Probably all of us remember from elementary school science classes how much fun it was to play with a magnet and some iron filings. Whether you made them jump from the table to the magnet or played with them on a piece of cardboard with the magnet below, it was fun to make them "come alive," stand up, and seem to "dance around" as if by magic.
Artists in Europe during the first forty years of the twentieth century were very much like the iron filings in our fondly remembered science labs. They were strewn across the multicolored, multiethnic, multinational map of Europe from Iberia to Hiberia to Siberia. And given the political unrest before, during, and after World War I, they were all dancing around uncomfortably like the proverbial "cat on a hot tin room." Europe was a live, vibrant, exciting place for an artist to create, but also socially hyperactive, unsettling, often uncomfortable, and even dangerous place to stir up the kind of artistic unrest that marked this era. Imagine then, if you will, the end of a bar magnet placed beneath the map of Europe, in the middle of France, specifically beneath the city of Paris. The artists of Europe were attracted to this overpopulated, wide spot on the Seine very much like there was a magic magnet hidden beneath its streets amongst its famous sewers.
If you're in New York between now and June 25, 2000, you can see the results of this mass exodus. The show is called "Paris in New York" and it's at the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue and 93rd Street. The 38 works by twelve artist, include such notables as Marc Chagall, Max Weber, Chaim Soutine, Jacques Lipchitz, and Amedeo Modigliani. It's venue should not be surprising because Jewish artists led the exodus from all over Europe to Paris, then in many cases fled to New York when Nazism invaded their French refuge too. All the artists exhibited are Jewish, and their Jewishness is evident in their work, though to varying degrees. Chagall imprints it into nearly everything he does. Modigliani, perhaps due to his Italian birth and upbringing, displays it hardly at all. He's the only one of the group NOT born in Eastern Europe.
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the show are the comments printed beside each work, by the owners from whom they were borrowed. They lend a human element, underlining the fact that these works are not just cold, collectible, art objects worth millions, but have intimate meaning, often ringing up memories of years lived in Europe during their owners' childhood, or what it was like to be an immigrant from Europe arriving and living in New York fifty years ago. Though of museum quality, these are NOT the museum pieces seen in most such shows. The pieces represented are more than beautiful works of art, more than national, ethnic, or religious treasures. They are beloved family heirlooms, shared for the first time with the rest of us.