File spoon-archives/nietzsche.archive/nietzsche_1998/nietzsche.9811, message 94

Date: Wed, 4 Nov 1998 23:45:16 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Kitaj  

For those of you who have the second ANQ issue, the article by Anthony Julius
is dedicated to R. B. Kitaj, an American painter who lived in  England for
many years.  Below, with no comment,         
is an article on Kitaj from Arts and Letters.          


 FORWARD : Arts & Letters

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     An Expatriate Painter Packs Up His Easel

     Charging Anti-Semitism, and Murder, R.B. Kitaj Heads for L.A.


     Few are the artists who harbor ungrudging admiration for their
     critics. But few loathe them with the ardor of R.B. Kitaj, the
     acerbic, American-born painter of dense, figurative works laced with
     literary and artistic allusions. Mr. Kitaj, who has lived in London
     since 1958, has never been shy about expressing his opinion of his
     detractors. When many of London's art writers panned his 1994
     retrospective at London's Tate Gallery, Mr. Kitaj cast himself as an
     artistic Dreyfus, branding his critics anti-American, anti-Semitic
     and anti-intellectual. After his wife, Sandra Fisher, died suddenly
     of a brain aneurysm a few months later, he added another charge -
     murderous. His entry at last year's Summer Exhibition at London's
     Royal Academy was titled, pointedly, "The Critic Kills."

     While the art world has become accustomed to Mr. Kitaj's periodic
     tantrums about art and life in his adopted country, even his allies
     were unnerved when he unveiled his entry to the current Summer
     Exhibition last week. Described by the artist as "a revenge play on
     canvas," the work advances the same charges of bias and
     irresponsibility that Mr. Kitaj has leveled against critics in the
     past - only in a manner that many saw as more shrill, hysterical and
     paranoid than anything the artist had produced before.

     The mural-size piece, "Sandra Three," depicts London's art critics as
     a six-legged, many-eyed monster with a bloated face, blood on its
     lips and a snaking yellow tongue, upon which are written the words
     "Yellow press, yellow press, kill, kill, kill." A firing squad,
     painted in the style of Manet's "Execution of the Emperor
     Maximilian," shoots flaming bullets into the creature's brain with
     the slogan "Blood will be blood." In a corner of the canvas is
     written a Duchampian phrase: "The Killer Critic Assassinated by His
     Widower, Even"; in another is what appears to be a self-portrait with
     a dagger marked "J'Accuse." And in another, Mr. Kitaj delivers what
     he no doubt considers his coup de gr=83ce: He announced that he is
     leaving London for Los Angeles.

     The next day, the critics struck back. "He is held to live in a world
     of self-delusions and to have suffered a total collapse of sense of
     humour," the Daily Telegraph posited of Mr. Kitaj. "To blame a critic
     seems a peculiar, even self-centered displacement," said the
     Guardian. Several questioned how Mr. Kitaj could label Britain's art
     establishment anti-Semitic when so many of its stars - Leon Kossoff,
     Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach - are Jewish. In one of his rare
     interviews, Mr. Kitaj had an answer to that. "It's not a
     coincidence," he said, "that I'm the only painter who wears his
     Jewishness in his art."

     That's hardly the case only in England, of course. Writers like
     Philip Roth and Saul Bellow may inhabit America's literary pantheon,
     but besides Mr. Kitaj, there is no visual artist of international
     stature who so forcefully addresses aspects of the Jewish experience
     in his work. (Indeed Mr. Kitaj has of late become the cover artist of
     choice for Jewish-themed books, judging from the review copies
     arriving at the Forward offices.) As the author of the "First
     Diasporist Manifesto" prepares to head into exile once more, another
     question arises: Will this iconoclastic artist, who thrives on the
     sense of being an outsider, find peace - and a more sympathetic
     reception to his dark allegories - in his native country?

     Mr. Kitaj is not exactly going home, though: The culture of Los
     Angeles, where he is moving to be near his son from his first
     marriage, is nothing like his native Cleveland, where he was born in
     1932 to an American daughter of Russian immigrants and a Hungarian
     father. After a brief career as a merchant seaman and a stint in the
     U.S. Army, he established himself in Britain, where he was credited
     with coining the "School of London" to refer to psychologically
     inclined figurative painters including Mr. Freud, Mr. Auerbach, Mr.
     Kossoff and himself. His interest in Jewish subjects began in the
     '60s, when he discovered Walter Benjamin, "who spoke to my sense of
     exile of mind and heart, an un-at-homeness in great sensual cities
     which might lead to an art and maybe even a Jewishness of Jewish
     art." Looking back, he realized many of his portraits - of Rosa
     Luxemburg, Isaac Babel, Walter Lippmann - were also of Jewish
     outsiders, and he went on to read texts by Franz Kafka, Gershom
     Scholem, Harold Bloom and others. He befriended - and drew - Mr.
     Roth, who has explored his own uncomfortable experience as a Jew in

     In 1989, Mr. Kitaj produced his own text on the Jewish experience:
     "First Diasporist Manifesto," in which he attempted to come to terms
     with his own Jewish identity and how it manifested itself in art. "If
     a people is dispersed, hurt, hounded, uneasy, their pariah condition
     confounds expectation in profound and complex ways," he wrote. "So it
     must be in aesthetic matters." His works from the era reflect his
     preoccupations: the gray landscape of "Drancy"; "If Not, Not," an
     Eliot-inspired wasteland dominated by the Auschwitz gatehouse; "The
     Jew Etc," a portrait of a pensive "emblematic Jew" intended to be
     "the unfinished subject of an esthetic of entrapment and escape, an
     endless, tainted Galut-Passage, wherein he acts out his own

     And now Mr. Kitaj enters the next phase of his own endless Galut,
     though he is hardly arriving as a destitute refugee. He arrives in
     America with an established gallery, Marlborough, and while he is not
     a household name in the mainstream he has a solid reputation in the
     art world: his Tate retrospective traveled to the Los Angles County
     Museum of Art and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it
     received a somewhat better reception - though far less attention -
     than it did in England. But he also arrives at a time when figurative
     work exists on the margins, and when, despite the endless musings on
     ethnic identity from culturally diverse artists (many of whom favor
     text panels as long as Mr. Kitaj's own explications), Jewish-themed
     work remains the province mostly of Jewish museums.

     As for how Mr. Kitaj will adapt himself to life in a Spanish-style
     villa far removed from his London afflictions - and in a Los Angeles
     art scene hardly known for the literary disposition he has grown
     accustomed to - his indications are contradictory. "I have a deep
     ascetic side to my nature," he told London's The Independent, "and I
     may become a Desert Father or an Israelite Prophet whistling in the
     wilderness, unheard and forgotten by the present art world, which is
     OK by me."

     Still, it seems unlikely that Mr. Kitaj, with his powerful obsession
     with how he is perceived by others - and his equally powerful need to
     bring his personal torment to public view - will disappear from
     sight. In the same interview, he also said, "I seem to attract
     hatred, as Baudelaire wrote Marat did. There is no talent or style or
     balls or imagination in the haters. At least they've made me the most
     controversial painter alive! Not a bad thing to be."


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