A massive exhibition at one of Miami’s leading art museums reclaims a place in art history for an iconoclastic but little-known Jewish artist and Holocaust survivor. . The exhibition, I Am Maryan, at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, explores the legacy of Polish-born artist Maryan, who survived a teenage years in Nazi camps to create groundbreaking work and visceral.
“There is more here than we could have imagined,” said Chana Bugazad Sheldon, Jewish executive director of MOCA, who was inspired to produce the exhibit through personal history and chance. “I believe Maryan was looking at her own lived experience on a greater level, like the human experience.”
Born Pinkas Bursztyn in Poland in 1927, Maryan and her working-class Jewish family were taken away by the Nazis in 1939.
The only survivor of his family, he was detained in labor camps, then in Auschwitz and Birkenau. As the Russians liberated the camps, Nazi soldiers shot him eight times. The injuries led to the amputation of his leg.
He immigrated to Palestine in 1947 and began studying art in what would become Israel until 1950, when he moved to Paris. There he adopted the name Maryan, a way of rejecting his identity under the Nazis. He has become a successful part of the arts community there.
After France rejected his citizenship application, he moved to New York in the early 1960s. He lived at the Chelsea Hotel, the legendary bohemian enclave, and died of a heart attack in 1977, while ‘he was only 50 years old.
Maryan has rejected the Holocaust artist label, and the MOCA exhibit only includes a small room with paintings from her time in Israel that directly reflect this horrific experience. One is a tortured human entanglement titled “Crematorium at Auschwitz”.
But the trauma seems to have reverberated through his art in many other ways. Many of his paintings depicted grotesque, almost cartoonish power figures that he called characters.
In the 1970s, Maryan began to confront his experiences of the Holocaust in therapy, reams of drawings and notebooks, and the 1975 film Ecce Homo, screened at MOCA, where he sits in his hotel studio. Chelsea, in a straitjacket, a Star of David on her chest. , and juxtaposes stories of piles of Jewish corpses and Nazi attack dogs with images of contemporary atrocities like the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and police dogs attacking civil rights protesters.
Maryan’s stay in Israel was also traumatic, said Noa Rosenberg, curator of modern art at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which hosts the exhibition there.
“He was really out of place,” said Rosenberg at the opening of MOCA.
It was a time when the new nation rejected the history of the Jewish diaspora and what it saw as Holocaust victimization in favor of the history of a powerful new state and people, leading their own destiny.
“The narrative there was strong, comprehensive, everyone was painting fields and sun and reborn Jews,” Rosenberg said. “He was a young Holocaust survivor with one leg. It was shameful. They teased Holocaust survivors for being weak.
Sheldon’s personal story and a chance encounter led her to bring Maryan’s work to MOCA.
Sheldon’s maternal grandmother was a close friend of Maryan’s wife, Annette. The two Jewish women met while hiding in a French convent during World War II. When Sheldon was a young woman new to the art world, she visited Annette’s Manhattan apartment and found a time capsule of Maryan’s world: works of art, writings, even one of her. paintbrushes in a cup on her drawing table. The richness of Maryan’s visceral images made a strong impression on him.
“Obviously I was in the presence of a great artist,” said Sheldon.
Almost two decades later, in 2018, Sheldon encountered Maryan’s paintings in a gallery at the Art Basel fair and “almost fell.” They awakened her memories of that first visit and the stories of her grandmother. As a teenager when her parents were arrested by the French police in Vichy, the grandmother was saved at the last minute from boarding a train for Auschwitz, then spent the rest of the war hiding in convents.
Sheldon had just taken over MOCA, which was then emerging from a period of financial and organizational turmoil, and was looking to differentiate itself with projects with under-explored artists. But she also saw a legacy in Maryan’s extraordinary art and history that would resonate powerfully not only in the Jewish community, but among Miami’s many immigrants, especially the many Haitians in North Miami. Maryan’s art spoke of larger stories of trauma, resistance, diaspora, and resilience.
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“I Am Maryan” is the largest exhibition MOCA has ever put on. The museum tore down all of its interior walls and built new ones for this show. Organized by Alison Gingeras, who has curated exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Museum of Modern Art, and the Center Pompidou in Paris, it includes not only works of art, but also archival documents, a recreation of Maryan’s studio at Chelsea, and comprehensive grant for a 250-page catalog.
The most comprehensive exhibition of Maryan’s work ever on display, the MOCA exhibit opened during Miami Art Week in early December, when Art Basel Miami Beach and other major art fairs bring the international elite to the scene. art in Miami. It runs through March 20, with programming that connects Maryan’s work not only to Holocaust education, but to immigration and human rights issues; then went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2023.
In mural text, essays, ancillary exhibits, and programming, MOCA seeks to connect Maryan’s legacy to larger struggles and issues. An accompanying photo exhibit curated by Haitian-American photojournalist Carl Juste features images of resilience and survival.
A text by Marlene Daut, professor of African diaspora studies at the University of Virginia, recounts the series of horrific portraits of Napoleon with the generally unknown history of the French emperor ordering the genocide of the black inhabitants of Haiti in 1802, when he was attempting to re-enslave the former French colony.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch and son of a Nazi refugee, wrote about the importance of remembering the history of the Holocaust amid rising anti-Semitism, racism and attacks on migrants.
The museum shows Strange Victory, a pioneering 1948 racism documentary, and Alain Resnais’ 1955 Holocaust film Night and Fog; and organize discussions on racism; spirituality and activism; Diaspora and Jewish community; and the role art plays in healing and identity.
MOCA is also producing a virtual tour and lecture on the show for the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial, which will distribute it to 350,000 Miami-Dade students and 2.79 million Florida public school students on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The Holocaust is too often isolated, studied only in the context of Jewish history. The idea is that only Jews care, ”said Oren Baruch Stier, director of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies program at Florida International University, who wrote an essay for the show. Maryan.
The MOCA exhibit, he said, “brings an understanding of the experience of a Holocaust survivor into a larger context in a way that is very accessible to many people. This is what we want.