From terror, terrifying images 


"Will There Be a New World Order?" Works by Marcia Annenberg, ;Holocaust Memorial Research and Education Center, Maitland, Through February 8, 1997

Marcia Annenberg wasn't always obsessed with the Holocaust, and she wasn't always a painter. In fact, the artist whose works currently are on view at the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center had been a musician first -- a violinist and pianist -- and didn't dwell on her artistic inspiration until just a few years ago.

"I got married and my interests changed," said Annenberg, 45, from her New York home. "I began to think about bringing a child into the world, and I think that at that point the issues in the world became more compelling to me than abstract things.

"The issues had always been there, but I think that's when they came to the surface. It has something to do with the Jewish concept of repairing the world; you want to fix what's wrong."

What was wrong was historical: the Holocaust, and Annenberg's own sense of fatalism that came from a childhood of cowering under her desk, preparing for a nuclear attack. But it also is current, an ongoing inhumanity that is now showing up in such international trouble spots as Bosnia and Rwanda, and it is pervasive, she said.

"When I was a kid growing up in New York, I watched TV and I saw documentaries of what went on -- I saw the liberation of the camps, the piles of bodies. Mine was a very political family, and you heard what went on. ... But there was no way to understand."

There's still no way to understand; there's just the art that springs so vividly from Annenberg's awareness, as well as from her growing realization of how little was done to end it all -- and how closely current events parallel those of the Holocaust. "I am particularly struck by the war in Bosnia because it seems so much the same," she said, her mild tones becoming more passionate.

"A lot of research went into these paintings, a lot of it done at the Jewish Theological Seminary," she said, as the high voice of her 3-year-old piped up in the background. "Then in 1992 Time magazine had an article on the Holocaust, and I thought, ‘My God! This is deja vu!' It was incredible -- it is incredible.

Annenberg turned from music to painting, in the classical tradition, after meeting Isaac Soyer. While earning her master's degree in fine arts at New York University, Annenberg split her interests and approach into two distinct branches: the lyrical abstraction of Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell by day and, at the Art Students League in the evening, "precise realistic rendering" with Soyer, Robert Beverly Hale and Daniel Green.

From about 1980 to 1990, she was a typical contemporary artist working in an abstract mode. Her concerns were current, expressed in the dominant style of the moment. Then, while vacationing in Maine, Annenberg felt her repressed sense of outrage crystallize. "I realized that we grew up with a sense of terror," she said. "I began to paint, because everyone has to find their own ways to face evil. For me, reacting is very important -- losing the ability to react is really horrible, and it happens.

"We're bombarded with brutality, and that numbs us so that we may start objectifying evil. My work is my reaction. But it doesn't depict actual events -- it's more conceptual. You have to key into what's behind the image," Annenberg said. "In ‘The Housewife,' my favorite painting, I was thinking of the famous Cezanne ‘Bather.'

"So what's the connection? The Cezanne figure is bucolic, set against a landscape. The pose in ‘The Housewife' is the same, but she's in an entirely different setting," the artist said, quietly. "In my mind, the Holocaust created a different reality. It created a different time, a different space.

"I'm afraid this century has changed the way people view people. Cezanne's outlook was 19th century -- there was no way he and earlier generations could imagine the horror of a Holocaust. I used Cezanne's pose was a way of magnifying that change.

"Today I look at the world differently," Annenberg said. "I guess what I'm referring to is a loss of innocence. ... There's been a crisis of faith in our time -- today's people are lost. We've lost our cultural and religious roots," she said even more quietly, as her child became louder in the background. "Our childhood was robbed; we don't feel safe anymore. We need to react; we need to find our faith again."


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