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New York

Ben Shahn (American, b. Lithuania, 1898-1969)

New York, 1947

  • Tempera on paper mounted on canvas and panel
  • 36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Oscar and Regina Gruss Charitable and Educational Foundation Fund, 1996-23
  • Art © Estate of Ben Shahn/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

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New York

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New York

New York has a dreamlike composition. Images are placed within the space in a collage-like fashion, with unexpected juxtapositions. Objects exist outside the conventions of relative scale and are unbounded by real-life conditions like gravity.

At the center of the composition, a large, striped fish floats in the air. At the right, in the extreme foreground, is a man in Hasidic attire. He takes up the entire height of the panel. The edge of the panel is cropped tightly to his profile, making it impossible to know what he is looking at or where he is headed. On the left is a large scale, the hanging element of which is cropped off by the top edge of the panel. In the middle-ground is a boy in swim trunks. In the background are grid-like skeletons of buildings. Two whitish horizontal bands run the length of the painting. It is not clear whether they are the sidewalks of the street along which the buildings are located or if they mark the perimeter of the body of water in which the youth swims.

The man and the swimmer move toward the right side of the composition while the fish faces the left.

There is an emphasis on linear elements: grids of the buildings, stripes of the fish, the hatch marks of scale, and the features of Hasidic man’s face and body.

Shahn’s colors throughout are almost chalky or milky looking, suggesting that he mixed white into most colors to create tints of those colors. The sky and the ground are filled in with mottled color. Some forms are translucent.

Source:

Berger, Maurice, and Joan Rosenbaum, eds. Masterworks of The Jewish Museum. New York: The Jewish Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.