Tag: jewish art

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A stylized image of American Jewish painter Gladys Goldstein working on an art collage.

Feminine Touch: on Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s “Touching the Art”

To be a woman in the modern world is to be an acrobat of social expectations. In contemporary times, gender is such an eager subject that some cultures reveal the biological formations of flesh while the forthcoming infant is still in the womb. Women do have wombs, but a woman is more than her womb. When a woman wills herself to be more than her womb, she runs directly into her culture’s social expectations. For those who were born women, these social expectations are inculcated from the first gulp of air when they are gendered. The processes by which little girls are educated in their gender roles extends beyond dolls versus cars. Recent conversations about readily recalled moments of their girlhood from adult women include an attention to their hair not given to brothers (the pincurl for Christmas), required domestic tasks (Mom and I cleaned, the boys went outside), the presence of dresses and other diminutive replications of gender-specific adult costuming. This is so entrenched in our social expectations that we are surprised at any scrutiny of them.

When a woman wants to be more than a womb, she will bump up against these social expectations, these invisible Rules. Some of the interaction with the Rules will be external—her healthcare institutions, educational institutions, and geography will do much to influence how she moves about in the physical world. Her rights as a sentient being, as a citizen, will include these external interactions. If a woman thinks she can be someplace, it is because she was educated to do so, she was permitted to do so, or she fought to do so. Contemporary culture has stories galore of the first woman to do something, and how now many women can and how girls can aspire. […]

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A stylized set of portraits of R.B. Kitaj, who is being re-appraised by English painter Ethan Pinch.

Critical Mass: The Case Against R.B. Kitaj

To revisit the work of American artist R.B. Kitaj is to revisit the scene of a ritual murder. He is, after all, a painter noteworthy for being ‘assassinated’ by his critics—a grievous mantle which, though Kitaj has been dead for over fifteen years, has thankfully found no indisputable successor. What stands today as a classic fable of yellow press journalism is the account of a London Tate retrospective so viciously panned that it is now held to be the catalyst for Kitaj’s eventual suicide along with the tragically premature death of his wife, Sandra, from a stroke.

Kitaj had been, for most of his career, a sort of enfant terrible—so it follows that he should have been accustomed to some negative criticism, or at least journalistic vulgarity. Yet the ’94 Tate retrospective, an event intended to finally confirm his critical legacy, instead gave rise to one of the most vicious pile-ons in the history of broadsheet criticism. A ‘cyclone of abuse ‘. A ‘lynch mob‘.

But what’s the real substance behind all this tabloid melodrama? Could it just be another case of critical caprice? Of obstinance and snobbery? Or was it, as Kitaj loudly alleged, a case of antisemitic blood libel: of gentiles bashing and scapegoating an expatriate Jewish artist for the crime of merely existing? […]