Lehrhaus Judaica will present Zakheim: The Art of Prophetic Justice at the Jazz Heritage Center in San Francisco this fall. A photographic history of Bernard Zakheim’s life and work will be showcased in the Koret Heritage Lobby from October 17-December 30, and approximately 40 original Zakheim paintings will be displayed in the Lush Life Gallery from October 17-November 30.
A public opening event is scheduled for Wednesday, October 20, at 7 p.m. at the Jazz Heritage Center (1320/1330 Fillmore Street). Following a reception, award-winning historian Fred Rosenbaum will speak about Zakheim at 8 p.m. Admission to the exhibition is free every day, including the public opening event.
The exhibition is made possible by a lead grant from the Koret Foundation, the Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation, the Fleishhacker Foundation, and Fred Levin & Nancy Livingston, The Shenson Foundation. The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, collaborated on the exhibition.
Although he is little known today, Bernard Baruch Zakheim (1896-1985) was one of the leading artists in California in the middle decades of the 20th century. Born and raised in a Hasidic family in Warsaw, Poland, he immigrated to San Francisco in 1920 and except for lengthy periods of study in Paris and Mexico City, he resided in the Bay Area until his death.
“My father’s work speaks to humanity; it speaks of humanity,” said Nathan Zakheim. “As a diarist, he recorded the Holocaust in vivid paintings from afar. He recorded the horror of man’s inhumanity to man, but then, from the depths of personal pain, the pain of losing his whole extended family in the Warsaw Ghetto, he emerged with lush green grasses, and scorched dead trees blooming with fresh red flowers. From those dark days onward, his art brimmed over with golden waves of the resurgence of life, of darkness giving way to light. In today’s troubled world, his work has taken on a new light.”
Reproductions of Zakheim’s main works may be viewed at www.bernardzakheim.com.
Zakheim, an associate of Diego Rivera, won fame primarily as a muralist. His Jewish Wedding, commissioned for the new San Francisco Jewish Community Center in 1933 (and removed, restored, and reinstalled when that institution demolished its building and erected a new facility in 2004) is considered one of the most notable works of art in any Jewish building on the West Coast.
In 1934, he oversaw the entire Coit Tower mural program, the largest publicly funded art program in the country, and his own work, Library, ignited much controversy because it starkly reflected the class conflict during the Depression. At the end of the 1930s, he painted the monumental 12-panel fresco, The Story of California Medicine, which hangs in the amphitheater of Toland Hall on the campus of the UCSF Medical Center.
In addition, Zakheim produced a large oeuvre of watercolors, oils, other works on paper, and sculpture. He was one of the first American artists to depict the Holocaust, and his huge wooden sculpture Genocide (initially displayed at the Magnes Museum and since 1969 in Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles) was among the earliest Shoah monuments in the United States. He traveled to Israel in 1970 and portrayed the achievements of Zionism. He also painted a series of vivid scenes showing the Jewish contribution to the American Revolution.
The Zakheim exhibition is a follow-up to the highly successful Jews of the Fillmore exhibit presented by Lehrhaus Judaica and the Magnes Museum in the fall of 2009. Zakheim lived and taught in the Fillmore District, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in the 1920s and 1930s, during the interwar period before moving to Sebastopol where he set up his studio in an apple orchard. Rosenbaum’s recently published cultural and social history of Bay Area Jewry, Cosmopolitans (UC Press, 2009), includes a five-page section on Zakheim in the context of his times.
“In the 1930s, Zakheim was one of the foremost Jewish artists in the country,” said Rosenbaum, the 2010 Cowan Award recipient. “He was also among the most controversial. The Jewish symbols of his youth in Warsaw, the narrative fresco techniques he studied in Mexico City, and the postimpressionism he absorbed in Paris, all served his artistic plea for human dignity. “
Other than the murals, the majority of Zakheim’s work is in the possession of his son, Nathan Zakheim of Los Angeles. The family also has an invaluable photo collection dating from the artist’s birth to his death at the age of 89, as well as an extensive archive of his personal correspondence and other papers. The Zakheim family and its exclusive representative for Bernard Zakheim’s art, Albert Neiman, have pledged full cooperation for this project.
In addition to the public opening lecture by Rosenbaum, there will be three additional Zakheim presentations in San Francisco. Rosenbaum will participate in the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s panel on the Works Progress Administration murals on Thursday, October 21, at 7 p.m. Contemporary art specialist Susanne Strimling will speak about Zakheim on Tuesday, October 5, at 7 p.m. at Congregation Sherith Israel and on Sunday, November 14, at 11 a.m. at the Jazz Heritage Center.