Modigliani Unmasked at the NY Jewish Museum

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Modigliani Unmasked, the first exhibition in the United States to focus on Amedeo Modigliani’s early work made in the years after he arrived in Paris in 1906 is currently on view at the Jewish Museum of NY. The exhibition runs until 4th February 2018. “He was really questioning the fixity of identity,” says curator of the exhibition Mason Klein.

The drawings from the Alexandre collection, many being shown for the first time in the United States, as well as drawings from collections around the world and a selection of Modigliani’s paintings and sculptures, demonstrate how the artist’s cultural and religious heritage is pivotal in understanding his oeuvre and how Paris influenced his work.

After he arrived in Paris in 1906, when the city was still roiling with anti-Semitism after the long-running tumult of the Dreyfus Affair and the influx of foreign emigres, the artist refused to assimilate, declaring himself as “other.” His Latin looks and fluency in French could have easily helped him to assimilate. Instead, his outsider status often compelled him to introduce himself with the words, “My name is Modigliani. I am Jewish.” The exhibition shows that Modigliani’s art cannot be fully understood without acknowledging the ways the artist responded to the social realities that he confronted in the unprecedented artistic melting pot of Paris.

In 1911, Modigliani began to explore an ambiguous motif borrowed from ancient art, the caryatid, and a selection of these drawings is included in the exhibition. He also incorporated elements derived from Egyptian art, as well as ancient South and Southeastern Asian sources such as facial features, postures, and tattoos.

The exhibition also includes a selection of life studies and female nudes. Among these are of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, whom the artist met in 1910.

Modigliani’s fondness for performance, including theater, street entertainment, and the circus, is reflected in numerous early drawings, often sketched from a blend of life and imagination. The exhibition includes his drawings of the Commedia dell’Arte character, Columbine, as well as circus performers.

Image: Amedeo Modigliani, Lunia Czechowska, 1919. Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Photograph by João Musa. Courtesy of the Jewish Museum.