Aspects of Appearance: Portraits from the Collection in Context

Derfner Judaica Museum

Feb. 25, 2024 - Jun. 30, 2024

5901 Palisade Ave
Bronx, 10471
PHONE 718 581-1596

Aspects of Appearance: Portraits from the Collection in Context features thirty-one works in a range of media by twenty-seven artists. The artworks in this exhibition span more than a century, from William Auerbach-Levy’s (b. Brest-Litovsk, Russian Empire, now Brest, Belarus, 1889–d. Ossining, New York, 1964) rigorously naturalistic depictions of types encountered on New York’s Lower East Side to Maryna Bilak’s (b. Rakhiv, Ukraine, 1984) hauntingly beautiful, contemporary portrait of her aging mother-in-law. From strangers to intimate portraits of family members, the artists included here reveal the character of their subjects, while at the same time positioning them in wider social and cultural contexts.

A portrait, at its essence, is a matter of identity and identification. Yet they also may be great works of imagination—opportunities for artists to explore their own memories and fantasies—as exemplified by Romare Bearden’s (b. Charlotte, North Carolina, 1911–d. New York, New York, 1988) mythic vision of a royal figure related to African American culture. Hyman Bloom (b. Riga, Latvia, 1913–d. Nashua, New Hampshire, 2009) depicts a rabbi, whose personal identity is less important than the enduring traditions of the religion he represents. Similarly, Max Weber (b. Bialystok, Russian Empire, now Poland, 1881–d. Great Neck, New York, 1961) focuses on expressing the spiritual solemnity of Judaism in a portrait of an unknown sitter. Like Auerbach-Levy, both David Levine (b. Brooklyn, New York, 1926–d. New York, New York, 2009) and Abraham Walkowitz (b. Tyumen, Russian Empire, now Russia, 1878–d. New York, New York, 1965) focus on types—the ordinary people they might observe on New York City streets, though during two very different eras.

Portraits typically represent a unique individual, their character, inner life, and place in society. Artists such as Milton Avery (b. Altmar, New York, 1885–d. Bronx, New York, 1965), Ilarion Golitsyn (b. Moscow, Russian SFSR, now Russia, 1928–d. Moscow, Russia, 2007), Gerta Nemenova (b. Berlin, Germany, 1905–d. Leningrad, Russian SFSR, now Saint Petersburg, Russia, 1986), Georgy Vereisky (b. Proskurov, Russian Empire, now Khmelnitsky, Ukraine, 1886–d. Leningrad, Russian SFSR, now Saint Petersburg, Russia, 1962), Andy Warhol (b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1928–d. New York, New York,
1987), and Shai Zurim (b. Israel, 1972) portray their friends, members of their artistic circles, and cultural icons. Others focus on self-identity, like Menashe Kadishman (b. Tel Aviv-Yafo, Mandatory Palestine, now Israel, 1932–d. Ramat Gan, Israel, 2015) and Bill Sullivan (b. New Haven, Connecticut, 1942–d. Hudson, New York, 2010). Still others, for example, Rifka Angel (b. Kalvarija, Russian Empire, now Lithuania, 1899–d. New York, New York, 1988), Alex Katz (b. Brooklyn, New York, 1927), and Joan Linder (b. Ossining, New York, 1970), explore the nuances of family relationships. Some, like Raphael Soyer (b. Borisoglebsk, Russian Empire, now Russia, 1899–d. New York, New York, 1987) and Benjamin Levy (b. Tel Aviv, Mandatory Palestine, now Israel, 1940)—both from immigrant families—are inspired by old family photographs, while Till Freiwald (b. Lima, Peru, 1963) bases his paintings directly on his own photographs of other people.

Portraiture also provides a lens onto politics and history, for example in Chaim Gross’s (b. Ökörmező, Hungary, now Mizhhirya, Ukraine, 1904–d. New York, New York, 1991) commemorative print of Martin Luther King, Jr., following his death in 1968, and Oskar Kokoschka’s (b. Pöchlarn, Austria, 1886–d. Montreux, Switzerland, 1980) portrait of Golda Meir. Other works demonstrate modernism’s impact on portraiture, from expressionistic and semi-abstract paintings and prints by Harold Baumbach (b. New York, New York, 1904–d. San Francisco, California, 2001), Moïse Kisling (b. Kraków, Austria-Hungary, now Poland, 1891–d. Sanary-sur-Mer, France, 1953), and Pablo Picasso (b. Málaga, Spain, 1881–d. Mougins, France, 1973) to conceptual examples by Dan Witz (b. Chicago, Illinois, 1957).

This exhibition gives viewers an opportunity to consider the varied ways in which portrait subjects are represented. As artists fashion resemblance, they also construct meaning and connect viewers with aspects of their own identities.

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