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Andy Warhol’s Jewish Geniuses

Andy Warhol’s Jewish Geniuses


By Brian Zimmerman for
Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

In 1980, pop-artist Andy Warhol unveiled a series of portraits at a museum in New York. The portraits were like any other Andy Warhol prints loud, flashy, and bright. But when the exhibit opened it caused a stronger than usual reaction from the art world. Some critics found it cold and insensitive. Others found it fascinating. What was so different? The people in the portraits were all Jews, and the museum hosting the exhibit was the The Jewish Museum.

The idea for a series of Jewish portraits came to Warhol during a relatively obscure period of his career. So when he received a request from his friend Ronald Feldman to do a series of portraits of Golda Meir for an Israeli art dealer, Warhol decided it was the perfect opportunity to break out of his commercialized rut. Not only would Warhol, a Catholic, put his signature artistic touch on Golda Meir, but he would also dedicate an entire series of prints to the great Jewish thinkers, performers, politicians, and writers of the twentieth century. Together with Feldman and Susan Morganstein, director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Warhol assembled a list of Jewish figures he dubbed his “Jewish geniuses.”

Warhol’s Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century depicts luminaries of Jewish culture in signature pop-art fashion. Portraits of Sarah Bernhardt, Louis Brandeis, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, George Gershwin, Franz Kafka, the Marx Brothers, Golda Meir, and Gertrude Stein are recreated in ways only Warhol could have imagined, splashed with neon colors and outlined in eccentric geometric shapes. The series was warmly embraced by Jewish audiences and institutions across the country (artdaily.com).

Now, more than 30 years later, the portraits are back in the public view. Prints of the originals will be loaned to Jewish Museum Milwaukee by Chicago's Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. The prints will be on display in an exhibit debuting December 12, 2013 and continuing through March 30, 2014. With the exhibit, both Spertus Institute and Jewish Museum Milwaukee hope to draw attention to Warhol’s contribution to Jewish history, as well as acknowledge the fact that his "Jewish geniuses" are still encouraging healthy dialogue among today’s Jews.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Golda Meir by Andy Warhol

Golda Meir by Andy Warhol

George Gershwin by Andy Warhol

George Gershwin by Andy Warhol