and the Bauhaus — into an American context for publishers, architects and cultural Institutions.
From 1962 to 1967, she helped shape the Jewish Museum’s intuitional identity, directing the design of catalogues, posters, booklets and other printed material for its progressive exhibition program. At the same time, Lustig Cohen developed a hard-edge style as a painter, with a formal language of solid colors, abstract geometric shapes, and minimally visible brushstrokes, her paintings directly relate to her design work and to the movement called Postpainterly Abstraction. Lustig Cohen’s artistic contributions demonstrate that the lineage of Postpainterly Abstraction should been expanded beyond the fine arts to include postwar graphic design.
One of Lustig Cohen’s key projects was the design of book jackets for Meridian Publishers. Drawing on her knowledge modern typography and avant-garde design principles, such as asymmetrical composition dramatic scale, and image montage, Lustig Cohen forged a distinctive graphic voice.
For book jackets, she described her process as one of distillation, in which she would identify the central ideas of the text and render then abstractly with bold lettering, expressive forms, and playfully collaged photographic elements.