Salvaged Holocaust-era artworks unveiled at Haifa exhibit

Oscar Ghez Collection’s pieces, produced by 18 persecuted Jewish artists from France and revived by University of Haifa students, are featured in a newly launched museum exhibit.

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June 30, 2018 21:54
3 minute read.
Salvaged Holocaust-era artworks unveiled at Haifa exhibit

Photographs of 17 out of the 18 artists featured in the University of Haifa art exhibit . (photo credit: UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA)

 
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The University of Haifa has launched an exhibit dedicated to showcasing recovered and restored works of art created by 18 French artists who suffered in the Holocaust.

“Arrivals, Departures: The Oscar Ghez Collection” focuses mainly on artwork donated by Ghez, a Swiss art collector, to the university in 1978.

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Ghez himself had escaped from Nazi-occupied France to the United States, and after the end of the war began collecting works of Jewish-born artists who had gone into exile or had been deported during the war. (Most of the artists died in the Holocaust itself, but four of them died either during that period or later of other causes.) The full collection has 138 pieces; over half are on display in the exhibit.

Dr. Rachel Perry, the exhibit’s creator and a professor at the University of Haifa International School, told The Jerusalem Post that the collection had sat “untouched and unresearched” for many years until she and her students began research and restoration efforts for the collection two years ago.

The Jerusalem Post Magazine reported last year that the collection was mostly kept out of the public eye because the university had trouble finding the best place to showcase the pieces.

“We looked at this collection, which was donated to the university as a kind of trendsetter, to a certain extent,” she said. “These are not works of art that are, by any stretch, the most widely known, or the most popular, or the most expensive works from the period… These artists were friends with some of the most important and well-known artists of the period, [Pablo] Picasso and [Italian painter Amedeo] Modigliani and [Russian-French painter] Chaim Soutine, but they have more or less fallen out of the history books.”

Students in the University’s International Graduate Program in Holocaust Studies spent the past two years restoring and studying the artwork, and researching the artists, under Perry’s guidance. Each student focused on one or two specific artists; their efforts even included visiting the artists’ descendants in France.

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A recent newsletter from a University of Haifa-run blog quotes student Ella Falldorf as saying, “It has been both professionally and emotionally gratifying to see these artists receive the recognition they have for so long been denied.”

The artwork exhibited is split between two different categories: “arrivals” and “departures.”

The former focuses on the works the artists created in Paris before World War II, when they arrived in Paris from Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Poland.

The latter deals with the artwork they created during the Holocaust period itself, after Kristallnacht.

The exhibit ends with what Perry describes as “an open archive,” where each artist has his or her own book of birth certificates, photographs, marriage certificates, and other documents— with room to add more documents and to fill in more details.

Perry decided not to structure the exhibit exclusively as a Holocaust exhibit. “How do you make an exhibition about works that were created by artists who died during the war? Do you make this into a Holocaust exhibition… do we look at their lives and their work through the filter of their deaths?” she said. “I really felt that would be doing them a disservice; it would be twisting the narrative to a certain extent, and what we needed to do was to present their lives… and how grateful they were to come to Paris and to come to France,” a place of artistic, religious, and political freedom, which Perry said drew Jewish artists in particular to France.

The exhibit will be on display at the University of Haifa’s Hecht Museum (Abba Khoushy Avenue 199) until November 1.

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