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Sid Chafetz Unplugged
The master prints of a legendary print master
Review: Sherrie Gallerie
by Kaizaad Kotwal
© Photos Courtesy of Sherrie Gallerie
The Decider, 48x48 inches, hoch grafik, 2008, by Sid Chafetz.
Artist and printmaker Sid Chafetz is a living legend. One of a handful of artists based in Columbus with a national and international reputation, Chafetz has been tirelessly making art for over 60 years. His current exhibit “Sentiments” at the Sherrie Gallerie proves why even in his mid-80s he is still a force to be reckoned with.
An alumnus of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Chafetz started the printmaking program at The Ohio State University in 1959. His works can be found in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Dahlem Museum Center in Berlin, among others. The Columbus Museum of Art has his entire oeuvre as part of its permanent collection.
Chafetz has seen a lot in his long life, and his art often reflects those varied and significant experiences. He survived combat in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, and as a Jewish-American understood the imperative of defeating the evils of the Nazi Holocaust.
It is perhaps as a result of those world-changing experiences that Chafetz’s work is almost always implicitly, and often explicitly, political. In his notes for the exhibit he writes, “Although I enjoy all styles of art, my work is shaped by political events that define our culture and determine our survival.”
The exhibit can be divided into four broad areas: political excoriations, personal and family memoirs, portraits, and satire on academe. Connecting all these four areas is Chafetz’s inimitable aesthetic and immense skill. Humor, honesty and humanity permeate all his works. It makes sense then when he writes that his two main influences are “Rembrandt for his humanity and Goya for his unflinching documents on war, religion and superstition.”
The show overflows with Chafetz’s astute insight and bravura aesthetic. Each piece deserves scrutiny. The following are some standouts.
His skewering of the pomposity and pretense of academia is scathing and downright hilarious. In Lovers of Wisdom, we see a parade of academics in their scholarly regalia. The two men in front, and others following, are holding masks on sticks like those used in Romeo and Juliet at the masquerade ball. As someone who spent decades at various universities, Chafetz knows all too well that academic life and conduct is nothing more than grandstanding, playing a role in a Kafkaesque tragicomedy.
He pokes fun at Columbus’ sacred cow, The Ohio State University, from where he retired as professor emeritus in 1982. In Recent Research Reveals Location of World’s Largest Fast Food Franchise, a scholarly type floats above the OSU campus, horseshoe stadium and all, along with a gigantic hamburger and the globally ubiquitous golden arches of McDonalds.
Chafetz is making harsh commentary about the ethos of American academia where the value of an education is reduced to numbers and statistics rather than its intangible qualities. In a culture where the student is given carte blanche as the “consumer” of academia, colleges and universities are churning out students like burgers and fries on a fast food conveyor belt – the focus on speed and instant gratification. With eyes fixed on the forthcoming paycheck, students receive no real “nourishment” or incentive for developing or excelling in their art.
Amy and the Butterflies, 36x30 inches, color lithograph, 1985, by Sid Chafetz
Chafetz is simply illustrating the truth that needs to be faced about the steady and ubiquitous corporatization of academia. It is not that he is against education or educators per se. He vividly celebrates educators who are political activists, philosophers, artists, progressive thinkers and satirists like himself. On display is a stunning array of portraits of luminaries like James Thurber, James Baldwin, Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ben Gurion, and Vladimir Mayakovsky amongst others.
The most recent works are also the most imposing and provocative. Known as hoch grafik – a term Chafetz coined – these works pay homage to Dada artist Hannah Hoch who invented what became known as the photomontage.
Chafetz’s hoch grafiks are exclusively created to attack what he sees as the corruption and war-profiteering of the Bush-Cheney administration and their supporters and acolytes.
Unintentional Consequences is a photomontage featuring the U.S. Supreme Court posing in their robes, superimposed in front of an image of Arlington Cemetery where countless white headstones recede into the distant horizon, bringing to mind the Supreme Court’s intervention in the 2000 election which decidedly handed the victory to George Bush, resulting in many unforeseen consequences. The Decider is another stunning hoch grafik featuring President George W. Bush as the focal point. His enlarged, bloodied, disembodied hands appear defiantly thrust in our faces. He is surrounded by images from newspapers and magazines showing soldiers bowed in prayer, graveyards, and lists of the fallen. Like the scathing attacks on the ongoing war in Iraq, expressed in many of his latest works, Chafetz does something brilliant and shocking here. He replaces the heads of some soldiers with mirrors. As we see our reflection on these shiny surfaces, we are implicated in the war whether we choose to be or not. Given that so many of us are oblivious to the war as we go about our daily routines, Chafetz reminds us that in one way or another we are responsible for what is being done to the soldiers in our name. It is a daring reinvention of the “support the troops” cliché, something only one with Chaftez’s chutzpah could pull off.
This is a must-see exhibit, showing us the power of a master artist at the height of his creativity and persuasiveness.
“Sentiments” will continue through June 30, 2008, at the Sherrie Gallerie, 694 N. High St. Hours are Tuesday – Friday
11 am – 6 pm; Saturday 11 am – 5 pm; Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm. For more information, call 614-221-8580 or visit www.sherriegallerie.com
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