Bernie Pucker, director of the Pucker Gallery in Boston, will present the major themes in the art of Samuel Bak at 7 p.m. March 5 in Epperson Auditorium on the KCAI campus. In his presentation, he plans to Skype with the artist, who is also based in Boston but is unable to come to Kansas City, as originally planned, because of complications from the recent major snowstorms.
Bak is an artist and writer whose art weaves together personal and Jewish history to articulate an iconography of his Holocaust experience and his perceptions of a world that lives in the shadow of the crematoria chimneys. Across seven decades of artistic production, Bak has explored and reworked a set of metaphors, a visual grammar and vocabulary that ultimately poses metaphysical questions. His art depicts a world destroyed, and yet provisionally pieced back together.
The March 5 presentation, which is free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the Kansas City Art Institute and Congregation Beth Shalom. The next night, March 6, an exhibition of Bak's work ("Illuminations: The Art of Samuel Bak") will open at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center and run through April 25.
Eight large paintings by Bak, chosen by Pucker from his Boston Gallery, will anchor the Illuminations exhibit. The exhibition is made possible with generous financial support from Bryan Cave LLP and the Sosland Foundation, and is presented in cooperation with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.
The art of Samuel Bak weaves together personal and Jewish history to articulate an iconography of his Holocaust experience and his perceptions of a world that lives in the shadow of the crematoria chimneys. Across seven decades of artistic production, Bak has explored and reworked a set of metaphors, a visual grammar, and vocabulary that ultimately poses metaphysical questions. His art depicts a world destroyed, and yet provisionally pieced back together. “As I was a witness to this darkness, my art chose to mirror it. But it always speaks for the Hebrew word Tikkun ‘repair’ as well” he says. “I hope - I have grandchildren.”
Samuel Bak was born in 1933 in Vilna, Poland, to an educated, cultured, middle-class family. As Vilna came under first Soviet and then German occupation in the early 1940s, Bak and his family, along with the other Jews, were moved to the Vilna Ghetto. It was there, at the age of nine, that Bak had his first exhibition of drawings. His family was then sent to a labor camp, from which he and his mother were smuggled out and given refuge in a Benedictine Convent. Of the 55,000 Vilna Jews, fewer than than 2,500 survived. He and his mother were the only members of his extended family to survive.
After a couple of years in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany, Bak immigrated to Israel, where he studied at the Belzalet Art School in Jerusalem. In 1956, he moved to Paris to continue his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and subsequently lived in Rome, New York City, Switzerland, and since 1993, outside of Boston, Mass., where he became an American citizen. Since 1959, the artist has had numerous exhibitions in major museums, galleries, and universities throughout Europe, Israel, South Africa, and the United States. Bak has been the subject of numerous articles, scholarly works, and15 books. In 2001, he published his touching memoir, "Painted in Words," which has been translated into several languages. He has been the subject of two documentary films and was the recipient of the 2002 German Herkomer Cultural prize. Samuel Bak has received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of New Hampshire, Seton Hall University, and in May 2015, the Massachusetts College of Art.
The artist and his wife, Josée, together with Bernie and Sue Pucker, donated the paintings for the "Illuminations" exhibition to Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational organization whose mission is to engage students and adults of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.
Contact: Dr. Milton Katz, 816-802-3373
Pictured: Samuel Bak with one of his paintings.