James Gallery, Graduate Center, State University of New York
Modern Style: Jonia Fein and the Art History of Yiddishland
September 14th – December 8th, 2023
Modernist Yiddish art and literature flourished during an unlikely cultural moment from the early 20th century to the founding of Israel. Its relevance waned after most of the language’s speaking population was lost and the rise of Zionism deemed it obsolete. Before the war, they found second homes in the United States and the Soviet Union, but assimilation and persecution ultimately pushed them back to the periphery. By the 21st century, the concept of “Yiddishland,” encompassing both the geographical region of Eastern Europe and the international community of Jewish diaspora, had come to resemble so many dusty books and aging faces. Currently, it is maintained by a small community of Yiddish organizations, universities, and Hasidic communities. Conceived by figures like Peretz Markish who embraced diaspora as a condition of liberation (“without beginning and without end”), Yiddishland succumbed to the tensions of cosmopolitanism in the face of unwelcome state power. Jonia Fein drifted through this history as a free agent and as an example of his ideals. After studying art at Vilnius University several years ago, Fein fled the Nazi invasion of Poland and was chased from Japanese-occupied Shanghai to Mexico City and finally New York City. Over the course of this journey, he developed a particular style and worldview, influenced greatly by expressionism, Japanese painting, and Diego Rivera, who first advocated his work when Fein was teaching in Mexico City. I was allowed to. He then continued to exhibit extensively in New York City until the 1960s, and taught at the Brooklyn Museum, New York University, and Hofstra University until his death in 2013 at the age of 100. A painter and poet, Fain’s literary work was inseparable from his paintings. Modern-ish aims to express the richness of Fain’s life and career by displaying his paintings, books, ephemera, and video interviews all in the same space. The text on the walls is in Yiddish and English.
Fein’s drawings and drawings are dark, to say the least. Ragged figures, solitary figures, screaming figures, and crowds of figures are depicted through fragmented gestures. To wrench the body from itself.picture like not my child (1941–1946), start of the day (1941–1946), and alone (1941–1946), etched from the page by shadows, where the exhaustion of the public sphere seems to linger in the lines of their faces. However, despite the impact of Fain’s image, his title has fallen at all.title like crucifixion (1966), holocaust (no date), alone (1997) and alone (1941–1946), anger (1941-1946), night (1941–1946), scream (1997) Everything refers to something that is represented in the picture, either briefly or literally. holocaust and crucifixion In the former case, the concept exceeds the impact of the painting, and in the latter case, the painting speaks for itself, so it is particularly overbearing.
But perhaps the clumsiness of Fein’s one-word title is simply a matter of taste in translation. What sounds awkward to our ears is actually a common tone in Yiddish literature, distorting kitsch. Many canonical Yiddish writers, such as Abraham Shtskever, Peretz Markish, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, are treated unfairly by today’s literary conventions. Singer’s work was considered important in the English-speaking world for most of his career. Sztskever and Markisch did not heed Adorno’s declaration that there would be no poetry after Auschwitz. Their excesses – such as Shtskever’s depiction of writing poems on naked corpses while hiding in an attic. my life and lyrics, or the spectacle of endless rotting death that Markish describes in his poem “Heap” reflects a desire to get to the bottom of existential questions by evoking drama even in the darkest of situations . Fein was no exception to his contemporaries and was deeply concerned with representations of violence and dehumanization. It is easy to frame his work in terms of the displacement of . playtim (refugees). But I also think the gruesome nature of his paintings reveals his obsession with tragedy.
What particularly attracted me was Untitled (dying horse) (undated), a small simple painting at the back of the gallery. A horse on its back is depicted on a blue and green background. The tragedy of this painting is acutely depicted not only by its accuracy, but also by the use of the horse as a symbol. There are no whips or carriages, but it reminds me of the story of the Horses of Turin. Crime and Punishment. Before Raskolnikov decides to commit murder, he has a dream in which he encounters a carriage driver stuck in the mud, brutally beating his horse. He is a child born to his father, and is separated from him after he falls while trying to protect a horse. Friedrich Nietzsche is said to have gone insane after experiencing a similar incident in Italy in 1889. The horse represents the weakness of the oppressed, and its epistemological status is untitled. You can only speak its proper name within parentheses. So it doesn’t matter and you have a carte blanche choice with the whip ignoring the consequences.