MOCA North Miami Extends Run Of “My Name Is Maryan”

He lost his real name to reinvent himself from the person persecuted by the Nazis. While much of his work grew out of the atrocities he endured, the artist known as Maryan was firmly against being labeled a Holocaust artist. His wife, Annette, fiercely guarded his work for the same reason after his death at age 50 in 1977.

This distaste for what might be a rigid classification of his art explains why, after viewing the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami’s extensive and prolific exhibition, “My Name is Maryan,” you feel that Maryan might one of the most overlooked artists of the 20th century.

According to MOCA guest curator Alison M. Gigneras, the exhibition is all-encompassing — “holistic” examining the chapters of the artist’s life and work. Four decades of paintings, sculptures, drawings and his 90-minute black-and-white film occupy 12 galleries. In addition to 176 works by Maryan, there are 36 works by his like-minded contemporaries and 29 ephemeral works.

“My Name is Maryan” opened on December 2 during Miami Art Week and was set to close in late March. It has been extended until October 2. It must be seen.

“It took three years to work on,” said Chana Budgazad Sheldon, MOCA’s executive director of the major venture. After closing at the North Miami museum, “My Name is Maryan” will travel to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art from December for a five-month exhibit.

Gingeras explains that although Maryan’s widow kept his work physically, she was also known for being “overprotective of his legacy.” She says Annette has “thwarted the work of art historians and researchers,” especially those interested in works that explicitly addressed his Holocaust experience. “This was definitely a hindrance to his legacy,” she says.

For MOCA, Sheldon says that the museum’s mission fits perfectly with an exhibition of Maryan’s oeuvre. “The work we do is both focused on connecting with the community, elevating different voices and stories, and with untapped art and artists.” Drawing on the scholarship and a selection of never-before-seen works from the artist’s estate, the aim is to shed new light on Maryan’s contributions. “As comprehensive as this exhibition is, it really is a new beginning to understand the artist,” says Sheldon.

So, who is Maryan? Born Pinkas (sometimes written Pinchas) Schindel in 1927 to Abraham Schindel and Gitla Bursztyn, the first 12 years of his life were inconspicuous in Nowy Sącz, Poland. But in 1939 his Jewish family was captured by the Nazis and placed in forced labor camps and in the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. He was imprisoned under his mother’s maiden name, Bursztyn, and survived several near-death encounters. Due to injuries he sustained, his leg had to be amputated. The rest of his family has died. He was 18 years old when the Russians liberated the camps in Germany.

He then went to Israel to begin his art education and then to Paris, where he took the name Maryan, a common Polish given name, according to Gingeras.

click to enlarge Maryan, Two Personnages, (1968), oil on canvas - PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF VENUS OVER MANHATTAN, NEW YORK)

Marian, Two characters(1968), oil on canvas

Photo Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan, New York)

The story of how “My Name is Maryan” was born in MOCA comes from a personal encounter. Sheldon joined MOCA in January 2018 and recalls that she was only recently named director when she toured Art Basel Miami Beach at the Miami Beach Convention Center. It was the first year that the New York gallery Venus Over Manhattan exhibited. There, in booth S5, was a group of paintings depicting wildly gaudy, cartoonish figures, but sinister in their cunning. These were Maryan’s “Character” paintings.

“I recognized the work from catalogs that used to be on the bookshelf of my mother’s house, which I remembered from an early age,” Sheldon says.

Sheldon’s grandmother was one of the hidden children of the Holocaust. “She was hiding in a convent in France with the woman who eventually married Maryan,” Sheldon recalled.

She says she didn’t meet the artist before he died, but she had met Annette and knew her husband was an artist. “When I started working in art in my twenties, Annette invited me to her apartment on the Upper East Side. It was actually a treasure trove of paintings and like a time capsule of all his works. His brushes, his diaries she’d protected for years, were there. I then thought, ‘Someone should file this,’ she says.

After contacting the Venus Over Manhattan gallery and contacting Gingeras, a writer and curator based in New York and Warsaw, “My Name is Maryan”‘s journey began. “It’s been quite an adventure,” Sheldon says.

One of the last works by the Polish-Jewish artist to be seen in the exhibition is the 1975 black-and-white film, shot on 16mm, see the man, which took a year to make. He’s in a straitjacket in his Chelsea Hotel studio, with a Star of David drawn across his chest. He reenacts Holocaust memories and gives first-person accounts. The sketchbooks that preceded the making of the film can also be seen in the exhibition. The film and books are compelling accounts that provide a deeper understanding of the artworks on display.

Gingeras traveled to Maryan’s hometown of Nowy Sącz. Back in New York, she visited Maryan’s friends and neighbors from his time at the Chelsea Hotel. That legendary apartment studio is recreated in the MOCA exhibition. It is in fact the first gallery in the retrospective exhibition.

“I wanted the viewer, especially one who had never heard of Maryan, to walk into the approach installation ‘Chelsea Hotel’ and be immersed in his visual universe, to be satiated by the optical power of his painting as he was at the height of his life was. his artistic powers,” says Gingeras. She reconstructed the Chelsea Hotel studio from photos from his time there in the 1970s.

And it was in New York where he changed his name to Maryan S. Maryan once and for all.

click to enlarge Guest curator Alison M. Gigneras has recreated Maryan and Annette's apartment studio at Chelsea Hotel.  It is the first gallery in the retrospective exhibition.  - COURTESY OF MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART NORTH MIAMI / PHOTOGRAPH BY ORIOL TARRIDAS

Guest curator Alison M. Gigneras has recreated Maryan and Annette’s apartment studio at Chelsea Hotel. It is the first gallery in the retrospective exhibition.

Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami / Photo by Oriol Tarridas

For the exhibition at MOCA, Gingeras was firm in her decision not to follow a conventional linear chronology.

“Had we started with Maryan at the beginning of his artistic life, we would have immediately flooded the viewer with the harrowing story of his childhood under Nazi occupation and captivity,” says the guest curator. “It was important to me that viewers could read his work on multiple levels and not just through the lens of his trauma and survival.”

The curator says that it was not easy to select which works would come. “Maryan was a prolific performer. When he painted or drew, he worked permutation in every way and produced a lot of work in one go. Editing the work was a challenge, but I tried to give an overview of the scope of his oeuvre,” says Gingeras.

She emphasized important themes in his paintings, while also delving deeper into his groundbreaking film and drawings he created during therapy for his Holocaust-related trauma.

There’s excitement about the next chapter of “My Name is Maryan” as the retrospective heads to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Gingeras collaborates with Noa Rosenberg, curator of modern art at the Tel Aviv Museum. “She has found new information about his time in Israel, which will be an important part of the Tel Aviv version of the show,” Gingeras said.

When it opens at the museum in Israel, Rosenberg, speaking from Tel Aviv, says it will not be a copy of MOCA’s exhibit. Rather than an all-encompassing retrospective, greater emphasis will be placed on the artist’s three years in Israel and a wider conversation, including but not limited to how Israel received Holocaust survivors.

“His time spent here is sadly a reminder of how difficult, how distant and how out of place he was. When you talk about this artist here, very few people know the work, and not many people know who he is anymore,” says Rosenberg.

She notes that she was surprised to find that there were more than 20 works by Maryan that had been donated to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

“It’s incredible while doing the research that we found so many works that he did while he was here, and they’re very different from the works he made later,” Rosenberg says.

Rosenberg says those works will be added to “My Name is Maryan” in Tel Aviv, along with discovered letters. She says there will be two questions that will be part of the discourse: “Where does Maryan belong in art history? And to talk or not to talk about the Holocaust?”

She hopes that after the stopover in Tel Aviv, the exhibition can travel to Poland and Germany, although she emphasizes that nothing has been decided yet.

“It is very moving to me that his work would return to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where he had a major exhibition in 1977, which opened just months after his untimely death. The Tel Aviv project will contribute to our efforts to tell as much of Maryan’s story as possible,” Gingeras said.

– Michelle F. Solomon, ArtburstMiami.com

“My name is Maryan.” On display through October 2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; mocanomi.org. Free admission for MOCA members and residents of North Miami; tickets cost $3 to $10.

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