| Ben Zion is primarily known as Ben-Zion Weinman
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following biography is from "Search for the Soul of Judaism"|
by William Brailsford, The Washington Times: May 18, 1997
modern Hebrew, the words for truth and art come from the same root.
With masterful sensitivity, the artist Ben-Zion has transformed the
horrible truths of the 20th century into a powerful artistic repertory
of etchings, drawings, paintings and sculpture that beckon the viewer
into his magical interpretation of the world, and the realities, of
In the centenary year of this self taught
artist, The B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum has brought
together an extraordinary collection of Ben-Zion's work. A poet and
writer, Ben-Zion stopped using the Hebrew language as the realities of
the Holocaust became evident; writing in "the language of the martyred
ones" became "unthinkable" to him.
The artist never actually
depicts the horrors of the '30s and '40s, but rather he holds man up to
himself, to show him what he has done to God's handiwork. Although
there are many pieces in this collection that have Biblical themes,
Ben-Zion's work cannot be termed "theological" by any means, but the
viewer is drawn to his rich Biblical imagery, especially in his oils.
the most striking painting in the exhibition is his 1937 oil on canvas
entitled Noah in the Ark. Here, we find a peacefully slumbering Noah,
his eyes contentedly closed, caressing a menagerie. The dark, somber
tones seem bereft of any source of light; in fact we seem to be in the
belly of the Ark itself until we suddenly realize that the eyes of all
the animals shine brilliantly, like torchieres against a night sky.
Here, Ben-Zion seems to convey Noah's peace with having obeyed God,
while the animal kingdom wonders what lies in store.
another story from the Scriptures, Ben-Zion has two depictions of Ruth
and Boaz. A small drawing in India ink and paper (1945) and then a
larger oil on wood (1958), reminiscent of Henri Rousseau's 1897 Sleeping Gypsy, have a hypnotic effect on the observer. Like many of
the artist's oils, this one has a particular dreamlike quality. The
vibrant colors and rich textures create the sensation of a moving
canvas, as in his Summer (1972) and Path in a Wheatfield (1953).
two haunting pictures A Simple, Forthright Polish Jew (1936), an oil
on denim, and Prophet on the Ruins (1938), another oil on canvas,
Ben-Zion has summed up the exilic nature of the Jewish people. These
remarkable images, devoid of comfort, seem to represent the horrible
decade in which they were painted and convey the dark decade of the
Jewish soul better than any words. Ben-Zion has himself assumed the
mantle of a prophet, and his pictures transform themselves into
jeremiads warning modern man of what is to come.
But the heart
of the exhibit may be found in the 1957 oil Scribe and the 1975 oil Kiddush. In both paintings, Ben-Zion focuses on the face -- in
essence, the face of modern Judaism, vibrant despite the diasporatic
centuries, the horrors of modern times and the misapprehension of their
Along with the paintings, there are sculptures in
iron and wood, whimsical masks, a few examples of his own yod (the
pointers with which the Scriptures are read) and even a few pieces of
Truly, Ben-Zion's work can be summed in his own
words, reminiscent of King David: "A light sound like the thinnest of
threads accompanies me in the darkness of the abyss. God forbid if this
thread should break" In his works, Ben-Zion offers that thread to
accompany us as we try to understand the darkness of the abyss.
2001-2002, Ethics and Public Policy Center
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Painter Ben-Zion (Benzion Weinman) was part of "The Ten," a group of
young artists, including Joseph Solman, who strived to create something
new in art in the 1940s. |
Weinman came to the U.S. in 1920, and
has worked in oils, watercolors and has created a large body of
ironwork. Teaching positions include: Cooper Union, 1943-1950; Ball
State University, summer 1956; and Union Iowa, summer 1959.
has continued his style of representational painting based on the
abstract, and is perhaps best known for his Biblical paintings and
Ben-Zion received an American Jewish Congress
award. His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of
Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York City.
Les Krantz, American Artists, Illustrated Survey of Leading Contemporary Artists
The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama has two paintings by Ben- Zion:
End of Don Quixote, Oil on canvas, 30 x 25, Undated, and The Strangled Tree, Oil on canvas, 267/8 x 36 Undated (though we know it was featured in a NY gallery exhibition in March of 1946).
Both works were featured in the State Department art show entitled Advancing American Art in the fall of 1946 and will be included in an upcoming exhibition on this historic show complete with catalogue that will open at the museum in the fall of 2012.
Marilyn Laufer, Director
|Biography from Mercury Gallery:|
|Ben-Zion Weinman was the son of a Polish cantor and composer who raised
him for the rabbinate. He became "Ben-Zion" in America after
World War I because "to drag around two names is rather too
difficult." His beginnings in America are sketched elsewhere in
this catalogue by his wife, Lillian Ben-Zion, but in 1983 he told an
interviewer from the Archives of American Art about his discovery by
the historic dealer J.B. Neumann.|
"I see you coming here from
time to time," said Neumann one Saturday afternoon. "Are you an artist,
or are you buying art?" Ben-Zion said he was neither. But Neumann
repeated the question several weeks later. "So I said, 'I don't
know if you can call that art work,' " Ben-Zion recalled, but "I
make those small, little drawings [on a writing pad]. And that's
all what I have." Neumann asked how much he wanted for three of
them. "I don't know," Ben-Zion replied. Neumann offered $15. "Not
too much?" the artist asked. "No," said Neumann, "and you'll find
out that I'm probably cheating you." Instead, the purchase
launched Ben-Zion's career.
In 1935, he became a founding
member, with Mark Rothko, Joseph Solman, and Adolph Gottlieb, among
others, of the group of American moderns, The Ten (see "The Ten: Birth
of the American Avant-garde," Mercury Gallery, December 1998). Critics
took note at once. A skeptical New York Sun critic said Ben-Zion painted "furiously" and called him "the farthest along" of The Ten. His The Glory of War
was featured in The Ten's 1938 show, "Whitney Dissenters," staged to
protest the emphasis on regionalism and social realism in the Whitney's
annual exhibits. The Glory of War was "resounding" and "forceful," an Art News reviewer wrote.
"Ben-Zion selects philosophical, poetic, psychological or tragic passages from the Bible," wrote New York Times
art critic and Rothko biographer Dore Ashton in 1952, "and endows them
with an added spiritual dimension by means of oppressive distortions
and imaginative color. In [his] canvases there is an intense and
very personal interpretive bias which captures the visual and emotional
values of themes without literary overtones." His "Biblical
pieces," Joseph Solman wrote in 1997, "are the only profound works in
that genre in modern art besides. . . Chagall and the dramatic scenes
When New York's Jewish Museum opened in 1948, it
was with a Ben-Zion show. Twice more he was exhibited there, including
a large 1959 retrospective. The Phillips Collection and The Museum of
Modern Art acquired Ben-Zions. The prominent dealer Curt Valentin
exhibited Ben-Zion and published his remarkable Biblical etchings.
when Abstract Expressionism became ascendant Ben-Zion, who viewed all
art as abstract expressionism, stopped showing at galleries. He
died in 1987, fed up with the art market, inspired as ever by art
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