Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jankel Adler, No Man's Land

Jankel Adler, No Man's Land, 1943

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. As such, I chose to write about Jewish-Polish artist Jankel Adler (1895-1949).  Adler was born in Lodz, Poland as one of ten children.  He began his artistic training as an engraver with his uncle. When he moved to Germany in 1914, he began formal training as an artist.  Adler experienced his first success when he moved to Dusseldorf to teach at the Academy of Arts there and was soon awarded a gold medal at a major exhibition.  During the 1932 German elections, Adler campaigned actively against the National Socialists and for communism.  When the Nazi regime took power, Adler left Germany for Paris.  Two of Adler's paintings were included in Hitler's 1933 show of degenerate art, and four more were included in the 1937 iteration.  Adler considered his exile an act of political resistance and spent the following years traveling Europe and speaking against fascism, until the war actually broke our.  In 1939 he volunteered for the Polish army that had been reconstituted in Paris, but was discharged two years later for health reasons.  Adler painted in a style that mixed Cubism and Expressionism, with a touch of Surrealism.  Despite his political engagement, Adler's work features little direct reference to the war or the political climate in Europe.  Instead, Adler's paintings explore the human body and our relationship to our surroundings.  One painting that does address the war is The Mutilated, which shows wounded soldiers and the hardships of their amputated lives.  No Man's Land is a complex entry in the discussion of Adler's life and work.  Ostensibly, the painting is based on an experienced he had walking through fields on a warm evening, when he saw a bird singing all alone.  Certainly we can discern this scene in the painting, with a lone bird singing to the moon, but it is difficult to ignore the symbolism in this work by a persecuted Jewish artist.  With its dark coloration and ominous title, the bird seems to be singing in a landscape of death.  Perhaps Adler himself felt like the bird singing to an empty space, unheard by everyone.  Whether intentionally or not, this painting is suffused with great sadness, suffering, and depth of feeling.  We can sense the painter's intense pain at the state of Europe.  Adler died in 1949 with the knowledge that none of his nine brothers and sisters survived the Holocaust.

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