The painters and married couple, Nancy Spero and Leon Golub, epitomize the concept of engaged political action through art. The problems addressed in their works, from political torture to ethnic cleansing, are ever-more timely and unresolved. Although Golub died in 2004 and Spero last year, it is only natural that both are present in New York now. An April 18 commemoration of Spero at Cooper Union will be joined, from April 23 to July 23, by “Leon Golub: Live + Die Like a Lion?”, an exhibit of Golub’s late drawings and an unfinished chalk sketch depicting two lions, at New York’s Drawing Center.
As explained in Ori Z. Soltes’s astute “Fixing the World: Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century,” Golub, who served in the Army during World War II, was indelibly marked by seeing images of liberated concentration camps. As Golub is quoted in Soltes’s study, his tragic subject matter as interpreted in violently energetic figure drawing, would be “warrior-citizens in the most extreme of human conditions, the response to terror. Dachau, Hiroshima, Vietnam…”
Golub also painted fascist and Communist tyrants like Franco and Mao Tse Tung, in the “know your enemy” spirit. Unforgiving about police interrogation techniques and the use of napalm in Vietnam, Spero was motivated by an enduring moral conscience, as explained in Jon Bird’s concise “Leon Golub: Echoes of the Real”.
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