Maira Kalman is one of those few artists whose work is better known than her name. Any self-respecting intellectual has seen her work on a New Yorker cover or in a recent copy of the New York Times magazine. Yet, despite over thirty years of work, Kalman’s name is not well-known outside design circles.
Hopefully, all that will change with her new show, “Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World),” which opened Thursday at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
This retrospective includes 100 original works on paper, paintings, illustrations, and photographs. What is most striking, however, are the objects in the room. Kalman has filled the museum’s galleries with chairs, ladders, and tables, as well as smaller objects like bobby pins, moss and rubber bands.
The point is not DuChampian surrealism. Instead, Kalman is preoccupied with the fabric of the everyday. A work like Crosstownboogiewoogie provides a set of the petite and ungainly, the faces we meet on the street.
This may be the aspect of Kalman’s work that connects her most to other contemporary Jewish artists. In the forthcoming summer issue of Zeek, poetry editor Yosefa Raz cries out, No More Challah, arguing for a new definition of Jewish art based in the artist’s experience of their lives as lived, Jewishly or not. Kalman, who was born in Tel Aviv then moved to New York at the age of four, does not feature Judaism or Jewish themes in her work. Yet, the lack of the Shabbat challah should not exclude her or her work from a broad survey of Jewish art.
For more Kalman, check out the new work here:
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