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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 Unpublished manuscript.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.

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