Arthur Szyks compelling political cartoons placed Nazi genocide, tyranny, and antisemitism on the covers of Americas most popular magazines during World War II. Today, his pioneering examples of graphic storytelling have renewed relevance in a new exhibition at the Fairfield University Art Museum
. This is the largest exhibition of Szyks work in the Northeast in over 50 years.
In Real Times. Arthur Szyk: Artist and Soldier for Human Rights will be open to the public September 29 through December 16, 2023 at Fairfield University Art Museums Bellarmine Hall Galleries, with an adjunct exhibition entitled Szyk: The Interactive Experience opening on the same date in the Museums Walsh Gallery. Szyk was one of the first public figures to take immediate, direct action in bringing attention to the Holocaust as it was being perpetratedand did it uniquely through his artistic medium. The miniature scale of his pieces stands in striking juxtaposition to the magnitude of the themes they confronted and the human rights violations they exposed.
In Real Times. Arthur Szyk: Artist and Soldier for Human Rights is curated by Francesco Spagnolo, PhD, curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California, Berkeley. The acquisition of the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection (2017), and research for this exhibition were made possible by a generous gift from Taube Philanthropies. The exhibition opened at the Magnes in May 2021, and was later on view at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans before coming to the Fairfield University Art Museum, the exclusive exhibition venue in the Northeast. At the Fairfield University Art Museum, the exhibition is coordinated by Philip Eliasoph, PhD, professor of Art History and Visual Culture, and special assistant to the President for Arts and Culture, and is co-sponsored by the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, the Center for Jewish History, NY, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Fairfield County.
A Legacy of Civic Engagement
The new exhibition displays more than 50 original works that Szyk created between 1926 and 1951. The works are organized into six sections focused on various aspects of human rights:
● Human Rights and their Collapse introduces viewers to Szyks world with a timeline showing his life in the context of the progressive failure of European democracies and the human rights and national rights movements. A selection of Szyks works begin to show his lifelong focus on freedom and the dangers of tyranny and totalitarianism.
● The Rights of Global Refugees explores Szyks deep concern for refugees like himself and their lack of the legal protections of citizenship. This section features depictions of refugees in many contexts, from cartoons of innocent children declared enemies of the Third Reich to Biblical narratives and a self-portrait included in Szyks ode to Canada.
● The Right to Resist highlights the role of resistance in preserving human rights, with Szyks paintings of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and his internationally acclaimed illustration of The Statute of Kalisz. The statute, which granted Jews legal rights and liberties in Poland in medieval times, was displayed in London in 1933 to denounce antisemitism in Nazi Germany.
● The Rights of Nationhood further explores Szyks belief that human rights are inextricably tied to citizenship, featuring designs he created for countries and organizations. These detailed illustrations became letterheads and stamps and often found their way into his political cartoons.
● The Right to Expose: Executioners at Work includes many of Szyks most powerful pieces, which depicted the crimes of Axis leaders and Nazis during the Holocaust. This portion of the exhibition also explores a parallel to Charlie Chaplins characters in his 1940 movie The Great Dictator.
● The Right to America highlights Szyks appreciation of his new home country and the multi-ethnic fabric of the U.S. Army, positioning it in direct contrast to Nazi Aryan supremacy. The work in this section reflects Szyks objection to racial discrimination and the organizations that perpetuate it, such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Szyk: The Interactive Experience Presents Miniatures through a New Lens.
The full exhibition has been digitized, and visitors will have the opportunity to explore Szyks miniatures in high resolution on a monitor within the main exhibition space. Szyk used motifs drawn from the Bible, history, politics, and culture to create searing artistic commentary. He addressed a diverse range of subjects including the U.S. War of Independence, the Holocaust, World War II, and racial discrimination and Black civil rights. Visitors can pause the slideshow and zoom in on any image to reveal unexpected details and extraordinary craftsmanship.
At an interactive workstation in the Walsh Gallery, visitors will be encouraged to create new cartoons by repurposing elements of Szyks artworks. Visitors are encouraged to examine the characters and motifs individually and then recombine them to make their own political cartoons. New creations can be saved and instantly published online, in real time, giving Szyks compelling art an even wider audience. The screens of both workstation tablets will also be projected onto the walls of the gallery for all to see.
Other features of Szyk: The Interactive Experience will include a screening room with films about Szyks art and life, a reading room, an art-making space, and an ambient soundtrack of American music from the era of Szyks prominence in the late 30s and 40s.
Born into a middle-class Polish Jewish family in Lodz in 1894, Arthur Szyk led a life framed by two world wars, the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, and the birth of the State of Israel, before his death in New Canaan, Conn. in 1951. Much of his work centered around these historical experiences. Szyk was raised in Poland, educated in France, traveled to the Middle East and North Africa, and lived in London and Canada before moving to New York in 1940.
From Fairfield University Magazine - Summer 2023: Soldier in Art.
At Fairfield University, the exhibition is made possible thanks to generous sponsors including Connecticut Humanities, Aquarion Water Company, Fiona Garland, the Maximilian E. & Marion O. Hoffman Foundation, John Meditz 70, Rick & Debi Smilow on behalf of the Smilow Foundation, the Sy Syms Foundation, Terra Foundation for American Art, the Delamar Hotel, and Tadbik Inc. of Israel and NJ, and media sponsors WSHU, The Algemeiner, and Westport Journal, as well as community partners including the Pequot Library, New Canaan Historical Society, and the Fairfield Museum and History Center.
Fairfield University Art Museum
Exhibition of Political Art by Arthur Szyk, WWII-Era Human Rights Advocate September 29th, 2023 - December 16th, 2023