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In Real Times. Arthur Szyk: Art & Francesco Spagnolo

Human Rights at the Magnes Collection
of Jewish Art and Life (UC Berkeley)

A fter three years devoted

to cataloging and
researching the Taube Family
Arthur Szyk Collection, the
University of California,
Berkeley, Magnes Collection
of Jewish Art and Life
presented a new exhibition,
In Real Times. Arthur
Szyk: Art & Human Rights,
showcasing over fifty
original works of art and two
interactive workstations. The
exhibition opened with a
private event on February 19,
featuring talks by Tad Taube,
Magnes Museum’s Interim
Director Prof. Benjamin
Brinner, Curator Dr. Francesco
Spagnolo, and a dynamic
The miniature painter, Arthur Szyk, New York, 1942.
presentation by Prof. Barbara Photograph by Roman Vishniac (1897-1990). Courtesy of The Magnes Collection.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the
installation, An Archive of Born into a middle-class
Ronald S. Lauder Chief
Archives: Roman Vishniac’s Polish Jewish family, Arthur
Curator of the Core Exhibition
Exhibition History, featuring Szyk (Łódź, Russian Empire,
at POLIN Museum of the
the recent gift of the Roman 1894 – New Canaan,
History of Polish Jews,
Vishniac Archive to The Connecticut, 1951) lived a life
in Warsaw, followed by
Magnes. With the Szyk and framed by two world wars, the
exhibition tours guided by
Vishniac collections, The collapse of European
UC Berkeley students.
Magnes has now received two democracies, and the rise of
On Monday, April 13, the of the four largest gifts of art totalitarianism. A refugee, he
exhibition on Arthur Szyk in the history of the University ultimately settled in the
was presented alongside a new of California, Berkeley. United States in 1940.


resistance, exalted the
establishment of the United
Nations, and ridiculed
dictators of all stripes. His
unwavering denunciations of
fascist crimes in Europe, the
suppression of national rights
worldwide, and the endless
violations of civil rights in
America, are rooted in the
experience of marginalization
that characterized Jewish life
in Eastern Europe in modern
times. These concerns still
resound strongly today.

The exhibition is organized

Untitled [Portrait of Julia Szyk] (1926) by Arthur Szyk. Watercolor, gouache, and
graphite on paper. into six sections focused
Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley. on various aspects of
human rights:
Throughout his work as a literary quotations, witty
Human Rights and their
miniature artist and political visual allegories, as well as

Collapse is an introduction
caricaturist, he used motifs modernist depictions of
to Szyk’s world with a
drawn from religion, history, technology recur in his works.
timeline showing his life
politics, and culture, pairing These themes are often paired
in the context of the
extraordinary craftsmanship with enticing decorative
progressive failure of
with searing commentary on a themes that have made his
European democracies and
diverse range of subjects body of work both popular
the human rights and
including Judaism, the and successful during, and
national rights movements,
American Revolution, World well after, the span of the
beginning with the
War II, the Holocaust, and the artist’s life.
American Revolution. Here,
founding of the State of Israel.
Broad concerns for human a selection of Syzk’s works
Szyk’s modular aesthetics are rights are woven into Szyk’s begins to show his lifelong
deeply connected with the entire oeuvre. In paintings and focus on freedom and the
political scope of his art. political cartoons, the artist dangers of tyranny and
Medieval and Renaissance exposed the Nazi genocide, totalitarianism, culminating
techniques, multilingual supported the Polish in the artist’s depictions of

28 n GAZETA VOLUME 27, NO. 1

the Holocaust as it was
taking place in Europe.

n The Rights of Global

Refugees shows Szyk’s
deep concern for refugees
like himself, and their lack
of the legal protections of
citizenship. This section
features depictions of
refugees in many contexts,
from cartoons of innocent
children declared enemies
of the Third Reich to
biblical narratives and a
self-portrait included in
Szyk’s ode to Canada.

n The Right to Resist

highlights the role of
resistance in preserving
human rights, with Szyk’s
paintings of the Warsaw Israel [Heritage of the Nations series] (1948) by Arthur Szyk.
Ghetto uprising and his Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley.

internationally acclaimed
illustration of “The Statute citizenship, featuring which depicted the crimes
of Kalisz.” The statute, designs he created for of Axis leaders and Nazis
which granted Jews legal countries and organizations. during the Holocaust. This
rights and liberties in These detailed illustrations portion of the exhibition
Poland in medieval times, became letterheads and also explores an interesting
was displayed in London in stamps and often found parallel to Charlie Chaplin’s
1933 to denounce anti- their way into his political characters in his 1940
Semitism in Nazi Germany. cartoons. movie, The Great Dictator.

n The Rights of Nationhood n The Right to Expose: n The Right to America

further explores Szyk’s Executioners at Work highlights Szyk’s
belief that human rights are displays many of Szyk’s appreciation of his new
inextricably tied to most powerful pieces, home country and the


multi-ethnic fabric of the Working with the https://www.taubephilan
U.S. Army, positioning it in curatorial staff of The thropies.org/sites/default/files/
direct contrast to Nazi vid/200310-magnes.mp4.
Aryan supremacy. The work Magnes, UC Berkeley
More on the exhibition and
in this section reflects undergraduate students
Arthur Szyk can be found at
Szyk’s objection to racial
digitized the entire Taube http://bit.ly/inrealtimes. n
discrimination and the
organizations that Family Arthur Szyk
Francesco Spagnolo, PhD,
perpetuate it, such as the collection of more than is Curator at The Magnes
Ku Klux Klan. Collection of Jewish Art
450 works of art.
Working with the curatorial and Life, and Adjunct
staff of The Magnes, UC of Szyk’s art for a broad Professor, Department of
Berkeley undergraduate audience “in real time.” Music, University of
students digitized the entire California, Berkeley.
Addressing a crowded
Taube Family Arthur Szyk
audience at the opening,
Collection of more than
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
450 works of art. The results
highlighted how the exhibition
of this work animate two
encourages three pillars of
workstations. While one of the
“21st century literacy,”
digital installations features
namely: digital competence,
the entire collection in a
critical thinking, and
high-resolution slideshow that
emotional intelligence. Her
visitors can stop and inspect in
words echoed those of Prof.
vivid details, the other
Deborah Liptstadt, who visited
encourages visitors to examine
the exhibition days before the
the characters and motifs
opening, and who described
digitally cropped from the
Arthur Szyk’s political art as
original artworks, and then
the “Instagram of its day.”
recombine them to make their
own political cartoons. This Keynote address: Professor
work is projected on large Barbara Kirshenblatt-
wall surfaces within the Gimblett, NYU and POLIN
gallery itself, and can be Museum, introduced by
instantly published online, Dr. Francesco Spagnolo,
giving the contemporary Curator, Magnes Collection
exploration and reinterpretation of Jewish Art and Culture:

30 n GAZETA VOLUME 27, NO. 1