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Art of Betty Mittleman, donated by the artist to CHGS. Art works may be borrowed from Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. For rental and transport costs, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a story about Claire Booth Luce complaining that she was bored with hearing about the Holocaust. A Jewish friend of hers said he perfectly understood her sensitivity in the matter; in fact, he had the same sense of repetitiousness and fatigue, hearing so often about the Crucifixion. - Herbert Gold. "Selfish Like Me."
Betty Mittleman has embarked on this very course to attempt to understand the Holocaust through her art and convey some understanding and emotion to the audience. Work on this subject cannot be comprehensivethe subject, with each individual story, cannot be exhausted. But for Mittleman, there is an imperative to retell to story to a new generation through her art, for art becomes an avenue of memory. Her most recent works, including Silence is Golden and The Warsaw Ghetto Series, resemble icons. Some are based on photographic images from the famous works of Roman Vishniac, who dramatically conveyed the destruction process of the Holocaust by reflecting upon what was lost in his album, A Vanished World. By quoting Vishniac artistically, Mittleman establishes an intellectual and artistic continuity with predecessors like Vishniac who had a great concern for telling the story of the Holocaust. The artist has taken photo images out of original context and has remade them into iconographic figures, by transferring the photos onto the reverse side of glass and surrounding them with gold leaf. This technique evokes images of Medieval and Renaissance artistic processes. Mittleman creates a sense of aging, or destruction in her work by leaving sections of the photos or the background blurred, torn, washed out, or suspended in space, creating a visual understanding that this world no longer exists and that the subjects of her work, often children and Yeshiva students from the preWar Yiddish schools, were victims and martyrs for the diabolical schemes of Nazism. She has remarked that the surface of her glass evokes the form of seventeenth century funereal vases from Bohemia.
In looking at the subjects, who appear "ordinary," the viewer is forced to reflect upon the conditions of the current age, when others, nonJews as well as Jews, have the potential for becoming victims to acts of violence and terrorism. In the aftermath of the terrorist bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995, one might easily construct a similar hall of martyrs of those who saw themselves as "ordinary people."
The icon-like imagery of Mittleman's work is important. A logical comparison is Byzantine and Russian icons. The particular color field of Mittleman's series is evocative of archetypal works like the Virgin of Vladimir, one of Russia's most famous Byzantine 11th century icons. In that work, sometimes called "The Virgin of Tenderness," the viewer is forced to contemplate the very human aspects of the love relationship between Virgin Mary and Jesus. Using that as an analogy, Mittleman tries to give us a glimpse of the same aura of love and learning which dominated prewar small town Jewish life, and then vanished in the horror of the Holocaust, never to be reconstituted. In this destruction, not only were Jews killed, but also their patterns of learning and language. Unlike other tragedies. this wav of life cannot be, and will not be, reconstituted. Thus, a trip to Eastern Europe today is marked by Jewish absence rather than presence.
A final word should be noted about Mittleman's typical method of hanging her works. They are usually hung close together in long rows. Several were shown with lights and a fence, evoking an image of persecution, separation, and destruction. The result is a reaffirmation of the subjects being an extended family, and thus establishing spiritual links between nameless victims and the artist herself.
- Dr. Stephen Feinstein