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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Misoziony at a San Francisco art gallery

From Oy Bay:
Himmelberger Gallery, a well-known art gallery located in San Francisco’s tony Union Square, has decided to cancel plans to publish an art catalogue of one of its represented artists, noted author Alan Kaufman, who is under contract to the gallery. The decision is due to use of the word Zionism in the catalogue’s title ‘Visionary Expressionism: A Zionist Art.” Kaufman said in response:

For myself, I want to say that to see oneself and ones colleagues censored for expression of a Zionist perspective is one of the most shocking experiences I’ve ever had as an artist, or writer. But what made it especially hard was to see my fellow writers, David Twersky, David Rosenberg, Etgar Keret, Polly Zavadivker, also censored. It was then that I understood that this was not merely censorship of me: this was censorship of an entire community, of my people, the Jewish People; of my colleagues, my fellow writers and artists. This drove home to me like nothing else that I must never accept such censorship from anyone, under any circumstances. I must stand up proudly as a Zionist and express myself freely, without shame or reservation.

The gallery objects to the expressly Zionist focus of several essay contributions to the catalogue by well-known authors and journalists, including David Twersky, contributing editor of the New York Sun and senior adviser, International Affairs for American Jewish Congress; noted scholar David Rosenberg, author (with Harold Bloom) of The Book of J and most recently of Abraham: The First Historical Biography; Etgar Keret, widely acknowledged as Israel’s most popular young writer, and whose books include The Nimrod Flip-Out and The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be G-d ; and Polly Zavadivker, a young scholar completing graduate studies in Hebrew and Judaics at New York University and currently working as a grants officer at the Jewish Federation in Oakland, California. Kaufman, whose critically acclaimed books include the memoir Jew Boy and the novel Matches has an essay and an interview, conducted by Zavadivker, in the catalogue.

The catalogue was to present 15 of Kaufman’s paintings which are under contract to the gallery and whose subjects range from the Holocaust to Israel to the New Antisemitism. The gallery’s prices for the works in question have been cited at between $3,275 and $36,000. The works have hung in the gallery and a cross-section of them also appeared on the gallery website .

At a meeting between gallery head David Himmelberger and Kaufman, Himmelberger surprised the artist and author with an eleventh hour decision not to proceed with the catalogue due to the Zionist “agenda” of the essays as well as some of the paintings. Himmelberger said that such a presentation was antithetical to the aims of the gallery, which promotes “international understanding” and forswears all forms of nationalism and religion. But the authors see this as a transparent example of the way in which the word Zionism has been exiled from civil discourse and has been turned by the cultural establishment into a refugee of a word, a pariah of an idea, and a euphemism for Antisemitism.

The Himmelberger Gallery website seems to have deleted its web pages that used to feature Alan Kaufman (the Google cached versions are here. )

The reason given by Himmelberger, that the gallery "forswears all forms of nationalism and religion," seems highly improbable - it did once feature some 9/11-themed paintings that included the artist's interpretation of the American flag.

It seems far more likely that the very word "Zionist" used in a positive context is so viscerally disgusting to the gallery owner that he had to invent a reason to stop the exhibition that would save face.