Fourteen photo booth photographs pinned to a wall, glass plate, 20th century
© mahJ collection, gift of Ariel Fenster
Hersh Fenster and the lost shtetl of Montparnasse
Saturday 15 May – Sunday 10 October 2021
Echoing the "Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine… Paris pour école, 1905-1940" exhibition, the mahJ is paying tribute to Hersh Fenster (Baranów, 1892–Paris, 1964), the journalist, Yiddish writer and author of Undzere farpaynikte kinstler (Our Martyred Artists), published in Paris in 1951. Both a memorial and an art book, it retraces the lives and work of 84 Jewish artists living in France who died between 1940 and 1945, about whom Fenster compiled testimonies and photographs over a five-year period. Some, like Chaïm Soutine and Otto Freundlich, are well known, others, such as Étienne Farkas and Jacob Macznik, less. Yet all played their part in the final years of what the critic André Warnod dubbed in 1925 the “School of Paris”. Painters, sculptors, illustrators, men and women, their work was brought to a premature end and sometimes destroyed.
Our Martyred Artists, written in Yiddish, prefaced by Chagall and published at the author’s expense, is neither a historical document nor the work of an art historian, but brings a lost world back to life. It was intended as one of the “commemorative books” published after the war to bear witness to the annihilation of Yiddishland. In his own way, Fenster saved the “shtetl of the Montparnasse artists” from oblivion.
The exhibition highlights Fenster’s personality through his archives and enables our discovery of the works of David Brainin, Étienne Farkas, Alexandre Fasini, Jules Gordon, Jacques Gotko, Samuel Granovsky, Jane Lévy, Jacob Macznik, Sigismond Sigur-Wittmann, Marcel Slodki, Abraham Weinbaum and Zber.
Published in Yiddish in a limited edition of 350, Undzere farpainikte kinstler was originally known only to a few initiates. In conjunction with the exhibition, the mahJ is co-publishing its complete translation with Éditions Hazan and with the support of the Maison de la culture yiddish-bibliothèque Medem.
Curator: Pascale Samuel