I will be participating in the Salon ha Cubia exhibit opening October 28, 2017, at 8 pm in Nayot in Jerusalem, as part of the city-wide Manofim project. Closing January 25, 2018. Hope to see you there. Invitation

Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. For details see post

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rosh Hashana In Purgatory

 To my readers,
This article was published in the Times of Israel here.   I realize it is a little out of the scope of art and Jerusalem,  but I thought I would share it here with you as a personal memoir.  So,  if you are only interested in art,  I can save you the trouble.   

Thanks for your indulgence.

Sitting still in a chair on Rosh Hashanah as a child was difficult. The services seemed endless, but in our Conservative synagogue, where we sat family-style, one of the few bright spots included fiddling with the folds of white cloth and knots on my father’s tallit (prayer shawl).

The annual Rosh Hashanah liturgy with my father at my side seemed to me as predictable as if it had been written into the laws of nature: like salmon swimming upstream to spawn, like birds migrating south for the winter, like snows melting in the spring sun. We did it every fall, and we surely always would.

But life isn’t like that. My experiences in Jerusalem synagogues on Rosh Hashanah have long since outnumbered my American experiences. I understand more Hebrew than in those days, so the services are less daunting. And, no longer a child, I now wonder what memories of previous holidays washed over my father as he sat in the comfortable pew of a small suburban congregation in southern Maryland.
A recent housekeeping crisis unearthed decades-old family memorabilia long since retrieved from his belongings and nearly forgotten. Tucked between his subscriptions to first-day commemorative envelopes of Israeli stamps was a program from a Rosh Hashanah service in occupied Germany in 1945, in which he participated as part of the US military government. Chronologically, he was merely 19 years old, but his life experience belied his years.

Fleeing the flames


My father, Alexander Breuer, was born to Adolf and Ilona Breuer in Wiener-Neustadt, Austria, in 1926. Their town was an ancient city with a Jewish population dating from at least the 1100s. His childhood under the lengthening shadow of Nazism in Germany changed instantly with the annexation of Austria in the Anschluss of 1938. No longer allowed to be with their friends in school, the Jewish kids were taunted unmercifully and worse, and in a matter of months all the Nuremburg Laws that had been enacted in Germany over a period of five years were put into place. He remembered that overnight his friends and neighbors had transformed their Austrian flags into Nazi flags, which were unfurled from every window to welcome the Nazi stormtroopers.

No more school, no more synagogue services. His bar mitzvah consisted of being taken to a hidden synagogue with a quorum of 10 men and being called to the Torah to quickly recite the blessings. No party, no strudel, no schnapps. On Kristallnacht his father was arrested with the other Jewish men and older boys and sent to Dachau. He was subsequently released, with the understanding that he would leave Austria for a transport to the east and work on “a collective work farm” (which I’ve written about here).
The author's father and his family on their first day in America, in New York City, February 1940. Both kids are wearing short pants -- the appropriate fashion for Austrian boys at the time. (photo credit: courtesy Heddy Abramowitz)
The author’s father and his family on their first day in America, in New York City, February 1940. Both kids are wearing short pants — the appropriate fashion for Austrian boys at the time. (photo credit: courtesy Heddy Abramowitz)

After a lot of drama, effort, nerves, luck, and, we believe, some help from on high, the day came that my father and his family left Austria on what he told me was the last train to slip out before the borders were sealed, in January 1940. They traveled to Italy and then crossed the ocean to New York. Like most German-speaking immigrants of the day, the family lived in the unfashionable high numbers of the Upper West Side. Now he was faced with a whole new set of challenges. Without English, he was doing terribly in school, only barely understanding math. His classmates, happy to find a new victim, called him names like “Fritz” because of his heavy accent. No doubt, his blood boiled; no Jewish refugee child would welcome an association with the Germans.

Learning stickball and baseball, and getting to be old enough to get back to Europe and fight the Nazis himself, were the main concerns of his early teenage years. He worried that he would miss that chance, but the war dragged on until he could finally enlist, only to be rejected on the grounds that he was classified as an “enemy alien.” But when he reached 18, despite his Axis origin, the US army had no problem drafting him and sending him back to Europe as “infantry replacement.”

Return to the inferno


Before embarking for the continent on troop ships across the English Channel, his officers rattled off the boilerplate instructions for the troops, including asking whether anyone had reason to believe that the Nazis had their fingerprints. As he had been in school under the Nazi occupation, he raised his hand, but since no one had ever answered “yes” to the question, the officers were at a loss at to what to do with him. After several days of “hurry up and wait,” he was given the choice of shipping out to the Pacific theater or continuing on to Europe. He had no doubts that the war against the Nazis was his war, and he continued on.

He also had to consider how to identify himself on his dog tags as to his religion. For most soldiers this was a straightforward question concerning last rites and burial. For Jewish soldiers, the decision entailed the life-threatening announcement to the enemy that they were Jewish, and the knowledge that as prisoners they would certainly be singled out for special treatment. Moreover, his circumcision already marked him as a Jew and exposed him to greater potential risk should he fall into enemy hands. Another fear was that his accent would cause him trouble, if not death, when he would have to give passwords to sentries in the field; to the average Yankee, he sounded just like the enemy.

Assigned to the 80th Infantry Division, 2d Battalion, 319th Infantry Regiment in France, to a unit called Intelligence and Reconnaissance, at the lowest level of the infantry, my father found himself serving under General George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge. He developed a soldier’s tough shell from seeing the carnage and undergoing the most grim of battlefield experiences. Because his officers knew that he spoke fluent German, he was often designated to interpret during interrogation of prisoners of war as they were gathered in by the advancing Allied troops.
After the carpet-bombing of Dresden, and with the end of the war coming into view, higher-ups in the command chain decided that the city of Weimar would be spared a similar fate because it was considered a cultural treasure of Germany. It fell upon my father to accompany an officer as interpreter and to go behind enemy lines to seek out the mayor of Weimar and negotiate the surrender of the city. They eventually found the mayor, who was curious about my father’s native German. When my father revealed that he was a Jewish refugee from Austria, the mayor said offhandedly, “Oh, since you’re Jewish, you may be interested in seeing the camp down the road. It’s called Buchenwald.”

A group photo of the unit during the post-war military government in Germany. Alexander Breuer, the author's father, is in the second row, sixth from the right. (photo credit: courtesy Heddy Abramowitz)
A group photo of the unit during the post-war military government in Germany. Alexander Breuer, the author’s father, is in the second row, sixth from the right. (photo credit: courtesy Heddy Abramowitz)

In an interview given at the US State Department for the International Liberator’s Conference in 1981, some excerpts of what my father related were:

So the mayor of Weimar then took us, after he surrendered the city, he took the commanding general of the division – and I was part of the party—and we went into Buchenwald as the original group to go in there…. But it was a horrendous experience. No amount of pre-knowledge that I had prepared me for it. The enormity of it all is beyond description…the expressionless eyes, the people just stared as though they were on a different planet… just walking zombies… The mayor took us through the camp the first go-around… three days later he committed suicide.

Buchenwald was the first concentration camp that the Allied forces came across, and Eisenhower commanded — after tending to the medical needs for the living, and burying the piles of corpses — that the army photographers record everything. Adding to his two Purple Hearts for battle wounds, my father was awarded a bronze medal for his part in the negotiation of the surrender of Weimar. Few could imagine what it was like for this young soldier doing his assignments, speaking in fluent German to the incredulous, newly freed Jews — that it was so easy for him to identify with their side of the picture:

My own personal feeling is the feeling that only through the chance of luck that I was there the liberator, that I may not have been even a survivor if it wouldn’t have been for lucky happenstance.

Indestructible faith


It was finally over. Assigned to work as part of the military government in Krumbach, Germany, my father faced his first post-war High Holidays. This program, on the one hand so similar to the typical order of prayer services throughout the ages, was also markedly different. This one was for the Jewish soldiers serving in the US forces in Europe who had just seen harsh combat fighting the Nazis and knew firsthand the fate of their people. Included on the program, printed in post-war Germany on thin, now-yellowed paper, was this message written by one Sgt. Allan Bass:

Each new year and Day of Atonement represent solemn occasion of self-examination of self-judgment in the life of every Jew. The High Holidays of 1945 possess additional significance. Jewish soldiers have heroically given their lives in expunging from Europe the endless slavery and sadistic torture inflicted upon countless peoples. Our Services on conquered German soil, where millions of innocent Jews died during twelve incredible years of Nazism, therefore, commemorate our indestructible faith in God and Country. We fervently pray, the world now in peace, will secure the righteous dignities deserving of all mankind.”

Those words surely reflected the thoughts of every soldier participating in that unique setting, and in similar services held throughout Europe in 1945.

A detail of the 1945 Yom Kippur prayer program (photo credit: courtesy Heddy Abramowitz)
A detail of the 1945 Yom Kippur prayer program (photo credit: courtesy Heddy Abramowitz)

Returning to civilian life after the war, my dad took advantage of the GI Bill and completed college in upstate NY; married my mother, Lee Feig Breuer, an Auschwitz survivor; finished a law degree; eventually worked in civil service at the Department of Agriculture; and then went into private practice in the southern Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. He was active in a broad range of organizations in support of his community, his religion, and local political groups, never taking for granted his life in a free country that he felt indebted to for taking him in. Though he shared his experiences with my sister and me as we grew up, he had an innate modesty, so it wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I could assess his war-time experiences.

I can only surmise that while I was playing with his big white tallit as a young girl, my father must have drifted back in time to that unique Rosh Hashanah of 1945. I know that while I am singing “Avinu Malkenu” this year, though sitting in a women’s section in Jerusalem, I will feel enveloped in the waves and folds of soft white wool and the knots that tie me to his memories.


This article originally was published on the  Times of Israel  at:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Even Bloggers Lie Low in August

"High Heat," aquarelles and graphite on paper, c. 1996 by Heddy Abramowitz

August heat has arrived. This painting describes what many would like to do in this weather.   I think we are all moving at a slower pace,  myself included.   Just a note to let you know I'm  taking a breather from blogging.  See you in September.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rocking the Boat: Anne Sassoon at Artspace Gallery

“Exiles” oil on canvas 50cm x 50 cm 2012 © by Anne Sassoon

Little did she realize when creating these works how her new exhibit would segue perfectly with current events.   “Exiles,” Anne Sassoon’s exhibit at Artspace Gallery in Jerusalem’s Germany Colony coincided with initial attempts to return some of the thousands of foreign border runners that have poured into Israel of late, and corresponding demonstrations in Tel Aviv’s Lewinsky Park.

This is an issue that is emotionally-charged for many Israelis, triggering memories of statelessness without shelter from the storms of war and certain death. While most of the recent arrivals seem to be seeking economic improvement and are not refugees from genocide, it has become a cause célèbre taken up by the radical chic and others, while becoming a flash point for daily social tensions rankling nerves in south Tel Aviv.  (Fellow blogger, Mollie Gerver, has recently addressed the latest in this issue here).
Best known for her expressive paintings focusing on the often unknown individuals caught in the whirlpool of larger events, Sassoon touches on the human element inside the larger political conundrum.   Amongst the twenty-one works of paintings and drawings in this exhibit completed  within the last couple of years,  inspiration came from several directions, as she states:
It was seeing the homeless in Cape Town coupled with my own experience of foreignness that started it. … Drawings of Vietnamese boat people and of people in South Africa who live on the streets are the source of these paintings – I draw from the internet as well as life.  Also memories of Derek Jarman’s painterly film The Last of England, where the dispossessed are herded onto a raft by masked police and dogs – not far from the images in today’s newspaper. …

Politics underlies everything. I never deal with it directly but it leads me, like subliminal steppingstones, towards my subject matter.

Welsh-born Anne Sassoon was raised in South Africa where she became known as a figurative artist despite prevailing tastes monopolizing the art world advocating abstraction. She received her art training in London, studying at the Byam Shaw School of Art, Hornsey College of Art and completed her BA in Fine Arts at Middlesex University.

Finding herself living amidst the apartheid regime,  her forays into political art included drawings of black defendants at their trials during the 80′s. Her influences were not drawn from the current vogue abroad but from the protest art deriving from the Weimar Republic,  where she found that the wider political conditions had parallels to apartheid South Africa. In her pantheon of admired artists, I sense that Sassoon reserves a spot for German artist, Kathe Kollwitz, who was specifically known for her depictions of the poor and down-trodden, as well as her innovative drawings.

She exhibited alongside artists associated with the South African Resistance Art Movement in the 80′s, including Robert Hodgins, Deborah Bell, and William Kentridge.  At the time, Kentridge,  an animator,  was only known in South Africa,  but in the 90′s catapulted to international recognition.  Sassoon notes that while the art  became more interesting, the political situation became quite bleak,  causing her and her husband, journalist Benjamin Pogrund, to bid farewell to their jailed friend Nelson Mandela and re-locate first to London and later to Jerusalem.

Amongst the works, we see paintings showing lone souls afloat in obscure settings.  The forlorn and hopeful individuals sit adrift within small crafts, some set in eerie night-scapes. These rowboats are exactly counter to the nursery rhyme, they are not rowing gently down the stream, but sit amidst oddly –shaped rocks which loom to threaten their immediate passage as they continue to a dubious New World  of intimidating urban structures- in search for what they hope will be a better life.

“Boat People” oil on canvas 80cm x 80cm 2012 © by Anne Sassoon

Sassoon conveys the sense of displacement by sometimes using masks for the drifters.   Is this a mask for their emotions, a costume to “pass” through into a new life, a barrier of culture and experience between themselves and those around them?  Many questions are raised that speak to the immigrant or refugee experience – experiences that are always very near the surface in Israel with its diverse populations.  These questions are part of a universal question common to all humanity. Because Sassoon’s sources for these paintings are from beyond the local conflict, they invite contemplative extrapolation that is subtly directed.

In some of the works, a cold and unwelcoming shoreline greets the hapless boats in private and lonely meetings with the dry land, the new home to the meager crews. Two associations begged to be grouped with these paintings, in my mind:  the similar arrivals of so many Ma’apilim who came to Israel’s shores during the British Mandate’s strict (alright: cruel) enforcement of the White Paper, who similarly arrived under cover of night from the sea, and, in marked contrast, the arrival of new immigrants to Israel today who arrive at Ben Gurion airport with a joyous public reception. Despite the warm welcome, when the dancing stops, the immigrants are likely to face a struggle adjusting in a strange new land, at once familiar and foreign.

“Video Link” oil on canvas 100cm x 100cm 2012 © by Anne Sassoon

Another device to describe the sense of detached isolation is shown in paintings displaying Palestinian participants in a video link, apparently made because their presence at a press conference could not be arranged due to political red-tape.  Here, too, without concrete political declarations, she describes the outsider on the fringes of the mainstream,  painted in the cast of greenish and reddish artificial light much like that of a recording studio,  evoking a sense of limbo.

Please continue reading the this post on Times of Israel here   

Monday, July 9, 2012

Last Word on the President's Conference 2012: Israeli Arts

“DeadSee” by Sigalit Landau, 2005, DVD projection, 11:39 minutes
Purchase, Dov and Rachel Gottesman Fund, Tel Aviv and Geneva
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (Photo © Sigalit Landau, courtesy of the artist)

A gust of wind slammed shut the outer door to my studio and jammed the tongue in the locking mechanism to stick out into its chamber in a way that seemed rather aggressively directed to me, personally.  “So there – now what are you going to do?”  asked my upstart of a door.

With a visitor due to arrive, I realized I could arrange entrance through the neighbor’s space who shares a common bathroom with my space, as unceremonious a welcome if ever one there was.  Short on time till the meeting and with a repairman on the way, actually getting down and dirty did not seem particularly enticing.  I realized not too much was going to happen at the easel today.  Purposely unplugged in my work space, I turned to an actual pen and real notebook paper to address the long-brewing impressions I had of the President’s Conference. 

No doubt this will be the last blog post you are likely to come across assessing the events of the conference for 2012 (the organizers are probably already sitting down to thrash out the one for 2013).  The conference, which took place a good two weeks ago, started off at the top of my “must write about this” list only to slither down ever lower in the competition with real life challenges, which conspired to bump it off altogether.  Having been handed the lemons, I was now going to take advantage of unexpected down time and get busy making blogpost- lemonade.

The events which ran over a three day period included an impressive roster of speakers across a host of fields, predictably with a strong emphasis on politics, economics, and Jewish community, but with more picanti items thrown into the mix, like the “Future of Sex,” with Dr. Ruth drawing in a young crowd.  This year, apparently for the first time since the conference started 4 years ago, a panel discussion on Israeli culture was included, in the final session of discussions.   Lucky for me, my esteemed colleague- bloggers managed to give this panel a miss, leading me to ponder: Where does culture rank as a subject of popular interest?

James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum, moderated the panel with great flair. Starting with the sartorial, he has created a brand look that certainly sets him apart in dowdy, post-fashion Jerusalem – he is known for his impeccable suits and “no hair out of place”  silver pompadour cut.  Here, as a “suit” amongst the “talent,” in response to to ribbing from Joseph Cedar, he referred to his jarring lavender socks as a stroke of the unpredictable, an indulgence to his own creative side. Better known, though, for his accomplishments at the helm of the museum, he has achieved high visibility in fundraising and stewarding the museum’s recent three-year renovation and expansion.  

The idea, according to Snyder, was to anchor the museum in the ancient world, but simultaneously focus on the contemporary in a “universal” museum, with an intentionally “wide net” cast.  No small feat to achieve and people voted with their feet – Snyder noting that over a million visitors came within the first twelve months after the doors re-opened (OK, let’s be crass and call them what they are: ticket buyers; they didn’t pop in for beer and pitzuchim [nut or seed snacks]). Snyder attributes this success to being able to convey a distinct culture, while at the same time, “going global.”

Acknowledging that Israeli artists are enjoying high success internationally, he credits this with being part of the “perfect storm of the moment” – interest in new media intersecting with a natural local talent open to experimenting in technology, video, and the like.  With a certain amazement, Snyder remarked that art from Israel has done very well as it has been absorbed in the rest of the world.

The participants were some of the cream of the Israeli arts scene, with international recognition under their belts at fairly young ages, all now in their forties.  Joseph Cedar, film director of two Oscar- nominated movies for Best Foreign Language Film (“Beaufort” and “Footnote”); Etgar Keret , author, playwright and screenwriter, whose books include “Suddenly a Knock at the Door” (2010); sculptor, video and installation artist,  Sigalit Landau,  who represented Israel in the Venice Art Biennale 2011 and has works in MOMA and other high profile venues;  and composer,  popular concert and recording artist, Achinoam Nini –all of whom shared private observations and their personal takes on cultural issues.  Representing the side of the movers and shakers in the art scene was Rivka Saker, Director of Sotheby’s Israel, who is active in cultural diplomacy, sending Israeli artists out into the world, as well as bringing prominent curators from abroad to Israel. The auditorium was filled beyond capacity, with many standing and sitting in the aisles. (A podcast of the panel may be viewed here.)

If there was a common thread running through their introductory remarks discussing the formative events that led to their current life’s work, it was the part difficult circumstances played in their youth. None of the creators had golden childhoods, each traversing challenges that seemed to set them apart from their peers, and, perhaps, pushing them to introspection, creating a rich inner world....

This blogpost was originally published on Times of Israel here or


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My Sons, the Doctors: On Goals, Graduations and Gratitude

It’s that time of year again – end of the year for every level of academic pursuit, from nursery schools to PhD programs.  Israeli society has a curious take on ceremonial passages, as seen through  the eyes of the newcomer. By newcomer I mean me, one who will be celebrating 33 years of life in Israel next month.

When it comes to the tender years, the rites of passage are formal and obligatory. No working mother would consider missing a gan party without pangs of conscience playing heavily upon her, fears of intensive psycho-therapy looming large in her child’s future. (Although, my informal, unscientific survey indicates that the male of the species seems less afflicted).

So barring the rare excuse of  “bed rest” under doctor’s orders,  I was there. Every tekes for a new Chumash, every Chanukah party, every end of the year play, I came and despite my inner cynic trying to subdue maternal instincts, I kvelled with the best of them.

Oddly, as the children grew, the bigger the ceremony seemed to be accompanied by a more lax attitude as to the necessity of attendance. The formality of the occasion seemed in reverse ratio to the stature of the institution, both in the program created, and the importance it played in the minds of the parents and especially the graduates.

One master’s degree ceremony at Tel Aviv University had the atmosphere of a worker’s committee outing, with lawn chairs sprawled out haphazardly on the lawn, and people filtering in nonchalantly throughout the program. An honored professor on the stage for the main ceremony took his place wearing cut-off shorts, a t-shirt and, of course, sandals. Let’s not even discuss formal academic robes (which would at least have hidden the shorts).

The beautiful amphitheater at Hebrew University, with its pastoral view of the Judean Hills and Moab on a clear day is one of the most beautiful settings imaginable for a graduation. Yet, the audience needs to be admonished that they should remain for the graduates at the end of the alphabet to receive their degrees before leaving. To no avail - nobody wants to be a freier.

After arriving at a Hebrew University’s law school graduation, we searched out the crowd to find our friends who should have been there. But they were nowhere to be found – their graduate (with honors, yet) had not even mentioned that it was taking place.

All of this I still find to be in stark contrast to the world I left behind. I am reminded of this every June, now in the age of You Tube, when we can all be voyeurs as we watch other people’s children get their due.  (Never mind what is still due on their loans). The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” are less trite than they used to sound. The big plus, though, is when a commencement speech that is truly inspiring rises above the empty words most graduates hear.

Firstly, in terms of the cultural gap I have traversed, I look at these clips with no small amount of fascination.  The capped and gowned graduates are seated front and center with their peers, the parents and other proud well-wishers line the stadium or field house or whatever building is large enough to house the crowd. Tickets are limited for each graduate and not taken for granted- large families cannot all be accommodated. People dress up – the grads, the parents, and especially the honorees on the stage. And the gowns -  impressive arrays of colors and traditions as the various hoods from different academic institutions are worn proudly.  There is something to be said for recognition of accomplishment.

I can already hear the grumblings. I am well aware how hot it is in Israel in the summer. Okay, so forget the gowns. I know that Israeli society is loathe to follow ceremonial formality. A residue of living under the British Mandate, it is said. Ties with suits were rarely seen in the Knesset for many years, instead we saw widely spread collars over jackets for such formal occasions. Yet, those years are long gone, as gone as the leisure suit. And, anyone who has had children in the army knows that when it is desired, Israeli culture can pull off formal ceremonies to compete well with the best of event planners anywhere.

Secondly, occasionally these clips bring a much-needed shot of re-enforcement of core values. Not my hard-earned Israeli values gained through an ongoing climb up the Hill of Cultural Absorption. No, I mean the values I was raised in, which are now co-mingled with the values of where I choose to live.

I have no re-collection of any of my own commencement speeches. So it is all the more special when words of real wisdom cross through this barrier of the trite and predictable. A few years ago, Steve Jobs took the honors for a speech that would stay with the graduates long after his own early demise. It went viral within days of his passing.

But this year, I have a nominee for most inspiring commencement address. It is not always the singularly famous, like Jobs, that can give us a much needed spark. We can get inspiration from the unknown as well.

Ever hear of  Steve Karmen? I didn’t think so. But you know his work. A composer of music for commercials, movie soundtracks, and so on – the background music of the economic life of America; the jingles. Not only was he a successful composer, he was an astute businessman, insisting on royalties for the repeated usage of his efforts. He might not be a Steve Jobs, but I suspect he is long from being a starving musician.

His success was recognized by Binghamton University SUNY in upstate New York where he was given an honorary doctorate degree last month. So, on a warm spring day, like at many other similar ceremonies across America, the captive audience of parents and graduates listened to his commencement speech to close the significant journey each student took and the sacrifices each family took to be there.

What does all this have to do with art, my readers, by now exasperated, are probably wondering.  Everything. Karmen describes in great detail what it is like to be the kid that somehow took a wrong turn in life. He didn’t follow the path carved out, sensibly, and with great love and wisdom, by the parents. He picked his own path, despite clear messages, if not obstructions, set before him to discourage him. He didn’t choose the safe path, he didn’t choose the one that would earn him approval by society or his family. Though wildly successful,  he retains the niggling sense of never having achieved the ultimate reward: parental approval.

The path he chose was to do “something that I love.” This is a hard piece of advice in all times. It is an especially gutsy piece of advice to give in an economy plagued by insecurity and high unemployment.
For creative people who have dedicated themselves to pursuing their thing that they love, it is more often than not a path fraught with difficulties, risky in every possible way, and only a very few will achieve financial independence or recognition.Yes, there is a lot to be said for a steady paycheck. There is also a lot to be said for being true to oneself. Two traditional stories in Judaism touch on these universal dilemmas, those of Moses (Moshe) and of Zusha, discussed here.

In the end, it is not easy to develop natural talents and still pay the bills. A lot of people are talented, yet circumstances do not allow for everyone to “follow their dreams.” Not everyone can depend on family support, emotional or monetary. “Job satisfaction” is often a luxury, not as high a priority as the basics of living life. Not every family can afford to encourage their talented offspring- knowing full well what a rude awakening awaits them when looking for jobs, supporting families, and especially in Israel,  when trying to purchase a modest home to start life.

No one knows this better than Karmen, who despite it all, stuck to his own path, and even now, having achieved success and being recognized for it, can appreciate his own accomplishments from both the perspective of the square-peg-in–the-round-hole gifted child and from the perspective of the all-responsible single father of three. And now, perhaps, he can feel that maybe, just maybe, he has not disappointed his mother.

I guess this leads me to the not so surprising conclusion for the parents that the difficult and scary realization is that children are not One Size Fits All. That should be a best-selling record on the top of the charts, but, it is unlikely to be a big hit. The flip side of this record is written by the children: when growing up, children must be excruciatingly astute as well as stubbornly aware as to what it is that makes them special, what it is that sets them apart from their friends, and how to cling to it as a map to their own path to happiness.

And that, makes all the difference.

Please click here to watch Steve Karmen's speech.  You won't be sorry.

This blogpost was originally published on Times of Israel here.

Or here:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Making His Mark: Frank Auerbach at the Israel Museum

Jake, etching, first state 180 x 146 mm 1990 by Frank Auerbach (image courtesy of the Israel Museum)

The Israel Museum is currently showcasing works by Frank Auerbach, the British painter, in Frank Auerbach: Portraits on Paper. These eighteen works of drawing and etching will be of particular interest to lovers of drawing media, followers of representational art and fans of contemporary portraiture.

Auerbach is often grouped in “ The School of London,” a loose category meant to denote the British artists who were doggedly pursuing figurative art in a wider artistic milieu enamored with minimalism, conceptual art and other avant-garde pursuits. The sobriquet “School of London” was coined by R.B. Kitaj in a catalogue note for his figurative exhibit in drawing and painting at the Hayward Gallery in 1976, and referred to six artists as the main members working in England at the time:  Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews,  Leon Kossof, Frank Auerbach, and R.B. Kitaj, himself.

Kitaj’s reference to this loose grouping surprisingly stuck, even as its existence or its composition was debated. It was later reinforced by the  British Council which underwrote a traveling exhibit for the group.   The exhibit included a stop at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 1992, where the roster was expanded and included many accomplished representational painters, some little known outside of England. British Figurative Painters of the Twentieth Century brought the “London School” to general Israeli audiences and working painters who were introduced to the vibrancy and range of the British works, including, among others, Euan Uglow, Howard Hodgkins, David Hockney, Paula Rego, Gwen John, David Bomberg, William Coldstream, and Walter Sickert. If the art world in England was then enamored with conceptualism, the focus of many in the Israeli art world was still heavily influenced by lyrical abstraction, an -ism from a yet earlier artistic vogue.

Barry Schwabsky, in his 2001 Art Forum article regarding the exhibition of a private collection related to the School of London notes that the original six artists most associated with the School of London, as Kitaj defined it, also had in common “outsider” status:
On the other hand, and perhaps not coincidentally, all but Andrews and Bacon are Jewish painters in London. Just as the School of Paris was, essentially, non-French painters in France, the School of London is essentially a band of outsiders–mostly emigres (from Eastern Europe, Ireland, or the United States), mostly set apart by religious background (even Andrews, the one non-Jewish Englishman, was brought up as a Dissenter rather than in the Church of England).
The brochure published by the Israel Museum to accompany the current exhibit notes in Auerbach’s biography that he was born in Berlin in1931and in1939, “Sent to England to escape the war.” The eight-year old Auerbach was a child refugee from Nazi Germany, having arrived in England, unaccompanied by his parents, as part of the Kindertransport  in1939, a last ditch effort to save some Jewish children from the still murky fate of European Jewry.

Add captiHead of David Landau, Graphite, white crayon, acrylic and India ink on paper, 762 x 575 cm 1996-96 by Frank Auerbach (image courtesy of the Israel Museum)on

Auerbach went on to study at St. Martin’s School of Art in London where he took classes with David Bomberg, and continued his studies at the Royal College of Art in London. Towards the end of his student days, he acquired a studio in Camden Town in northwest London where he has continued to work throughout his career and still paints today.

Fifteen of the works in this exhibit are part of an anonymous gift of around forty works by Auerbach which the Israel Museum received of late, all donated in memory of Lily Sieff. An additional three works on display were gifted to the museum by Auerbach personally. All were completed between 1980 and 1998.

It will take a bit of determination on the visitor’s part to find this exhibition, as one is unlikely to chance upon it while wandering the collections. Starting in the newly designed impressionist art gallery, one may wend oneself through to the Old Master biblical-themed paintings, follow the circular staircase downstairs, continue through the temporary exhibit (now on angels in art), and coming to the last room, glance left. There you will see a small gallery, little more than an alcove, where the Auerbachs are displayed, some on the walls, others in glass-enclosed vitrines. Considering their relatively small scale, this diminutive gallery is actually a fairly good fit to view these works, curated jointly by Nurit Sharon-Debel and Eva Sznaiderman. As a bonus, there is little likelihood to need to careen over the heads of rambunctious school groups.

Many close associates and friends over the years have served as model for Auerbach while working on his paintings and drawings. Some of these sitters became dedicated to the task over years. The drawings on display include many of these familiar personalities from his inner circle, done variously in charcoal, graphite and felt-tip pen works. As is typical of his paintings, his drawings often show many layers of built-up re-workings until there is a dense mangle of lines, each mark thought through, erased and re-considered until he is satisfied. He has said, “I destroy things every day in the act of working and often recall a picture I had considered finished in order to rework it.”
David Landau, Charcoal on paper , 568 x 762 mm, 1984-85 by Frank Auerbach (image courtesy of the Israel Museum)

Auerbach did not commonly work in print-making and this exhibit shows a1980-81 series as his foray into etching. Unlike drawing directly on paper, an etching is created on a metal plate, commonly through a series of steps. Sometimes one plate is scratched, marked and changed through various techniques, with all the work done on a single plate and run through the press when it is finished; sometimes a number of different plates can be used consecutively and then pressed onto a single sheet of paper to complete the etching.

One can observe the artist taking this relatively unfamiliar medium and making it his own. The 1980 etching of Joe Tilson is that of a simple scratching into a single plate to achieve a likeness. His later etching of R.B. Kitaj shows the use of two acids on two different plates. His portrait of Lucien Freud is brought off by the even more complex use of four etching plates. We can also see three graphite drawings of Julia, David and Catherine in their initial state in 1989, and adjacent we see the etchings which followed them. Drawing is done directly as the hand follows the eye. To transfer a drawing into an etching that appears as the drawing that preceded it, one must generally make a mirror image to achieve the same intended results.

Julia, Black felt tip pen, graphite and crayon on paper, 250 cm x 202 cm 1998 by Frank Auerbach (image courtesy of the Israel Museum)

His working process results in portraits that are both an expression of his reaction to the sitter, and his own idiosyncratic way of working, creating, destroying, and creating anew. These works show Auerbach's hand and eye in a stark and distilled reduction of his unique approach to portraits and open a window to his work process in painting as well.


Exhibit continues through August 25.

The article  was originally published on The Times of Israel:

Friday, May 25, 2012

From High on Mount Sinai

"And This Is the Torah which Moshe Brought to the Israelites" mosaic by Yael Wolf Portugheis 2000 (detail). Jerusalem (c. 2012 by  Heddy Abramowitz)

The holiday of Shavuot is now close upon us.  It is celebrated after the careful counting of seven full weeks from the second day of  Passover. These seven weeks mark the passing of the Jewish people from their long period of enslavement in Egypt, where their sense of personal identity was broken and their group identity as a people almost was entirely destroyed. One could call this a case of massively low self-esteem on a cosmic level.

At the base of Mount Sinai, Moshe (Moses), after no small amount of tribulation, brings the gift of the Torah to the Jews. The enumeration the Omer, each of the forty-nine days between the Passover holiday and the Shavuot holiday, is symbolic of the change in national identity that the former slaves undergo as they transform from numb, dependent slave laborers to a mature nation and masters of their own fate.

As religious images go,  there are few biblical images that have more engaged the imaginations of artists over the centuries.

"Moses Receives the Ten Commandments"   Gustave Dore 1865

The noted French engraver, Gustave Dore, published the above version in 1865 in his iconic book "Bible Illustrations." And here is another take by him on this subject.

Rembrandt Van Rijn, "Moses with the Ten Commandments" oil on canvas 167 X 135 cm 1635 Gemaldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen

Rembrandt's painting of Moses shows him at the height of his frustrations, at the point of smashing the tablets when confronted with the Golden Calf at the base of Mount Sinai, as discussed in Exodus 32:19. This artist focuses on the personal  psychological confrontation of the man, Moses, as his faith is tested by his people.

The Jewish painter,  Marc Chagall, also dealt with this subject in this lithograph. His take is that of a lyrical and floating set of figures, in bright colors. Chagall felt himself close to the biblical stories, but had his own unique interpretations.

Marc Chagall (French, b. Belorussia, 1887-1985)
Moses Receives the Ten Commandments, from The Story of the Exodus suite, 1966
    Lithograph on paper
    18 3/8 x 13 1/2 in. (46.6 x 34.3 cm)
    The Jewish Museum, New York

 Ancona Ketuba, 1805, Italy, Library of Congress

Depictions of Moses receiving the ten commandments have also been incorporated in Jewish marriage contracts, as in this example from Ancona, Italy. The wedding date, June 12, 1805, being close to the celebration of Shavuot, may explain the use of the image of Moses receiving the Law as the central image.

Reuben Machsor,- Jewish Holy Day Prayer Book for the Whole Year, (Germany circa 1290 Treasures of Saxon State Library.)

The image of the Giving of the Law has been used in many illuminated manuscripts.  This image  is in a prayer book written by Reuben and is thought to be illustrated by a gentile artisan,  whose name is no longer known to us.  Here we see Moses receiving the tablets from the hand of God in the heavens on the left side of Mount Sinai, and on the right side he is delivering them to a person symbolic of the Jewish People.

Charlton Heston,  as Moses, in "The Ten Commandments"  1956 film  directed by Cecil B. DeMille

To return to more recent times,  there are those of us of a certain age who can never think of the image of Moses  without recalling this Hollywood classic creation.

Enjoy the budding spring and the "milk and honey" of  Shavuot. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hitting the Wall: Silvia Bar-Am at Artspace Gallery

"Entrance, Late in the Day"  oil on linen mounted on wood, 19.5 X 17 cm 2010 by Sylvia Bar-Am (image courtesy of Artspace Gallery)

Walking the tightrope between abstraction and realism,  Sylvia Bar-Am exhibits intimate works in the exhibition “Walls and Voices”  in Jerusalem’s Artspace Gallery.

Bar Am, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in Israel since the early 70’s, is a trained classical musician, but followed her muse to art. She developed an early interest in abstract painting and, eventually, she found herself drawn to realism. Studying at the Avni Institute in the early 90’s for a short term with the well-known realist painter, Israel Hershberg, she has continued producing works emphasizing observation from nature through the present, with a strong predilection for still life and landscape.

This, Bar-Am’s third solo exhibit at Artspace Gallery, centers on twenty-six oil paintings of architectural motifs in Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood. Mostly of small dimension, these works are modest in scale but not ambition. Commonly, landscape artists choose small scale works in order to complete them on site in a single setting. Here, however, the works were meant to be completed in the studio as Aviva Winter, a professor of art history, points out in the accompanying catalogue, “She starts out alla prima, but most of the work  is done in the studio, where the walls, openings and windows move and take shape in a metamorphosis process….”

Hans Hoffman,  the influential artist /teacher said,
"Creation is dominated by three absolutely different factors: First, nature, which works upon us by its laws; second, the artist, who creates a spiritual contact with nature and his materials; third, the medium of expression through which the artist translates his inner world."
(Or hers, as here.) This reduction of the act of painting to these basic elements is useful to organize how these works might be considered, where these key items are precariously combined.

There is much to consider in pulling off a successful work done from nature. One of the challenges of the landscape painter, besides the logistical aspects of requiring a mini-studio brought to the site of the work, also includes the changing light and weather conditions if working outdoors. Constant variations of light, whether due to time of day, moving clouds or wind in the trees, are part of the vibrancy of the outdoor experience that an artist, working en plein air, must react to with immediacy and efficiency on the canvas.

A certain risk exists in re-working paintings started in nature in another removed setting – shifts of color can diminish their impact, the original excitement which the artist found in the motif can be weakened while accommodating to other aesthetic considerations, the fascination with detail can sometimes derail the power of the original big idea of the painting. Of course, in the best scenario, when away from the motif, the artist can consider the painting on its own terms and, if the painting gods cooperate, salvage an awkward start or bring a painting to its potential.

With skills as an abstract painter and as a realist painter both under her belt, Bar-Am has chosen to combine these seemingly disparate approaches in her works. Finding a balance that rings true in this challenge is a difficult feat. Painted over the course of three years in Nachlaot, her varying attempts to find the right equilibrium are on display, with some of her works stressing one end of this spectrum more than the other.

"Entrance, Late in the Day" oil on linen mounted on wood 19.5 X 17 cm 2010 by Sylvia Bar-Am (image courtesy of Artspace Gallery

They range, on one end, from works in which the strong Jerusalem light falling on the sun-bleached, white-washed, crumbling walls and openings is carefully observed, resulting in studies emphasizing simple geometry. The best of these, where the essential structure of the work is preserved despite later added flourishes, achieve a certain humbleness and are the most successful. On the other end are works which are invested with great effort at creating a high level of finish and, in my opinion, an excess of detail. In building up layers of paint, then scraped and reapplied to achieve a mottled effect on a wall, the solidity of the wall may be lost, sometimes to the detriment of the work as a whole. In others, the siren call of the picturesque may capsize a well-launched painting.

Gideon Ofrat, the noted art historian, says in a literary letter to Bar-Am, included in the catalogue:
"What is art if not the attempt to enter the orchard, and who is an artist if not the one who peeked and was hurt, but wishes to peek again."
Overall, Bar-Am has struck out on a good path and should keep peeking over the wall and attempting glimpses into the orchard.

The exhibition continues through mid- June, contact Artspace Gallery for details.

This post originally was published on Times of Israel:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Wandering Haggadah

"Hagadah" published by Josef Belf 1932 Vienna (c. 2012  by Heddy Abramowitz)

On a recent trip to visit family, I caught up with some of my grandparents’ belongings, including this haggadah, the short guide Jews have used to prepare for the festive meal, the Seder, and for recounting the story of the Passover holiday.

In accordance with tradition, our ancestors were enslaved in Egypt and were brought out of Egypt to freedom through divine intervention. The story is relayed from parent to child on the Seder night to fulfill  the biblical command,  “And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. (Exodus 13:8). ”

Regardless of the level of personal observance during the rest of the year, the one book a Jewish family is likeliest to own is a haggadah. Its history dates to ancient times, and there are beautiful examples of manuscripts with magnificent illumination to be found in museum collections, such as in this 1997 exhibition from Yale University. Published haggadot date from the fifteenth century, the earliest known of which is the Guadalajara Haggadah from around 1482, ten years before the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps the earliest illustrated published example is the Prague Haggadah from 1526.

"Searching for Chametz (leavened products)"
"Searching for Chametz" from "Hagadah" published by  Josef  Belf 1932          (© 2012 by Heddy Abramowitz)
Returning to my family haggadah, by the time it reached my hands, it was missing some pages and the back cover, but the remaining yellowed and brittle pages of this haggadah told more than one story of redemption.  It was published in 1932 in Vienna, as the title page states. Nothing fancy and with simple illustrations, it was probably the standard haggadah available in its day.  At the time, my grandparents were living in Wiener-Neustadt, Austria, (near Mattersdorf, where my grandfather was born, one of the "Seven Communities" where Jews had been permitted to live) young parents of a 9-year old boy and a 6-year old boy, my father.  Only a year later, Hitler’s Nazi party won in the 1933 elections and came to power in Germany. Life would never be the same again.

By the Anschluss, when the Nazis occupied Austria and united the two countries in 1938, everything was different. Besides the anti-Semitic laws enacted to persecute the Jews and the pogroms of Kristallnacht, Judaism could no longer be openly practiced – neither daily prayers, Sabbath services, nor Passover Seders. My grandfather, like most Jewish men, was taken for "work detail" to Dachau – and only to be released when my grandmother took it upon herself to march into local military headquarters and play upon the Austrian patriotism of the officials, waving the Iron Cross my grandfather had been awarded in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I, and banging on the desk. And maybe a few tears. It worked.

By this time, my grandfather harbored no illusions as to Nazi intentions and was clear that they must leave Austria, so he set about convincing his extended family to flee and by the combined efforts of relatives abroad on two continents to get the papers and funds necessary,  they made their own plans to escape Nazism. They packed up their  few belongings, Nazi-issued passports identifying them as Jews in hand and departed in January, 1940, on the last train to leave Vienna before the borders closed.

This haggadah was amongst the possessions to leave with them. With many a wine-stained page inside, it bears witness to its continued use in their new country. So well-used it eventually loosened from its bindings, only to be set aside in favor of the ubiquitous  give-away Maxwell House haggadah. In the new haggadah these refugees could put to practice their new language, English, along-side the Hebrew; a marked improvement on the German –Hebrew version that crossed the ocean with them, a reminder of harsher days.

For decades, after the passing of my grandparents and, eventually,  my father, this haggadah was amongst my uncle’s possessions and was dutifully stored and moved at least three times, till its most recent stop where I came across it in Florida a few weeks ago. My uncle, at 89, under the care of cousins and in an Alzhiemer’s facility, is, sadly, beyond celebrating holidays (truth be told,  he didn't much like celebrating them when he could). Tucked into my suitcase, the haggadah came back home with me. It was only a few days ago that I realized the long journey this 80-year old haggadah had made was an echo of the original Passover story.

Every year at the conclusion of the re-telling of the travails of the Jewish people in Egypt we say “Next year in Jerusalem,” a vocalization of Jewish yearning for Zion and the centrality of Jerusalem to Jews, repeated for millennia. This particular haggadah, in addition, had an illustration on its cover underscoring this message. It is a gold-embossed drawing of a domed synagogue, with the words “The Synagogue in Jerusalem” written underneath. Since I live two blocks from the recently–reconstructed Hurva synagogue with its newly rebuilt dome,  I was satisfied that this haggadah had arrived where it was meant to be. It was used to inspire a family to freedom until it fell apart;  it was brought back to the city which inspired those aspirations.

This year in Jerusalem.

Breuer family Haggadah cover
"Hagadah" published by Josef Belf  Vienna 1932 (© 2012 by Heddy Abramowitz)
This article was originally published in the Times of Israel:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Bite from the Apple: National Academy Annual

"Nude Sniffing Red Flower" 2010 Oil on masonite, 18 x 20 in.  by Lois Dodd (image courtesy of the National Academy)
Artists who live in far-flung places around the globe, such as Jerusalem, use every travel opportunity to see what is going on “out there.” Though the internet is now rich with museum sites, personal artist web sites, and Facebook to fill in the gaps between trips, it is only in front of an original art work that one can sense scale, appreciate the technique, observe the surface, stand at a distance as well as get up close and personal, and hope to get that all important “ahhh” reaction.

As I’ve written here, I use this blog not only to share the art that I see in Jerusalem and other locations in Israel,  I will occasionally share what I’ve seen abroad.

Manhattan seems to be a never-ending smorgasbord of cultural offerings, and for artists with limited schedules, like dieters at a buffet, also presents a delightfully frustrating dilemma to select well from all the tempting choices. I chose to visit the National Academy’s Annual exhibition. With 113 works from painters of all stripes, sculptors, print makers, and architects, it was like attending a tasting of gallery offerings in NY under one roof. I left visually sated, yet without art fatigue overload.

The National Academy has a long and illustrious history. Unique amongst arts organizations, it is comprised of an art school, an association of artists, and a museum. The building, located on Museum Mile of Fifth Avenue, has undergone an overhaul, reopening in September, 2011, better lit and with less quirky exhibition spaces.

The Annual’s origin dates to 1826 and today remains a showcase of work by serious art practitioners. This exhibition includes not only a selection of peer-elected National Academy members, but also invited guest artists from across a range of fields, resulting in a multi-generational conversation between approaches, styles, schools, and theories. The catalogue is online.

Contemporary representational painters and figurative artists were well represented in this exhibit, which is where I will start. Very much a "something for everyone experience," I will be touching on a range selected from the large show.

It will be no surprise to painting devotees that amongst the seniors of the group are some of the stars of the exhibit. Forever young Lois Dodd (born 1927), who paints in an ostensibly simple manner,  gets to the essence of a nude painted outdoors with great economy of means. When it is said that “less is more,” this spare and engaging painting comes to mind.

Alan Feltus "The Young Man and the Flower Lady" 2010 oil on linen 48 x 39 7/8 in.

Alan Feltus (born 1943) shows a work typical of his mature painting, heavily influenced by Italian Florentine painters. In "The Young Man and the Flower Lady" a couple is contained within a space dominated by a table, and bears a subdued quiet, a sense of being caught on the verge of a breath being taken. A seated male gazing downwards, the standing half nude woman to the right of the table focusing sideways to the right and out of the format, perhaps indicating a disconnect between the couple. The carefully composed space binds them together. This piece continued to pull me in from afar only to be further entranced by the delicacy of the surface and Feltus's achievement of translucent skin, pale blue veins whispered in understatement.

Mary Beth Mackenzie "Christian and Ivy," 2011 oil on canvas, 51 x 64 in.

As a marvelous foil for this work, "Christian and Ivy" by Mary Beth Mackenzie (born 1946) was hanging almost across from Feltus's piece. More aggressive in her brushwork, she also shows a couple spanning a table, he slumped on the left, she sitting on the right with her gaze outwards, an industrial view behind them, adding to the quality of urban dis-affectation or modern alienation.

Philip Pearlstein "Model with Ostrich, Eagle and Duck" 2009 oil on canvas 60 x 60 in.

One of the pioneers of contemporary figurative painting, Philip Pearlstein, (1924) has been working with the figure for decades, painting his models and his eclectic assortment of flea market finds in the same way, one of cold scrutiny under artificial light in odd set-ups. In "Model with Ostrich Eagle and Duck,"  the model is cropped at her eye level, the three birds are of a feather, but, then again, not - one is a statue, one a weather vane and one a children's riding toy, with two separate eyes bearing down on the viewer. The weather vane arrow brings us into the scene where it points to the model's crossed upper thighs. Pearlstein seems to stand on the fence between detached observation and coincidental emotional reaction to ostensible arbitrariness.

Francis Cunningham, "In the Studio" 2010-2011oil on canvas 80 x 60 in

Odd in its own right,  Francis Cunningham (born 1931), shows "In the Studio," a grouping of two nude models and a painting of a cloaked reader in profile, surrounding a centrally placed skull. An accomplished painter and observer of the figure, here the earth and skin-tones make for a restrained painting, a fitting echo to the Christian religious overtones. The play of cool tones and warm tones is worth studying. Jerusalem audiences may recall seeing his work locally, which I wrote about here.

Raoul Middleman, "Miss Murphy" 2011, oil on canvas, 48 x 24 in.

For something completely different, veteran Bal'morean, Raoul Middleman (born 1935),  is showing "Miss Murphy"  a mass of paint swirls and energetic brush strokes. Middleman is well-known for his paintings of the cast of city characters best-described as Baltimore "grunge." He zeroes in on the unique individuals that form the backdrop of city life, not the well-heeled commuters, but the down and not-quite-out souls who give the city its heart. The hands alone pulsate with vitality.

Susan Jane Walp, "Doublemint" 2010, oil on linen, 8 1/2 x 8 3/4 in.

As a long observer of the quiet world of still life, Susan Jane Walp (born 1953) turns the mundane into a precious moment of contemplation. In "Doublemint," her slight shifts of color, delicate green-tinged greys, and carefully considered edges combine to offer the viewer a chance to dwell upon the beauty of the over-looked.

David Kapp, "Go" 2009-11, oil on linen, 44 x 48 in.

Moving along to works less involved with close observation, David Kapp (born 1953), shows "Go," which,  like many of his works concentrating on the beat of vehicles streaming through New York's traffic canyons,   puts the viewer right on the street. Here, the strong diagonal pulls the eye straight across the canvas, color and spacing of the cars echoing the punch of city living.

Chie Fueki "Heather" 2010 acrylic and mixed media on mulberry paper on wood 84 x 60 in.

Chie Fueki (born 1973) has a different approach to observation. She combines a grid, conflicting eye levels, floating dress stripes echoing keyboards with flat shapes to create a lively juxtaposition of geometry and color. Nice shocks of red, blue and pink add their own verve to a painting that is otherwise comprised of tones of black, white grey and tan.

Tom Burkhardt "86 Elements of a Painting" 2011 (detail), Oil on book pages, 152 x 62 in. overall dimensions
In a large wall of abstract studies, Tom Burkhardt (born1964) presents an investigation of simple masses or line in one color against the fixed format of the beige-aged book pages, each a unique piece, and exhibited as a single work together. The entire wall zigs and zags from form to form and color to color as the eye takes in all the works at once. Here the sum of the parts is greater than any one piece on its own.

Joyce Robins, "Pink Grid" 2011, clay, glaze, paint 10.5 x 9.5 in.

The ceramic "Pink Grid" by Joyce Robins (born 1944) was a refreshing piece to see in this exhibit.  On an intimate scale, it seemed to invite one to enjoy the range of color indentations in the ceramic "canvas" as pure pleasure in color. Not a mechanical grid,  it bears the inexactitude that speaks of being touched by the human hand and made by an individual. I could not help but relate this work to the recent unleashing of the much -hyped spot paintings by Damien Hirst into the stratosphere of the art world. For me, this modest piece trumped those.

Lack of space prevents me from mentioning all the works which I considered special  (not that there were not low points as well). Lovers of printmaking, sculpture and followers of architecture are all sure to find what to admire.

Exhibit continues through  April 29, 2012.

All images courtesy of the National Academy

This post was previously published on The Times of Israel: