Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Livshulz Museum

My comrade,
Misha Livshulz,
invited a few sculptors
from the art club
over to his house
for breakfast last Sunday

He had recently built,
(with his own hands!)
a second floor
on top of his brick bungalow in Skokie
to serve as an art gallery
for the paintings of his father,
Chaim Livshitz (1912-1994)

Since my father was also an artist/role-model,
and Misha and I were born in the same year,
I've always felt that Misha and I
have led parallel lives,
and indeed,
just like Misha,
I built my father
an art museum
although, as you can see,
my father's museum was not built
with brick and mortar like Misha's.

And the two artist-fathers,
though similar in their studious devotion
to their vocation,
had quite different careers,
reflecting the differences
between the USSR and the USA
in the postwar era.

As a state-employed Russian artist,
Chaim Livshitz did this kind of work

As an unemployed American artist,
Richard J. Miller did
whatever the hell he wanted.

But that is not to say that
Chaim did not also make paintings
to please himself
or to encourage others
to see things as he did.

For example,
this painting,
"The Prayer in Minsk" (1994)
which was done in the studio
which Misha had built for him
behind his house in Skokie.

Yes, it does seem that Misha
was a far more devoted son
than I have ever been.

But then family devotion
is part of his Jewish tradition
(he's a member of THREE synagogues)
while I subscribe to my father's catechism of
"Every man for himself
and God against them all"

This painting depicts
a moment in the German occupation of Minsk
where the Jews have been forced into a ghetto
prior to being totally annihilated
and in this scene they have been summoned out
into the streets where Nazi authorities
can lecture them on good behavior
and entertain them with an orchestra
of Jewish musicians.

It's a few degrees darker
than the blackest of black humor,
similar to the choir of prisoners
who are forced to sing a gentle lullaby
to drown out the screams of their comrades
who are being tortured nearby
in "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"
which, though set in the American West of the 1860's
more closely reflects the director's experience
of Europe in the 1940's.

Various family members
posed for characters shown above,
including Misha as a violinist.

This side of the painting
includes a self-portrait
of the artist as he carries
the Shabbos candles.

Originally promised to the
Illinos Holocaust Museum,
it was declined when curators decided
that they only wanted
artifacts from the period,
inspiring Misha to build his own gallery
large enough to display it.

But I predict
that after the artist
and his son are gone,
new curators will realize
that this vision came from the mind
of a holocaust survivor,
even if it was painted
50 years later,
and that it tells the story
of the cruelty, resilience,
and humanity of that era
much better than whatever else
they've got in the vitrine cases.

On the gallery floor,
near the historical painting,
are two landscapes
that Misha and father painted
during their customary trips
to the countryside.

One of them was done by Misha,
depicting his father
painting landscapes at his easel,
the other is a copy
by Chaim.

Which is which ?

I admit,
it was not immediately obvious to me
since their styles are so similar.

But in hindsight
(which is always 20/20)
yes, I do see that the painting on the left
could be an interpretation of the one on the right
but not the other way around.

And by the way,
the bottom strip of the painting above
does remind me a Matisse

.... even though the entire painting does not.

And now,
for a walk around the rest of the gallery.

I've taken pictures
of entire walls
rather than specific paintings
because the curator, designer, and builder
of this room
is himself an artist,
and an artist never stops
placing objects exactly where he wants them.

This is one of the most dynamic
cityscapes that I've ever seen.

It's a view from out the window
of Chaim's apartment in Minsk.

If you look carefully,
you will see a naked sunbather
in the background.

According to Misha,
that is the only nude
his father ever painted.

(whereas, I can't recall
that my father
EVER sculpted a female figure
with even a shred of clothing)

All of the paintings in this gallery
are by Chaim,
but the sculptures are by Misha.

The bust to the left is a portrait of his father,
the bust to the right is one of our models
at the art club,
a very athletic fellow
who bicycles about 40 miles a day,
to work and back.

Misha has selected
what I think
are his best figures
for this gallery.

Portrait of Chaim's father-in-law.

moving into the adjacent guest bedroom,
these paintings were done by Misha
more than 30 years ago.

I'm pretty sure Misha
painted this memento mori,
and if there were ever an exhibit
celebrating the tradition of Cezanne
in 20th Century painting,
this would belong in it.

Moving downstairs,
here's a still-life
by Chaim,
and it's my favorite piece
in the entire home museum.

It depicts a corner
of his own kitchen.

It's so intimate,
it feels to me like a
self portrait.

Portraits of Misha, Luda and children
by Chaim

These are more paintings by Misha,
all of them done
more than 30 years ago.

I would encourage him to return
to the brush and canvas,
but then he might not have the time
to join us
in sculpting every Sunday

The sculpture is by Misha,
but the paintings are by his son, Jacob.

Needless to say,
my paintings, drawings, or sculpture
were never shown in my father's house.

The small sculptures on the back shelf
almost seem to be part of the still-life painting
behind them.

I'm guessing that the painting to the right
is a study that Misha did
of his father's painting

This place feels so cold and gray
it must be Minsk in winter.

Another great painting.

Since he has only ever painted
to please himself,
Misha would qualify
as an "outsider artist",
and as such,
this painting would have been
the best piece in
this exhibit
that I just saw in Milwaukee.

Now, we're down in the basement,
which is a rather chaotic work
and storage area.

(Here's the piece that I did from the same model
about 10 years ago)

For eight years,
from 2000 - 2008
all that Misha
wanted to talk about
as we worked on sculpture

Buuuushh ---- Buuuushhh----Buuuushhh

And apparently that obsession
spilled over into his
the workroom of his basement

Now, we are walking out to the garage in back.

These are sculptures that Misha made
about 20 years ago
in the decade after he moved to Chicago.

There are all high-fired terra cotta
so they can be left outdoors.

Their stylization is quite different
from what he does today.

Now we are in the garage/studio
that Misha built with his own hands
to accomodate his father
back in 1991.

These small terra cottas
were all made
at the Palette and Chisel
over the last decade

That notice
posted beside the door
lists the schedule
of open workshops
at the Palette and Chisel,
though it's about ten years old
and somewhat out of date.

By grim coincidence,
there's a skull
not far behind the portrait
of a handsome young model
who killed himself a few years ago.

This portrait of an old man
is one my favorites.

Another old man
can be seen in the mirror
behind it.


The documentary photographer
at work