IDOLIZING PICTURES: Idolatry, Iconoclasm, and Jewish Art
British lawyer Julius, whose firm Mishcon De Reya represents the Queen, and who recently argued a high-profile libel case involving notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, also consistently slugs it out in the arts: his T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form has provoked more discussion than any book on Eliot in the last 30 or so years, and he does a lot of reviewing in the U.K. This short book, based on lectures given in London, weighs in on a different medium, taking on "Idolatry," "Jewish Iconicism," "Iconoclasms" and "Jewish Creativity" in the visual arts. Unfortunately, these studies read like a hastily assembled lawyer's brief in which preferences are stated but arguments are not fleshed out. Marc Chagall's iconographical innovations, for example, are found to be "an unhappy amalgam," while modernist Barnett Newman is dismissed from consideration as a Jewish artist without a full hearing. Stately pronouncements turn out not to mean much, like "Holocaust art is at the edge of the modern Jewish art of witness." A bibliographical essay at the end of the book substitutes for footnotes, though Chaim Potok's middle-brow novel My Name Is Asher Lev is recommended as a source for understanding how Jewish artists are treated "in their own communities." Julius's Eliot book remains important, but this sophomore effort can do little but ride in on its predecessor's gown. (Apr. 30)
Forecast:Since this book is not in Julius's perceived field of expertise, it won't get much attention from the English department academics waiting for a follow-up. For larger art history and Jewish studies collections at university libraries, however, it's a good bet on the strength of Julius's name.