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Innovator, Activist, Healer: The Art of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis

September 10, 2004 - January 16, 2005


This is the first full-scale exhibition celebrating the art, teaching methods and spirit of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944), the remarkable Bauhaus artist and art teacher who taught children in the Terezín ghetto and concentration camp. More often known for the tragic end of her life than for her inventive and dynamic career, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis is an artist whose biography has overshadowed her art. As this exhibition will show, her contributions to advance modern design and painting, however, are as important as her courage and empathy as the art teacher of children in the Terezín ghetto.

Shortly after her training at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, Dicker-Brandeis opened her own successful design and architectural studios first in Berlin and then in Vienna. Unlike many artists of her time, her resilient pragmatism and capacity to work in a wide range of media allowed her to make a successful career out of her art practice. As the Nazis rose to power, Dicker-Brandeis used her artistic skills to make polemical works of mass appeal. Opportunities gradually closed down for Dicker-Brandeis during the Nazi regime, and she was forced to close her atelier in 1934. She then turned her attention to painting in an intimate, naturalistic style while living in Prague and later in the Czech countryside.

In 1942, she was deported to Terezín, the ghetto outside Prague. As the art teacher there, Dicker-Brandeis provided emotional support and creative inspiration to hundreds of children who had been forcefully separated from their families. Just before her deportation and murder in Auschwitz in 1944, Dicker-Brandeis stuffed 5,000 children's drawings into two suitcases and hid them in Terezín. These drawings were later discovered and brought to a worldwide audience with the publication of the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly in 1964. Though neither Dicker-Brandeis nor most of the children survived, her amazing act of courage affords us a glimpse of the optimism and hope she infused into these children's lives, despite the bleak reality of their captivity. What Dicker-Brandeis left behind—the body of work and correspondence in this exhibition—are vestigial traces that commemorate a life devoted to art.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (Austrian, 1898-1944)
Lady in a Car, c. 1940
Pastel on paper
22 x 17 1/8 inches
Courtesy of The Jewish Museum, Prague

Innovator, Activist, Healer: The Art of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis is based on an exhibition organized by:
the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles

The exhibition is made possible by a major gift from the Goldie and David Blanksteen Foundation. Generous support has also been provided by Theodore and Alice Ginott Cohn, Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, the William Petschek Philanthropic Fund, The Winnick Family Foundation, and a bequest from Florence K. Jonas.

Plan Your Visit

The Jewish Museum - 5th Avenue
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York NY 10128