Reinventing Jewish art in the age of multiple modernities: Michail Grobman and the Leviathan group

Lola Kantor-Kazovsky, Isaiah Gruber (Translator)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Can studying an artist’s migration enable the reconfiguration of art history in a new and “global” mode? Michail Grobman’s odyssey in search of a contemporary idiom of Jewish art led him to cross the borders of political blocs and to observe, absorb, and confront different patterns of modernism in his work. His provocative art, his rich archives and collections, his essays and personal diaries all reveal this complexity and open up a new perspective on post-World War II twentieth-century modernism – and on the interconnected functioning of its local models. Can studying an artist’s migration provide the key to unlocking a “global” history of art? The artistic biography of Michail Grobman and his group, which was active in Israel in the 1970s, open up this vital new perspective and analytical mode.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLeiden; Boston
Number of pages326
ISBN (Electronic)900449815X
ISBN (Print)9004339310, 9789004339316
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NameStudia Judaeoslavica
Volumevolume 15
ISSN (Print)1876-6153

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Grobman, which was written in Russian and published by Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie in 2014. However, it quickly became apparent that what was truly called for would be an entirely new book that would address substantially more and different themesM? In comparison with its Russian precursor, the present work incorporates more sources, advances new arguments, and addresses a broader scope of research questions. When I thought to translate the Russian book, I already knew that some revisions would be necessaryMᘀ after allMᔀ ?ussian and English readers have very divergent exposure to and familiarity with both Russian and international culture. Yet little did I suspect that communicating with my new intended audience would actually require a fundamental rethinking of the very means of discussion. In the end, this reconceptualization introduced a “global” theoretical slant. The result is a work in which the case of Grobman serves as a prism through which to reconsider processes in art on both sides of the “Iron Curtain” during the Cold War period. The original translator, Dr. Isaiah Gruber, accompanied me throughout the entire process of this complex rewriting and new writing. Portions of his translation have been included in the present work, and he has edited the entire volume in English. His patience and enthusiastic assistance cannot be overestimated. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the institutions and people to whom I owe training, advice, materials, and the pleasure of intellectual exchange. I cordially thank the artist and his wife, Irina Vrubel-Golubkina, for their tireless curatorial help with the use of their archive. The story of Grobman’s archive will be told in the introduction, but here I may mention that it comprises a well-organized work of art in its own right. During this undertaking I was fortunate enough to meet and interview participants in and witnesses of the very processes that I describe in the book. Not all of these interviews have been quoted in the monograph, but they inform its text deeply. My sincere gratitude goes out to these people, many of whom have since passed away. Among these I must mention artists such as the late Oscar Rabin, Vladimir Yankilevsky, and Alexey Smirnov, as well as the critics and art historians Igor Golomshtok, Irina Antonova, and Anatoly Kantor (my father). Other active and productive artists and colleagues in Russia, Israel, and elsewhere who helped or collaborated with me include Lev Nussberg, Natalia Abalakova, George Kisevalter, Motti Mizrahi, Galia Bar-Or, Andrey Erofeev, Anna Romanova, and Uri Gershovich. I am grateful to Ekaterina Bobrinskaya, who invited me to participate in seminars on the history of unofficial art held at the The State Institute for Art Studies (SIAS) in Moscow, which aimed to provide a theoretical foundation for the historiography of twentieth-century Russian art. My deepest gratitude is also owed to my colleagues at the Art History Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who discussed the concept of this work with me in their departmental seminar. I cannot but mention the Center for Jewish Art, where I have worked in various capacities, ranging from researcher to academic directorMᔀ during different MⰁ鸁뤁ꈀ unconnectedMⴀ periods of lifeMᔀ and which gave me my first experience of the study of Jewish artMᤀ I wish to thank Prof. emerita Ziva Amishai-Maisels of the Art History Department of the Hebrew University for her precious conversations throughout the project. I express my gratitude to Dr. Edith Rogovin Frankel (formerly of the Hebrew University), herself a historian of Russian Jewry, who related to me her first-hand experience of working at the American National Exhibition in Moscow and connected me with Neil Thompson, who shared with me the unpublished results of his archival inquiries. I am especially indebted to my husband Hillel Kazovsky, a historian, collector, and curator, whose work and expertise in modern Jewish art and culture have always been an invaluable source of inspiration for me. The English translation of Russian texts was funded by a grant from the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. New research for the present version was supported by the Israel Science Foundation. The text was finalized in M?Mᔀ but the book went to press du-ring the out burst of war in Ukraine. While still writing it, I had already become more and more aware of how Michail Grobman, in the last phase of his work, felt and depicted a brutal danger dormant in the Russian regime. The artist, as it happens, was ahead of his time.


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