This year, many Jewish visual artists, including some who have been hitherto overlooked, had their time to shine.
David Bomberg is a prime example. The magnificent exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester until February 4 has cemented his reputation as one of the 20th century’s most influential artists. In Yorkshire, the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery has the first British retrospective of Alina Szapocznikow, a Shoah survivor, who created extraordinary art, focusing on the human body.Back in London, a self-portrait of the gender-fluid artist Gluck, born in 1895, featured as the poster image for an exhibition at Tate Britain marking the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. Simeon Solomon and Claude Cahun were also included; Solomon’s work attracted criticism in the 19th century for supposed effeminacy and decadence; Cahun’s self portraits examine her gender and Jewish identities. In today’s age of intersectionality, there was much to learn from three queer Jewish artists from the past.
Two big name exhibitions— Chaim Soutine and Amadeo Modigliani — drew the headlines but, for me, the exhibition with the most surprises was the Jewish Museum’s celebration of émigré graphic designers. I hadn’t realised just how many quintessentially British logos, symbols and images were created by Jews.
There’s a common theme to four out of five of JCfilm critic Anne Joseph’s picks of the year, although the films themselves are very different.
The Meyerowitz Stories is about a dysfunctional squabbling family; Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a NY Fixer, puts Israeli politics in a comic mix. The much-praised Menashe is a Yiddish-language, heart-warming, authentic story of love and loss, set in the Strictly Orthodox community, and Jewish film-makers Josh and Benny Safdie’s film Good Time is an adrenalin-fuelled thriller. So far, so varied, but all have New York as a backdrop.
The exception is 1945, Ferenc Torok’s film about two Jews returning to their small town in Hungary after the war.
Israeli contemporary dance companies are held in high esteem here, and 2017 saw performances in the UK by big names including London-based Hofesh Shechter and Jasmin Vardimon.
In a JC interview with Joy Sable, Alistair Spalding, artistic director of Sadlers Wells put it down to Israel’s schools, and also to the Middle East conflict: “Where there are places of tension… often there is a great deal of creativity that comes out of it.”As for television, the latest US streaming hit is the gloriously funny and visually beautiful The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Amazon Prime), another New York-set drama.
Here in the UK there’s nothing to compare, but soaps from Coronation Street to Holby City had Jewish story-lines, and a moving episode of the Antiques Roadshowmarked Holocaust Memorial Day. Maybe we’ll get a marvellous Anglo-Jewish series one day.
Keren David is the JC’s Features Editor