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Warsaw

Michael David (American, b. 1954)

Warsaw, 1980

  • Pigment and wax on Masonite
  • 63 x 63 in. (160 x 160 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of Lenore B. Lippert and Barbara E. Lippert in memory of Michael Myron Lippert, 1986-92

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Warsaw

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Warsaw

Michael David's Warsaw consists of a large, yellow Jewish Star. Although the star is sharply outlined, its surface is rough and abstract. David employs a technique called encaustic, which involves combining pigments with hot wax. This allows him to build up a rich, thick texture. Warsaw is one of four paintings created by the artist in the late 1970s and early '80s in which he uses the Star of David.

David explains how he came to use this symbol:

"In 1979 I started a series of paintings called "Symbols." They were an attempt to expand the Minimalist language, and its strict concerns with process and the use of materials--by including subject matter such as history, politics, and religion.

I tried to expand the rectangle as a way to open the imagery. Limitations in craftsmanship forced me to work only with right angles; that led me to the cross, which became an immediate bridge to the religious, political, and historical.... I did two swastika paintings--a small, blood red molten-surfaced piece called Never Again and a gray flesh-colored painting called The Golem. The images were painful and difficult, and were misunderstood. Very few could get past the immediate revulsion of the Nazi connotations to allow for any continued reading of these multilayered statements. I tried to clarify my views on the Holocaust by creating Warsaw, a Star of David that referred to the yellow star Polish Jews were forced to wear in the ghetto, and Missing in Action (another Star of David) with its fields of molten flesh in red and blue."

David's work carries powerful emotional associations. It challenges viewers to consider the various meanings of the star symbol. A six-pointed star can be a symbol of Nazi oppression or a symbol of Jewish pride. Is David's large, thickly textured, wax-and-paint star a memorial to those who suffered in the Warsaw Ghetto? Is it an attempt to reclaim a cultural symbol? Is it both?


Source: The Jewish Museum, Jewish Themes: Contemporary American Artist II. New York: The Jewish Museum, 1986.