Kitaj’s Art Golem

Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM

Tracy Bartley

“Who else would be so foolhardy and unrealistic as to try to conceive a Golem called Jewish Art at this time?”—R.B. Kitaj

As Kitaj grew older in the Los Angeles sunshine, surrounded by his sons and grandsons, he mourned the loss of his beloved wife, Sandra Fisher, and continued his search—questioning, defining, creating—a Jewish Art. Here, in his bright yellow studio, he continued his art-making practice. Driven by a steadfast work ethic and unwavering routine, he would paint and draw and write, every day, creating his Jewish Art.

Kitaj had struggled to define a Jewish Art, stating, “There is no simple definition except to say that a Jewish Art exists in the sense that I will it to exist.”1

A golem is defined as a figure, created from dust or earth by a human, that is brought to life by a specific set of Hebrew letters and ritual incantations. It can be “a helper, a companion a rescuer.” Kitaj’s golem, “Jewish Art,” was brought to life through specifically selected subjects coupled with his ritual of mark-making, of dedicated mornings and afternoons in the studio. His art helped him work through the grief he was suffering, and rescued him from depression he had struggled with all of his life. His art became his companion. (He kissed a portrait of Sandra he kept in his studio, every day, leaving a mark where his lips touched the surface.) Through art, he created his golem—and through his golem, a Jewish Art was born.

Tracy Bartley studied painting and art conservation. Afterwards she was project coordinator at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles. As an exhibition restorer she gave advice to the exhibition on Charles Ray at the Museum of Contemporary Art. In 1999 she became the personal assistant of the artist Kitaj and is now the head of the R.B. Kitaj Estate.

  1. Opening quotation: Kitaj, R.B. (2007). Confessions. Unpublished manuscript. Here: Kitaj, R.B. “USC: If my Title was UCS, with would mean that great Jew, the Unconscious” University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. 20 October 2004. Jerome Nemer Lecture. ↩︎

R.B. Kitaj's painting “Golem”: crookedly walking man with a blue face and head bandage in front of a blue, yellow and grey background.

R. B. Kitaj, 1980-1981
Oil on canvas, 150.5 x 52.4 cm
Photo: R.B. Kitaj Estate

Citation recommendation:

Tracy Bartley (2016), Kitaj’s Art Golem. Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM.

Golem as action figure (detail)

Online Edition of the GOLEM Catalog: Table of Contents

The Golem in Berlin: Introduction by Peter Schäfer
Chapter 1
The Golem Lives On: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
My Light is Your Life: Text by Anna Dorothea Ludewig
Avatars: Text by Louisa Hall
The Secret of the Cyborgs: Text by Caspar Battegay
Chapter 2
Jewish Mysticism: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Golem Magic: Text by Martina Lüdicke
Golem, Language, Dada: Text by Emily D. Bilski
Chapter 3
Transformation: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Jana Sterbak’s Golem: Objects as Sensations: Text by Rita Kersting
Crisálidas (Chrysalises): Text by Jorge Gil
Rituals: Text by Christopher Lyon
A Golem that Ended Well: Text by Emily D. Bilski
On the Golem: Text by David Musgrave
Louise Fishman’s Paint Golem: Text by Emily D. Bilski
Chapter 4
Legendary Prague: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Golem Variations: Text by Peter Schäfer
Rabbi Loew’s Well-Deserved Bath: Text by Harold Gabriel Weisz Carrington
Chapter 5
Horror and Magic: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Golem and a Little Girl: Text by Helene Wecker
The Golem with a Group of Children Dancing: Text by Karin Harrasser
Bringing the Film Set To Life: Text by Anna-Carolin Augustin
Golem and Mirjam: Text by Cathy S. Gelbin
Chapter 6
Out of Control: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Golem—Man Awakened with Glowing Hammer: Text by Arno Pařík
Dangerous Symbols: Text by Charlotta Kotik
Be Careful What You Wish For: Text by Marc Estrin
Chapter 7
Doppelgänger: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
From the Golem-Talmud: Text by Joshua Cohen
Current page: Kitaj’s Art Golem: Text by Tracy Bartley
The Golem as Techno-Imagination?: Text by Cosima Wagner
See also
GOLEM: 2016, online edition with selected texts of the exhibition catalog
GOLEM: 2016, complete printed edition of the exhibition catalog, in German
Golem. From Mysticism to Minecraft: Online Feature, 2016
GOLEM: Exhibition, 23 Sep 2016 to 29 Jan 2017

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