Art

Vienna’s Jews and the Ringstrasse

Ringstrasse at Jewish Museum Vienna Vienna’s famous boulevard, the Ringstrasse, was a thriving hub for Jewish bourgeoisie in 19th century Austria. David Herman reviews Ringstrasse: A Jewish Boulevard which accompanies an exhibition on the street at Vienna’s Jewish Museum.

Fin-de-siècle Vienna has become a source of fascination for cultural historians over the past forty years. There are several reasons. It was one of the birthplaces of 20th century art and ideas:  writers such as Schnitzler and Hofmannstahl, painters such as Klimt and Kokoschka, great figures of Modernism from Freud to Schoenberg. “In almost every field of human thought and activity,” writes Ray Monk in his biography of Wittgenstein, “the new was emerging from the old, the twentieth century from the nineteenth.”

However, there is also the fascinating link between cultural creativity and historical crisis: the collapse of liberalism, the break-up of the Habsburg Empire, inflation and then the rise of Austrian fascism. Finally, Jews were at the centre of both the explosion of creativity and the rise of antisemitism. Many of the great creative figures of the turn of the century were Jewish and thousands of Vienna’s Jews were killed by the Nazis or driven into exile, many of them to enrich post-war culture in every field in Britain and America.

What is immediately striking about the exhibition, Ringstrasse: A Jewish Boulevard, is that there are virtually no references to the great names of fin-de-siècle Vienna. No Schoenberg or Wittgenstein. Four references to Stefan Zweig, two to Klimt and Freud, one to Schnitzler. Instead the dominant figures here are the great families of the new Jewish haute bourgeoisie such as the Ephrussis, the subject of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010). This is partly a story of architecture, town planning and grand hotels, but more a story of Jewish financiers, bankers and industrialists, the new urban haute bourgeoisie who lived in the great palaces of the Ringstrasse. On the Ringstrasse, writes Gabriele Kohlbauer-Fritz in her chapter ‘Family Stories’, “the who’s who of Vienna society gathered in their drawing rooms,”  “industrialists mingled with artists, bankers, and writers, politicians, and actors, Jews and non-Jews, men and women.”

It was the young Emperor Franz Joseph who decided to demolish Vienna’s medieval fortifications and develop the land into a magnificent new boulevard of apartment buildings and major administrative and cultural buildings, the symbols of Stefan Zweig’s “world of security” in his memoir, The World of Yesterday. In 1860 the sale of Ringstrasse lots began. Members of the imperial household, high aristocracy and the Jewish upper middle class were the first occupants. However, it was not until the late 1860s and 1870s that the Ringstrasse reached its highpoint and by then a very different class of buyer was moving in.

Perhaps the most fascinating essay is on “Jewish real estate ownership in the Vienna city center and the Ringstrasse area until 1885” by Georg Gaugusch which tells the story of how Jews won the right to buy property in Vienna in the mid-19th century. What happened subsequently was a social revolution. For the first time Jews lived near the centre of Vienna. The Ringstrasse symbolized the rise of a new wealthy class of Jewish industrialists, bankers and financiers. In 1853 Jews owned 17 houses in the old town centre. By 1885 Jews owned 155 buildings on the Ringstrasse. Just as fascinating, few of these new buyers came from Vienna. Almost half came from Moravia, Pressburg, or western Hungary and another large group came from major urban centres in Bohemia or Germany.

This influx of Jews to Vienna and the rise of a new Jewish upper middle class were not welcomed by non-Jews in Vienna. Already around 1869 one anti-Semitic journalist wrote of “A brand new Jerusalem of the East”. In 1870 Franz Friedrich Masaidek wrote of “The Ringstrasse – the Zion Street of new-Jerusalem”. The rise of the Ringstrasse and Vienna’s Jews coincided with the rise of a new virulent anti-Semitism which played such a huge part in Austrian politics for the next seventy-five years. A dark story looms large over the later chapters and it is hard to read this catalogue without a sense of foreboding.

Ringstrasse: A Jewish Boulevard runs until Sunday 18 October at Vienna Jewish Museum. www.jmw.at 

Jewish sculptor Simone Krok found inspiration in Old Testament and Kaballah for exhibition based on Paradise Lost

Simone Krok - Paradise Lost, press 2015: The Sequence of Many Levels of Deception Acclaimed sculptor Simone Krok’s latest exhibition, Paradise Lost, is named after John Milton’s 17th-century epic poem and explores the crucial themes of Milton’s work: creation, the fall of man, the loss of innocence and of free will. Milton’s work was heavily influenced by the Old Testament and the story of Adam and Eve, and Krok also takes inspiration from the Old Testament, as well as other religious traditions. Many of the pieces in Paradise Lost are inspired by the Jewish spiritual practice of Kabbalah.

As a Jewish South African, much of Krok’s work has been influenced by the parallel injustices she witnessed in her early life, with the apartheid in her home country and the concentration camps she saw when she travelled to Eastern Europe. In this exhibition, Krok aims to explore why the human race ‘lose the innocence we were born with as children and why it is that we so frequently use our freedom of choice to enter into the destructive path of greed, power, violence and manmade suffering that is all too common in our modern world.’ Paradise Lost closes this Thursday, so be sure to catch it if you can.

By Alice Weleminsky-Smith

Paradise Lost runs until Thursday 18 June. Gallery 223, 137-139 Lower Marsh St, London SE1 7AE. www.gallery223.co.uk

Simone Krok - Paradise Lost, press 2015:  portrait of the artist Simone Krok poses by The Sequence of Many Levels of Deception (also pictured above)

 

Simone Krok - Paradise Lost, press 2015: (L-R) Bronze, Co-exist, Gold, Jacob's Ladder; (L-R) Bronze, Co-exist, Gold, Jacob's Ladder

 

Simone Krok - Paradise Lost, press 2015:

JR OutLoud: An audio tour of the Jewish Museum's exhibition For Richer For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled

With exactly a month left to go and see this glorious exhibition, Judi Herman takes listeners on an audio tour with curator Elizabeth Selby to whet appetites. There are dresses from different decades – Edwardian, flapper and home-made wartime austerity. There are invitations, menus and even dance cards. There’s a range of ketubot (Jewish marriage certificates) from different eras and from plain to highly decorated. There’s a gallery of glamorous photo portraits of happy couples by Boris – the doyen of wedding photographers – and of course his giant camera is on display too. There’s even a chance to stand under the chupah (Jewish wedding canopy)! Judi Herman got to do just that, as she and Elizabeth Selby explored the fascinating history of weddings within the Jewish community from the 1880s to the mid-20th century. So even if you can't make it to the exhibition, this tour will make you feel as if you too have been invited to the wedding!

By Judi Herman

See pictures from For Richer For Poorer – Weddings Unveiled.

For Richer For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled runs until 31 May and Your Jewish Museum: Love runs until 19 April. Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert Street, NW1 7NB; 020 7284 7384. www.jewishmuseum.org.uk

Artist Julian Hanford seeks crowdfunding to commemorate the Holocaust with six million domino tiles

FALL by Julian Hanford, art, coffin image London-based artist Julian Hanford is planning to create an art installation composed of six million domino tiles to commemorate World War II and the 70 years that have passed since its end. The project, FALL, is estimated to cost £1.58m and Hanford is looking to you, the public, for help.

A Phundee.com page will be set up for people to make donations directly. The more you give, the bigger your gifts, which range from FALL t-shirts to owning one of the custom dominoes.

FALL, which will be stacked by domino champion Robin Weijers and co, is said to be bigger than the halls at Alexandra Palace once completed. The scale of the installation is meant to communicate the number of lives lost during Hitler's reign, including Gypsies, Poles, Communists, homosexuals, Russians, the mentally ill and, of course, Jews.

The art piece will be on display in Berlin at the end of 2015 and stand for six days to mark the six years of WWII. At noon on the sixth day, while streamed live online, a Holocaust survivor will knock over the first domino and set off a chain reaction that won't stop until the last tile falls 12 hours later.

For more information, visit www.fall15.com or follow them at @fallevent15.

By Danielle Goldstein

A sneak peak at London Jewish Museum’s wedding retrospective For Richer For Poorer

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

The London Jewish Museum's new exhibition is glorious and beautifully put together. For Richer For Poorer delicately weaves artefacts and archives from the museum's collections with delightful personal material donated or lent by members of the public to tell the story of Jewish marriage throughout the years. Including Jewish immigration and life, with its aspirations and tribulations, its joys and challenges over the years and even centuries. The dresses are gorgeous, the menus mouth-watering – and challenging in the huge number of courses on offer – and the photographs and personally written experiences extraordinarily moving. Anyone who's partial to shedding a tear at weddings should take a packet of tissues!

Also don't miss the free crowd-sourced exhibition Love. The range of everyday objects, historic artefacts and artworks on display are by turns beautiful, surprising and touching – and by no means all Jewish. They include a hand-me-down child's puzzle, a glass shattered under the chuppa (wedding canopy) preserved in blue perspex, and a pin combining the Indian and Scottish flags that symbolises a multicultural union.

By Judi Herman

For Richer For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled runs until 31 May and Your Jewish Museum: Love runs until 19 April. Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert Street, NW1 7NB; 020 7284 7384. www.jewishmuseum.org.uk

If you can't make it down to the museum, take an audio tour of the exhibition with Judi and Jewish Museum curator Elizabeth Selby.

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

For Richer For Poorer exhib, Jewish Museum, Press 2015

"I know that picture" – JR hears from a reader who saw the lost Levy painting 60 years ago

Alexandra Grime, lost Levy painting, Manchester Jewish Museum Jan 2015

A  story of history uncovered

Chapter 1

Alexandra Grime (pictured), a curator at the Manchester Jewish Museum, discovers that the artist behind a portrait of Mark Bloom is none other than Northern Jewish painter Emmanuel Levy. The picture of Bloom – founder of Colwyn Bay Synagogue and a horse trader during WWI – was donated to the museum more than three decades ago by the synagogue, but it was only when Grime was looking through Levy's scrapbooks, while researching the museum's current Levy retrospective, that she put two and two together. The Bloom portrait has now been added to MJM's exhibition.

Chapter 2

Rona Hart – ex-Colwyn Bay, Southend and London, and now resident in Haifa – sees this item in the Jewish Renaissance fortnightly newsletter and is excited…

"That picture – of Mark Bloom – was part of my childhood. My heart really skipped a beat when I saw it – and for the first time since the 1950s!

Zion House (37 Princes Drive, Colwyn Bay) not only housed the tiny Colwyn Bay synagogue, but contained a ground floor flat that was rented out to religious families during the summer months, and another room, where I lived with my parents from 1947 to 1952. I was three years old when we moved in and was very happy there, running wild in the large gardens and surroundings. In the summer I played with the children of visiting rabbonim, which provided a culture shock in both directions, I should imagine.

I remember Mark Bloom as a very kindly man. Because we lived in the shul building, there was a good deal of post of one kind or another, with leaflets, posters, a map of Israel, and the like. I remember seeing one drawing of somewhere in Israel and thinking 'when I'm grown up, I'm going to go there. I won't tell anyone now, because they won't believe me, but one day I'm going to go.' I have no idea where that feeling came from.

A story I was told, but don't remember, was that Mark Bloom once gave me half a crown (a phenomenal sum!) and asked what I was going to do with it. When I said I would like to send it to the children in Israel, he promptly gave me another 2/6d. I probably still owe Israel a few bob.

I never knew Mr Bloom was a horse trader; he was our landlord and the founder of our shul, so he was treated with great respect. He was always very kind and generous, and not above showing interest in a very small (and probably unruly) girl. The painting was a very good likeness.

The small Colwyn Bay community (we had a Ladies Guild, a Cheder, etc. although we were only about a dozen families) closed some years ago, I believe in the 1970s. I still visit the area and have friends there."

Chapter 3

Jewish Renaissance passes on the story to the Jewish Museum Manchester. They are thrilled.

By Janet Levin

Made in Manchester: The Art of Emmanuel Levy runs until Friday 29 May. Manchester Jewish Museum, 190 Cheetham Hill Rd, M8 8LW; 016 1834 9879. www.mjm.org.uk