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August 23, 1985 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-08-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

16 Friday, August 23, 1985

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

• • •-• • • • • • • • • • • SAVO • • 64 .
4,0.41 •-• *11'011



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• •• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 0 • • • • •
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311114124

BY JOSEPH COHEN

Special to The Jewish News

Among the least happy obser-
vations we can make about cur-
rent history is that once the
concept of genocide was im-
plemented by technological ad-
vances at the time of the First
World War, the twentieth cen-
tury would come to be marked
by the callously methodical de-
struction of significant numbers
of people from all walks of life.
Not the least of these losses
were the artists sent to early
deaths by two world wars and
the Holocaust.
Among the artists lost in the
Holocaust was Felix Nussbaum,
a German Jew whom the Nazis
murdered at Auschwitz. His ar-
tistic genius was sufficient to
assure him a place among the
great Jewish artists, and, in-
deed, among the most accom-
plished painters of the twentieth
century. Forty-one years of vir-
tual anonymity have passed
since his death. Now, with the
exhibition of his surviving
works on view through the end
of the summer of 1985 at the
Jewish Museum in New York,
he is finally being accorded the
recognition his talent deserves.
The story of his life and death
and of the subsequent, dedicated
efforts of the few people who
knew about him is told in
dramatic detail in Art and Exile
Felix Nussbaum 1904 1944 (by
EmilyD. Bilski, with essays by
Peter Junk, Sybil Morton and
Wendelin Zimmer, the Jewish
Museum, $13,95). To come face
to face with Nussbaum's paint-
ings, is an unforgettable experi-
ence. Aside from the valuable
plates which convey something
of the genuis and the power of
the artist, the catalogue is one
of the best Jewish books of the
year.
Felix Nussbaum was born in
Osnabruck, Germany in 1904,
one of two sons of Philipp and
Rahel Nussbaum. Philipp
Nussbaum was a very successful
owner of a hardware business
and an iron works. He was also
an amateur painter. The family
was well-to-do and Felix, after
attending the Jewish elemen-
tary school and gymnasium in
Osnabruck, was encouraged in
1922 to enroll in the State
School for Applied Arts in Be-
rlin. In 1924 he transferred to
the Berlin Academy of Fine
Arts. The next year, he met
Felka Platek, a Polish Jewish
artist, who became his compan-
ion, and eventually his wife.

Academy of Arts' campus in
Rome. While he was there, his
Berlin studio burned, destroying
all his early pictures. More
ominously, Hitler came to
power, and shortly thereafter
Nussbaum's grant was revoked.
In the space of a few months he
became an artist without a past
and a man without a country.
Exile was to profoundly alter his
art.
There were other influences
and pressures as well. He had
discovered de Chirico, and he
was attracted to the Italian
painter's incongruities of scale
and juxtaposition of unrelated
objects. With de Chirico,

Nussbaum began exhibiting
at , the Berlin galleries and the
Applied Arts Museum in 1927.
Following a year's study in Bel-
gium he opened a studio in
1929, continuing to exhibit in
Berlin and also in Potsdam and
Dresden. Occasionally, his pic-
tures were on Jewish subjects,
but throughout the twenties he
mainly did pastoral scenes from
his happy childhood, influenced
by Van Gogh.
The early 1930's brought sig-
nificant changes. In 1932 he
won a grant for study at the
Villa Massimo, the Prussian

Some stark motifs had come
Into his work: telegraph wires,
restraining walls, coffins, skele-
tons and other urban wrack and
ruin. Howeirer, he retained sev-
eral earlier motifs of sunflowers
and of organ grinders — this
latter image symbolizing his life
as a rootless artist. His organ
grinder is always peering into
the distance, looking to the fu-
ture, since his past is in sham-
bles behind him.
Nussbaum's marriage to
Folks became
that de-
to
part of
stayed
bris. Though they
Paler, the couple was estranged

-

"Art and Exile Felix
Nussbaum
1904-1944" by
Emily D. Bilski. The
Jewish Museum.

Nussbaum moved into modern
experimental art, leaving Van
Gogh and impressionism behind
him.
While de Chirico opened up
new horizons for him, his rela-
tionship with Felka Platek was
shutting others down, forcing
him to face some distracting
realities. His parents didn't
think Felka was suitable for
him, and while he remained
close to them, his attachement
to Felka was a strongly divisive
factor in his life. Consequently,
it was reflected in his art.
Though he stayed closely in
touch with his parents, he was,
in a sense, doubly exiled by the
animosity Felka felt towards the
elder Nussbaums.
From 1935 to 1944 Nussbaum
and Felka, married mainly for
political reasons in 1937 sought
refuge in Belgium, moving be-
tween 1935 and 1940 back and
forth between Ostend and Brus-
sels every six months to insure
that their semi-annual residency
permits would be renewed.
Nussbaum's paintings reflect his
distraction and suspension from
the normal life of the artist. In-
creasingly, he did paintings of
his masked and unmasked self,
recognizing his objective plight
as a non-person as opposed to
his strongly felt subjective iden-
tities as a Jew and an artist.

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