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Opens at The Jewish Museum
April 5, 2013
New York, NY – Beginning April 5, 2013, The Jewish Museum will present R. B. Kitaj: Personal Library. This exhibition features 33 screenprints from a suite of 50, created by the internationally celebrated painter and graphic artist, R. B. Kitaj in 1969. The portfolio, In Our Time, was acquired by the Museum in 2010. For this series, Kitaj reproduced from his personal library the covers of books that had a profound meaning for him. The images offer insights into the artist’s psyche and form a remarkable artistic statement. R. B. Kitaj: Personal Library will be on view through August 11, 2013.
A self-professed book lover, the figurative painter R. B. Kitaj (1932–2007) frequently took a literary approach to his subject matter, portraying friends and heroes – political, artistic, and philosophical – in intimate scenes both real and imagined. Often he playfully borrowed settings from other works of art, as well as from films and news photographs. The deep literary and conceptual underpinnings of his art are in evidence in the suite In Our Time, a highly unusual body of work within his oeuvre.
The screenprints are based on enlarged photographs of books in Kitaj’s library. Stains, tears, and discolorations attest to each volume’s history and to its physical – and by implication – intellectual fragility. The range of texts and typographies conveys the artist’s eclectic interests and tastes, from Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa and essays by Ezra Pound and Damon Runyan to an annual budget for the city of Burbank, California. Most are prewar editions, conveying a slightly nostalgic tone.
Stylistically, these are hybrid works, influenced by Pop art and the modernist tradition of the Readymade, a work of art created when a mundane found object is named as an artwork and set in an art context. This avant-garde concept was originally invented by the Dada master Marcel Duchamp early in the twentieth century. In the 1960s it received renewed attention at a time when artistic norms were again being questioned. Reacting to Andy Warhol’s Pop imagery, Kitaj poignantly called his repurposed book covers “his soup can, his Liz Taylor.” The blatant use of images taken directly from commercial sources situates In Our Time as a precursor of appropriation art.
In turning book covers into works of art, Kitaj is offering fragments of a history of knowledge, in which the content of each volume is at once mysterious and absent. Coming from this passionate bibliophile, the series is nothing less than an intellectual self-portrait.
Over the course of his forty-year career, R. B. Kitaj became increasingly interested in Jewish ideas, particularly Jewish intellectual history and the Holocaust. A man of erudition and contradiction, he saw himself as the quintessential man of the diaspora: an American in London, a figurative artist working during the reign of abstraction, a modernist who venerated the art of the past, and a pragmatist in thrall to European history and culture.
R. B. Kitaj: Personal Library has been organized by Norman Kleeblatt, Susan and Elihu Rose Chief Curator, The Jewish Museum.
About The Jewish Museum
Widely admired for its exhibitions and collections that inspire people of all backgrounds, The Jewish Museum is one of the world’s preeminent institutions devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary. Located at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, The Jewish Museum organizes a diverse schedule of internationally acclaimed and award-winning temporary exhibitions as well as dynamic and engaging programs for families, adults, and school groups. The Museum was established in 1904, when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial art objects to The Jewish Theological Seminary of America as the core of a museum collection. Today, the Museum maintains a collection of 25,000 objects – paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, archaeological artifacts, ritual objects, and broadcast media.
The Jewish Museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York City. Museum hours are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, 11am to 5:45pm; Thursday, 11am to 8pm; and Friday, 11am to 4pm. Museum admission is $12.00 for adults, $10.00 for senior citizens, $7.50 for students, free for children under 12 and Jewish Museum members. Admission is Pay What You Wish on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm and free on Saturdays. For information on The Jewish Museum, the public may call 212.423.3200 or visit the website at TheJewishMuseum.org.