In Real Times. Arthur Szyk: Art & Human Rights (1926-1951)
2121 Allston Way | Berkeley , CA
Born into a middle-class Polish Jewish family, Arthur Szyk (Łódź, Poland, 1894 – New Canaan, Connecticut, 1951) lived a life framed by two world wars, the collapse of European democracies, and the rise of totalitarianism. A refugee, he ultimately settled in the United States in 1940. Throughout his work as a miniature artist and political caricaturist, he used motifs drawn from religion, history, politics, and culture, pairing extraordinary craftsmanship with searing commentary on a diverse range of subjects including Judaism, the American Revolution, the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the founding of the State of Israel.
Broad concerns for human rights are woven into Szyk’s entire production. In paintings and political cartoons, the artist exposed the Nazi genocide, supported the Polish resistance, exalted the establishment of the United Nations, and ridiculed dictators of all stripes. His unwavering denunciation 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. In our times, these concerns are still resounding strongly.
Szyk’s modular aesthetics are deeply connected with the political scope of his art. References to medieval and Renaissance techniques, multilingual literary quotations, witty visual allegories, as well as modernist depictions of technology regularly recur in his works, and are often paired with enticing decorative themes that have made his oeuvre both popular and successful during, and well after, the span of the artist’s life.
This exhibition showcases over fifty original works of art from the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection, acquired by The Magnes in 2017. It also includes two interactive workstations. Visitors can explore Szyk’s miniatures in high resolution, reconstructing the artist’s gaze through a “digital magnifying glass,” and are encouraged to remix and repurpose individual elements, characters, and motifs drawn from the Collection, and create new cartoons. This work is projected on large wall surfaces within the gallery itself, and can be instantly published online, giving the contemporary exploration and reinterpretation of Szyk’s art a broad audience “in real time.”
Exhibition Installation Images:
click on the image above to open gallery view
Arthur Szyk in the Digital Realm
Open the image gallery below to explore individual elements, characters, and motifs digitally cropped from Arthur Szyk’s original artworks.
Reflections on the Exhibition:
Deborah Lipstadt on Arthur Szyk
Barbara Kirshenblatt on Arthur Szyk
- Curators: Francesco Spagnolo and Shir Gal Kochavi
- Faculty Advisor: Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice)
- Undergraduate Curatorial Assistants: Tamara Berkover, Isaac Engelberg, Shirin Sadjapour, Camille Thomas, Anna Tseselsky, Catherine Yang (UC Berkeley URAP), Louis Polcin (Willamette University), Jesse Noily (Oberlin College)
- Visiting Curatorial Assistant: Jessica Rosenberg (Harvard Divinity School)
- Registrar: Julie Franklin
- Exhibition Specialist: Ernest Jolly
- Exhibition Design: Gavin Lee, Ellen Woodson, Azi Rad
The acquisition of the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection (2017) and research for this exhibition were made possible by a generous gift from Taube Philanthropies.
Major funding for The Magnes Collection comes from Karen and Franklin Dabby, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the Helzel Family Foundation, the Koret Foundation, Peachy and Mark (z”l) Levy, the Magnes Leadership Circle, the Magnes Museum Foundation, the Office of the Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, Barbro and Bernard Osher, and Taube Philanthropies.
Additional research was supported, in part, by the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) of the University of California, Berkeley. The Curators also extend their gratitude to the scholars who participated in the program, Around Arthur Szyk, held at The Magnes in 2018-2019: Professors Deena Aranoff (Center for Jewish Studies, Graduate Theological Union), John Connelly (History, UC Berkeley), and Isabel Richter (DAAD Professor, German and History, UC Berkeley).