A Centennial Tribute

On View

September 2, 2008 – June 26, 2009


Wednesday, November 19, 2008, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Lecture by Abraham H. Foxman,
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), 6:30 p.m.

Arbit Blatas: A Centennial Tribute 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.

The exhibition also 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.

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 Jean Bloch Rosensaft, HUC-JIR Museum Director. “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.”

Museum Hours

Mondays through Thursdays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Fridays and selected holidays (October 13 and 20), 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; Selected Sundays (October 19, November 2 and 23, December 14, January 25), 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Museum is closed: Saturdays and most Sundays, September 1, 29, 30; October 1, 8, 9, 14, 21; November 27, 28; December 24, 25, 26, 31; January 1, 2, 19.


One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer Street), Manhattan


R/W to 8th St./NYU; 6 to Astor Place; A/C/E/B/D/F/V to W. 4th St.


Free. RSVP and Photo ID Required for Reception and Program: RSVP to kmoscowitz@huc.edu or (212) 824-2293


Elizabeth Mueller, emueller@huc.edu, (212) 824-2205,
www.huc.edu/museums/ny for group tours and more information.