Arts and Inhumanities

Holocaust exhibition bristles with rage, succeeds despite inappropriate installation

Through the years, Baskin, who now lives in New York, has collaborated with a number of well-known literary figures on both sides of the Atlantic. English poet laureate Ted Hughes, the recently deceased husband of the mythic American poet Sylvia Plath, admits to creating Crow -- a series of poems illustrated by Baskin in which Hughes devises a personal folk mythology surrounding the symbolic bird -- as a result of Baskin's invitation to do a book "simply about crows." The invitation resulted in a long, fruitful collaboration between the two artists.

Baskin's work has been a part of major museum collections throughout the world -- even, ironically, the Vatican Museum. In 1994, the Library of Congress' Rare Book and Special Collections Division celebrated 50 years of Baskin's work at Gehenna with an exhibition titled "Caprices, Grotesques and Homages: Leonard Baskin and the Gehenna Press."

Baskin's reputation as a preeminent American sculptor earned him the honor of creating The Funeral Cortege, one of five bronzes unveiled in 1997 that stand as a tribute to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Washington, D.C. The artist's Ann Arbor Holocaust Memorial, raised on the site of the first Jewish cemetery in Michigan, was presented to the public in 1994. The memorial is a seven-foot bronze of a heavily draped, seated figure, its face buried in one arm in a posture of grieving, the other arm raised to the heavens in a fisted salute. A maquette of the memorial is a part of the West Valley Art Museum's Baskin exhibition.

"Leonard Baskin: The Holocaust and Other Prints and Sculpture" continues through Sunday, May 7, at the West Valley Art Museum, 17420 North Avenue of the Arts in Surprise.
"Leonard Baskin: The Holocaust and Other Prints and Sculpture" continues through Sunday, May 7, at the West Valley Art Museum, 17420 North Avenue of the Arts in Surprise.

Baskin's foreboding work, especially his Holocaust Series, can never be accused of being light or frothy. Coming of aesthetic age at a time when the self-absorption of abstract expressionism took center stage, Baskin unapologetically championed -- and still continues to champion -- the figurative and representational, with a good measure of social consciousness thrown into the mix.

A number of the works included in the West Valley Art Museum's show seem to detract from the power of Baskin's Holocaust pieces, which have, for some inexplicable reason, been consigned to an area of the museum too casual for the tenor of the artist's deadly serious work. Thematically unrelated work deflects attention away from Baskin's major, admittedly oppressive leitmotif. The artist's hellish vision of man's inhumanity to man and death's innate indignity embodied in these powerful woodcuts is unambiguous and unvarnished. These are images that bristle with the pure, unadulterated rage we should all feel at that murderous part of the human heart to which we are unfortunately heir -- that part capable of committing atrocities.

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