A queue snaking down north London’s Finchley Road is an unusual sight, as are people on stilts, musicians and ice cream vendors. But JW3, London’s new Jewish community centre, finally opened its doors on September 29 to a crowd that may have represented an unprecedented representation of the community. On the first of two launch days designed to entice and give a flavor of what is on offer in its first season, the place teemed with activity and curiosity, amidst an air of slight organizational chaos.
Its chic piazza had been transformed into the Garden of Eden, the center having taken “In the Beginning” as its theme. A scantily clad Adam and Eve greeted a steady stream of families as they made their way across the garden to the tree of life, hung with fruit and packed with prizes. A giant book was starting to fill with signatures and an interactive display provided another medium for visitors to discover snippets of JW3’s packed program. It included the opportunity to hear an excerpt from “Listen, We’re Family,” JW3’s first theater commission.
“I’ve seen the building go up and I’m very excited about the concept,” remarked one visitor. Another commented that she hoped JW3 would be income producing as well as benefit the community. A noticeable squadron of volunteers was busy answering questions, taking bookings and guiding people to the various sessions, which included a selection of lectures, a taste of self-defense sport krav maga, and cooking demonstrations.
“This is not a shrine or a memorial to someone who has died,” writes Alex Winehouse, referring to the exhibition that he and his wife, Riva, have co-curated with the Jewish Museum London about his sister, the late British singer, Amy Winehouse.
Instead, “Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait” is an intimate, sensitive and affectionate portrayal of the singer. It focuses on her passions: music, fashion, London and her family. A more private side of the singer is on show here, as a daughter and sister growing up in what Alex has described as a “typical Jewish north London family.” Visitors get a glimpse into the life of the pre-fame Amy. Her inner turmoil and outward destructive public descent — often played out in an unforgiving tabloid press — are appropriately absent.
Alex and Riva Winehouse had originally approached the museum, located in Camden, north London, just streets away from where Amy lived, with the intention of giving one of her dresses as a loan. The exhibition concept grew from this idea and the family has given unprecedented access to Amy’s personal belongings.
Although the core exhibition takes place on the third floor of the building, the museum foyer is infused with the sound of her distinctive voice coming from large screens that depict both music video footage and stills. Also displayed is an Arrogant Cat dress, a favorite of Amy’s, and known for its appearance in the singer’s 2007 video for her single, “Tears Dry On Their Own.”
“London seems to be in my bloodstream,” said artist Leon Kossoff. “It is always moving — the skies, the streets, the buildings. The people who walk past me when I draw have become part of my life.”
Kossoff’s current exhibition, “London Landscapes,” which opened in London May 8, includes over 90 drawings and 10 paintings in a retrospective that depicts the changing rhythm of the city’s urban landscape.
Apart from evacuation as a schoolboy and military service with the Royal Fusiliers between 1945 and 1948, 86-year-old Kossoff has lived all his life in the English capital. His work displays his observations of London — a lifelong subject — including the bomb sites of the early 1950s, the regeneration of Kings Cross and a recent return to Arnold Circus, in Shoreditch in the East End. That was where he was born to Yiddish speaking parents, and where he subsequently grew up.
Built in 1896, Arnold Circus was Britain’s first council housing estate, a Victorian social experiment. Today, red brick houses circle a bandstand and small park, much like they did then. The building where Kossoff attended school is still standing but the area, which formerly was occupied by immigrants, has now been gentrified.
The story of five gay, cross-dressing Filipino migrants in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv who work by day as caretakers for elderly Hasidic men and by night transform into a musical drag act, might seem improbable. But it is a true story. Based on Tomer Heymann’s award-winning 2006 documentary of the same name, the world premiere of “Paper Dolls,” a play with music, is currently showing at the innovative Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, north London.
This is a big story to tell on a small stage, but American writer Philip Himberg has managed an effective transfer. Himberg, the Artistic Director of the Sundance Institute Theater Program, told The Arty Semite that he was drawn to the story when he saw the film at its Los Angeles Film Festival premiere. He sensed that “Paper Dolls” had the potential for being a live, theatrical piece. Three years and 25 drafts later, his instinct has been proven correct.
“The idea of how people in our universe are crossing boundaries, literally and metaphorically, to make lives for themselves, and that this clash of culture — these Filipinos who are taking care of Orthodox men — just seemed like an incredible example of that,” Himberg said. Although the story is specific to Tel Aviv, there is a universal relevance to the issue of young people who are either unable or choose not to care for their parents or grandparents, and arrange for immigrants to do that work instead.
At the end of this month, selections of work from the exhibit “R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007): Obsessions” will be transferring from its successful run at the Jewish Museum Berlin to two venues in the U.K. It will exhibit concurrently at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and the Jewish Museum London, before returning to Germany. Both British institutions have links with the artist. M.J. Long, the architect whose practice was responsible for the refurbishment of the Jewish Museum as well as the extensions to Pallant House, also designed Kitaj’s London studio.
“Obsessions” is not only Kitaj’s first comprehensive posthumous retrospective, but also the first major examination of Kitaj’s work in the U.K. since his 1994 show at the Tate Gallery, London. Called by Kitaj the “Tate War,” the exhibition triggered a flood of negative reviews and it was this — along with the sudden death of his second wife, Sandra Fisher, which he blamed on the Tate — that led to his abrupt departure to his native U.S. Having lived for more than 30 years in London, he never returned.
The retrospective, which in its entirety encompasses more than 130 paintings, prints and drawings loaned from private collections, museums in Europe and America as well as from Kitaj’s Los Angeles estate and archive, explores the life, legacy and Jewish obsession of the Ohio-born artist. However, the two U.K. institutions have chosen to examine different facets of Kitaj’s work. Pallant House Gallery will be present an overview of his oeuvre, whereas the exhibition at the Jewish Museum London, subtitled “The Art of Identity,” will focus on how Kitaj explored and expressed his Jewishness.
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