For Arthur Syzk, art became means to focus fearful world on tyranny of hatred; new must-see Special Exhibit opens at the Museum
“An artist, and especially a Jewish artist, cannot be neutral in these times…our life is involved in a terrible tragedy, and I am resolved to serve my people with all my art, with all my talent, with all my knowledge.” -Arthur Szyk, 1934
Artist Arthur Syzk was a proud Polish Jew who later became an American patriot. He saw his pen as a weapon against hatred and injustice.
“Art is not my aim,” he said, “it is my means. “
Indeed, during World War II, Syzk engaged in a ‘one man war’ against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, and also served as a ‘one-man army’ against the evil Axis. He did so through finely detailed, elegant and pointed political and satirical caricature drawings, which served as a one-two combination of social justice and great art.
A curated selection of Syzk’s work is the new Special Exhibit at the Dallas Holocaust Museum through Jan. 31, 2015, “Drawn to Action: The Life and Work of Arthur Syzk.” The special exhibit is free with paid admission.
Syzk expressed his feelings toward those he despised—and those he wanted to portray as heroic or powerful—through dramatic color and exaggerated features. One sketch by Syzk from 1933 depicts Hitler as Pharaoh and Hermann Goring as a vizier.
His art was never ambiguous or abstract, Rabbi Irvin Ungar of New York once told the Atlantic. “It almost always had a common theme. Freedom not tyranny; justice not oppression—which, when combined with the uniqueness of his style, is why Syzk became one of the leading political artists of the first half of the 20th century.”
Presenting Sponsors for the special exhibit are Kathy and Harlan Crow and Gregg and Michelle Philipson, whose personal Arthur Syzk collection made the Museum’s curated collection of Syzk’s work possible. The Jan Karski Polish School of Dallas is Community Partner for the exhibit.
Realizing his illustrations could do more than words, Szyk set about documenting the atrocities committed by the Nazis in an attempt to shed light on the injustice brewing in Europe, Gregg Philipson, a devoted Szyk collector, told a crowd gathered for the exhibit’s opening reception on Nov. 13.
“He held a lonely pen in a crazy world,” said Philipson, who is a commissioner on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. “Eleanor Roosevelt called him a one-man army for the Allied cause.”
During World War II, Syzk’s illustrations were published throughout the U.S. in publications such as Time, Colliers and The American Mercury.
Sadly, Szyk died of a heart attack at the age of 57, on Sept. 13, 1951, in the U.S., leaving a rich and diverse body of work from illustrations of classic children’s books and an ornate illustrated Haggadah to highly charged and dramatic political cartoons covering the Nazis invasion of Poland through the civil rights era of the United States.
Thankfully, we are able to remember his works, his passion and his talent through his art—and legacy.
Please plan to join the Museum on Thursday, Dec. 4, for an Upstander Speaker Series presentation, featuring Harry Wu, a Chinese human rights activist who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps. Mr. Wu will talk about his life in the labor camps, state-sponsored terror and torture, and what we, as citizens, can do about the tragic situation faced by others held against their will by cruel governments. Admission is $10 for non-members and $5 for students with ID.
In January, the Museum is hosting two special events you won’t want to miss. On Jan. 15, 2015, at 6:30 p.m., Rogge Dunn, founding partner at Clouse and Dunn, will speak on the topic of art as propaganda and Arthur Szyk.
And, on Jan. 25 at 3 p.m., the Museum will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum