Published: November 21, 2006
Sigmund R. Balka has gifted the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) with an encyclopedic survey of the major European and American Jewish artist and themes in Jewish art during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Assembled over a period of five decades, Balka has sought out paintings, drawings, prints and photographs by renowned and emerging artists that offer a panoramic impression of Jewish life and Jewish cultural production during a golden era of creativity.
Through January 30, “The Eye of the Collector: The Jewish Vision of Sigmund R. Balka” will be on view at the museum, One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer Street).
The collection of more than 200 works represents the creativity of Jewish artists including Marc Chagall, Leon Golub, Issachar Ryback, Josef Israels, Abel Pann, Jacques Lipchitz, Chaim Gross, William Gropper, Ossip Zadkine, Herman Struck, Lesser Ury, Jules Pasin, Joseph Hirsch, Jack Levine, Saul Raskin, Louis Lozowick, Raphael and Moses Soyer, Ben Shahn, William Sharp, Jakob Steinhardt, Leonard Baskin, Louise Nevelson, Saul Steinberg, Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Larry Rivers, Joyce Kozloff, Max Ferguson and many others; as well as works by Rembrandt, Max Beckmann, Lyonel Feininger and Robert Motherwell.
Perhaps to a greater extent than any other individual in recent years, Balka has amassed a body of work that reflects and records Jewish secular and religious experiences in Europe and America.
One of the great strengths of his collection, excellent individual examples aside, is that one can read it as a chronological history of those experiences. It provides a wonderfully informative visual record of Jewish life over the last two centuries: the Jewish street and scenes of Jewish urban life, the practice of religious life, expressions of nostalgia for the Old World and acculturation in the New World secular politics of change in which deracinated Jewish identity was channeled into modern political (read Socialist) progress during the Depression, artistic responses to the Holocaust and the emergence of Jewish women artists.
The Balka collection reflects Balka’s tremendous interest in the process of making art and then sharing it. “Art is not of value if it is not presented so that people have the opportunity to interact with it. I don’t think I am anything but a custodian during my lifetime. Collecting art, curating exhibitions and serving on museum boards are for me as natural as breathing. In this past century of Holocaust and destruction it is my link with man’s creative spirit, which in the end must prevail or we will extinguish ourselves,” he says.
Balka has been associated since 1980 with Krasdale Foods, White Plains, N.Y., where he currently serves as vice president, public and cultural affairs and general counsel. He is director and chief operating officer of the Krasdale Galleries in White Plains and New York City, where he has curated more than 100 exhibitions. His collector’s eye has transformed the major grocery distributor into a prime alternative exhibition venue in the resurgent area of Hunts Point in the Bronx, a vibrant center for artists’ studios, arts projects and exhibit spaces, as well as at the company headquarters in White Plains.
Balka is a graduate of the Williams College Class of 1956 and Harvard Law School. He currently serves as vice president of his class at Williams College.
The recent exhibit at the Williams College Museum “Mergers and Acquisitions: The Gift of Sigmund R. Balka, Class of 1956 and the Permanent Collection,” contained selections from the promised gift to the college of 200-plus works.
Balka’s commitment to linking art with the larger community extends to his having served in many capacities at the Williams College Museum of Art; on the board of trustees of the Queens Museum of Art, and at Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Center for Innovative Print and Paper. He has also served on the board of directors of the Bronx Council on the Arts, chaired the Hunts Point Sculpture Park Task Force, and currently serves as president of the Print Connoisseurs Society of New York.
“The Eye of the Collector,” is accompanied by a catalog with essays and 196 color illustrations.
For information, 212-824-2205 or www.huc.edu.
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