Jewish Icons – Andy Warhol and Israeli Artists at Beit Hatfutsot- September 20, 2010

This vastly popular exhibition presented ten portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, the 1980 screenprint series by the legendary American pop artist Andy Warhol, was recently donated to Beit Hatfutsot from the estate of Allan S. Bird, USA. The portraits in the series include philosopher and educator Martin Buber; physicist and father of the theory of relativity Albert Einstein; father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud; composer George Gershwin; stage actress Sarah Bernhardt; the Marx Brothers – Chico, Groucho, and Harpo – in a joint portrait; writer Franz Kafka; writer Gertrude Stein; Israel’s fourth prime minister, Golda Meir; and Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish US Supreme Court justice.

The exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot gave visitors us an opportunity to examine the series with the perspective of time and place. It also invited them to look at the works of Israeli artists who deal with twentieth-century cultural icons, both Israeli and Jewish. The works, by Eliahou Eric Bokobza, David Tartakover, Shy Abady, Hanoch Piven, Hadas Reshef, Ido Shemi, and Igael Tumarkin, are in a variety of different media, including painting, photography, sketch, collage, graphic design and digital media. Many of the works engage in a direct or indirect dialogue with pop art and with Warhol’s portraiture genre. All of the works examine the conceptual and visual significance of the notion of a “cultural hero,” whether Jewish or Israeli. The problematic nature in the very choice and representation of a Jewish cultural icon, as it emerges from Warhol’s “Jewish personalities” series, accompanies the works of the contemporary Israeli artists, and expands into the question of the difference between the Jewish cultural icon and the Israeli one and its place in all of our daily lives.