The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme (MahJ)
Maryan: La ménagerie humaine / The human menagerie
Populated by judges, camp guards, clowns, inquisitors, executioners, imbeciles - a humiliated or terrorized humanity - the work of Maryan (Pinchas Burstein, 1927-1977) is powerful, tragic, creaking, unclassifiable.
PARIS — Born in Poland, in Nowy Sacz, in 1927, Maryan spent his adolescence in ghettos, work camps, and concentration camps. The only survivor of his family, he left for Palestine in 1947 and entered the Bezalel art school in Jerusalem, where he exhibited for the first time in 1949. The following year, he went to Paris, studied at the 'École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, in Fernand Léger's studio, and took lithography lessons.
For a year in 1971, Maryan filled nine notebooks with Indian ink. This unparalleled ensemble, which he calls Ecce homo, is presented here for the first time. They constitute the heart and the framework of the exhibition. With desperate and devastating humor, Maryan returns to his childhood, to his journey through war, which he accompanies with pithy comments in English mixed with French, Yiddish and Polish.
This project, which is in line with the discoveries or rediscoveries proposed by the Mahj -- those of works by Bruno Schulz, Salomon, Felix Nussbaum --, benefited from the participation of the Center Pompidou and the Spertus Institute of Chicago, as well as loans from the National Contemporary Art Fund, galleries and private collections, both in France and in Europe.
Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art
Venus Over Manhattan Highlights The Rediscovered Masterworks Of Maryan
Characterized by a centrally located figure dominating the composition, Maryan quickly established a reputation for using abstract techniques to render boisterously figurative subject matter.
At a moment when non-representational painting dominated popular tastes, Maryan’s work rejected total abstraction, and helped to reintroduce the figure into contemporary painting. The works on view in Miami, produced in New York between 1967 and 1972, were from Maryan’s “Personnage” series and featured a grouping of almost cartoonish figures that﹣ through the use of vivid colors and lurid details﹣ appear both playful and lugubrious.
The artist known as Maryan was born Pinchas Burntein to a Jewish family in Nowy-Saçz, a town in southern Poland. Maryan spent World War II separated from his family in various ghettos, labor camps, and concentration camps, before being sent to Auschwitz. The only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, Maryan’s private life and artistic practice were deeply influenced by his experience of the war: his signature style, which used abstract forms to render brutally deformed characters, helped reintroduce the figure to contemporary painting alongside his peers Jean Dubuffet, Enrico Baj, Karel Appel, and other artists associated with the CoBrA Group, Art Brut, and La Nouvelle Figuration.
After the war, Maryan moved between displaced person camps around Europe, and eventually moved for a period of two years to Jerusalem. While in Israel, Maryan began to focus in a sustained manner upon the development of his artistic practice; after two years of living in Jerusalem, Maryan mounted his first solo exhibition at the city’s YMCA. Looking for a larger creative community, Maryan moved to Paris in the early 1950s, where he quickly became a preeminent figure in the post-war European neo-avant-garde, exhibiting his work at the Galerie de France alongside Hans Hurting, Serge Poliakoff, Pierre Soulages, and Zao Wou-Ki, as well as at the Galerie Claude Bernard, where he showed with Francis Bacon, Balthus, and Peter Blake.
Maryan’s work boldly rejected the popular taste for total abstraction in contemporary art, and his brightly colored, expressionist canvases were immediately met with positive attention: he was commissioned to design a tapestry for the Monument to the Unknown Jewish Martyr in Paris, and was awarded the Prix des Critiques d’Art at the Paris Biennale. His successes brought him a number of international exhibitions, and his first solo exhibition in the United States was held at the famed André Emerrich Gallery in 1960.
Shortly after his exhibition at André Emmerich, Maryan moved with his wife, Annette, to New York, where he lived at the Chelsea Hotel until his death. He produced his most important works in New York, known as the “Personnage” paintings, which are marked by a centrally positioned, wildly animated figure that dominates the composition. As Grace Glueck described in The New York Times, after an exhibition of these works at the Allan Frumkin Gallery, the “Personnage” paintings began as “brutal, exaggerated Piccasoid forms in which could be seen the influence also of Dubuffet and the CoBrA group of young European painters that included Karel Appel and Asger Jorn. They were mocking, clownish zombies with mask like faces and lolling tongues, suggesting visual realizations of characters from Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum. Later, they got wider and more gestural, with maybe a touch of de Kooning, winding up as slobbering, almost illegible bundles of mouths, flailing limbs, and flying organs.”
Exhibited to wide acclaim in the years before his death, Maryan’s presaged not only the Neo-Expressionist figuration that dominated the New York art world in the 1980s, but also the contemporary prevalence of work that blends abstract techniques with figurative subject matter. Despite growing renown for his work, Maryan suffered a series of breakdowns and emotional disturbances beginning in 1974, related to his experience of the Holocaust. His health continued to deteriorate over the next two years, and just months after the French awarded Maryan the honorary title of Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Maryan passed away in his room at the Chelsea Hotel.