Arbit Blatas Honored with Reception and Program at HUC-JIR Celebrating His Centennial - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Arbit Blatas Honored with Reception and Program at HUC-JIR Celebrating His Centennial

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Monday, December 1, 2008

(Abe Foxman, National Director, ADL; Regina Resnik; Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Director, HUC-JIR Museum; Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., President, HUC-JIR; and French Holocaust remembrance activist Serge Klarsfeld.)

Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., President of HUC-JIR, welcomed hundreds of guests, dignitaries, and HUC-JIR faculty, staff, and students to HUC-JIR on Wednesday, November 19, 2008, for a celebration of the hundredth anniversary of artist Arbit Blatas’s birth.

Arbit Blatas: A Centennial Celebration is a major exhibition of the works of this powerful, sensual 20th century artist, the first New York retrospective since the artist's death ten years ago. Blatas's vivid palate communicated itself in Holocaust works, opera and theater stage set designs, landscapes, and portraits - all of which are represented in this centenary exhibition.

Born in Kaunas, Lithuania, Blatas (1908-1999) began exhibiting at the age of 15, and, at age 21, became the youngest member of member of the School of Paris, including Vlaminck, Soutine, Picasso, Utrillo, Braque and Matisse. During the 1930s, Blatas's art was shown at the leading galleries in Paris and the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, and the Jeu de Paume and Musee de Grenoble acquired his works. Fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe, he arrived in New York in 1941 and, after the Second World War, his Expressionist style was recognized throughout Europe and the United States.

This centennial celebration gives us a glimpse of the man as well as his art; his painting and sculpture express contrasting sides of this fascinating personality. The noted French art critic Jean Bouret said of Blatas's painting: \"He is color, his palette is color, exuberant and sensual, as is the man.\" However, the Italian art historian Enzo di Martini wrote of Blatas's Monument to the Holocaust, \"In complete contrast to his paintings, these bronzes are hammered and chiseled in anger and tragedy.\"

Blatas's father survived Dachau; his mother perished at Bergen-Belsen. Profoundly influenced by their fates, Blatas memorialized the Holocaust in many major works. His drawings appeared in the American television docudrama, \"Holocaust\" in 1978. Blatas's permanent public memorials to the Holocaust were installed in the Ghetto of Venice (1980, 1993), the Shrine of the Unknown Jewish Martyrs in Paris (1981), the former site of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New York at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza, New York, adjacent to the United Nations (1982), and, posthumously, at the infamous Fort Nine, in his native Kaunas, Lithuania (2003). This series of powerful bronze bas-reliefs, entitled \"The Monument to the Holocaust,\" are one of the highlights of this exhibition.

Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the ADL, delivered the keynote address, and Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Director of the HUC-JIR Museum in New York, read greetings from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

(Ambassador Jonas Paslauskas, Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania)

Ambassador Jonas Paslaukas, Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania in New York, presented the Commandoer Cross of the Order of Merit of Lithuania to Arbit Blatas and Regina Resnik, his widow. Resnik offered a response and also read greetings from the American Society of the French Legion of Honor, The Italian Cultural Institute in New York, and Le Musee Des Anees Trentes in France.

The exhibition pays homage to Blatas's world of music and theater. In close collaboration with his wife, the renowned opera singer and stage director Regina Resnik, Blatas created scenic and costume designs for the some of the world's major opera houses during the 1970s and 1980s: Carmen (Hamburg Stage Opera), Elektra (Teatro la Fenice, Teatro Sao Carlos - Lisbon, Opera du Rhin), Falstaff (Teatr Wielki, Festival of Madrid, Teatro la Fenice, Teatro Sao Carlos), Pique Dame (Sydney Opera House, Vancouver Opera Association), Salome (Teatro Sao Carlos), The Bear (Teatro Sao Carlos), and The Medium (Teatro Sao Carlos). Through a magical coincidence in Berlin in 1928, Blatas attended the world premiere of Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera," a work which inspired him for the next 70 years in painting, sculpture and lithography.

HUC-JIR Cantorial students, under the directon of Cantor Bruce Ruben, Director of the School of Sacred Music, performed a musical tribute of songs based on the poetry of Hannah Senesh, by composer Max Helfman. HUC-JIR Museum Curator Laura Kruger delivered a tribute address to Blatas.

(HUC-JIR/NY Museum Curator Laura Kruger delivering a tribute to Arbit Blatas)

In 1990 Le Musee des Annees Trentes in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, acquired his entire collection of portraits, drawings, and bronzes of the School of Paris artists. The collection was permanently installed in galleries dedicated to Blatas in 2000. Arbit Blatas was awarded the Honor of Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur in France, Gold Medal of Honor City of Venice, Commandeur - Medaille de Vermeil, Medal of Masada, Special Honor of the City of New York, Presidential Medal of Italy, and was elected life member of the Salon D'Automne and Officier de la Legion d'Honneur. His work can be found in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Carnegie Institute, Newark Museum, Wichita Art Museum, Rochester Museum, Museum of the City of New York, National Portrait Gallery, Jeu de Paume, Musee de Grenoble, Israel Museum, Tel Aviv Museum, Museo D'Arte Moderna - Ca' Pesaro in Venice, Musee des Beaux Arts in Lausanne, and National Museum of Cardiff, Wales, among others.

\"The trajectory of Arbit Blatas's life and work reflects both the triumphs and cataclysms of 20th century history and experience,\" said Rosensaft. \"His artistic vision found expression in every aspect of cultural creativity - in the world of art, opera, and theater, while his identity, rooted in his Eastern European Jewish roots and the tragic fate of his parents, led him to his life's work, \"The Monument of the Holocaust.\"

Arbit Blatas: A Centennial Celebration will run through July 2009

HUC-JIR Museum General Information
Museum Hours: Mondays through Thursdays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Fridays and April 14, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; Selected Sundays (December 14, January 25, February 8 and 22, March 8 and 29, April 26), 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Museum is closed: Saturdays and most Sundays, December 24, 25, 26, 31; January 1, 2, 19, February 16, April 8, 9 and 15, May 25 and 29).
Location: One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer Street), Manhattan
Subway: R/W to 8th St./NYU; 6 to Astor Place; A/C/E/B/D/F/V to W. 4th St.
Admission: FREE. Photo ID required.
Contact: Elizabeth Mueller,, (212) 824-2205, for group tours and more information.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.