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January 19, 2011
Luther W. Brady Art Gallery exhibit juxtaposes Magda Watts’ dolls and Malcah Zeldis’ paintings.
By Menachem Wecker
An exhibit of folk art and handmade dolls sounds innocuous enough, but Works by Magda Watts and Malcah Zeldis, which is on view at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery through Feb. 25, is not child’s play by any means.
Although the oil paintings and mixed media dolls feature bold palettes, the subject matter of Ms. Watts, 81, and Ms. Zeldis, 79, both of whom are Jewish, is sometimes dark and tragic—particularly when it addresses the Holocaust.
Ms. Zeldis’ Me and Anne Frank, shows the artist posing beside the famous teenaged diarist. Both figures wear yellow stars, and save a view out a window of a bright landscape with a bird bath (a frequent symbol in Ms. Zeldis’ visual vocabulary), the work is sobering.
Ms. Watts’ repertoire includes The Holocaust Dolls, a concentration camp installation with SS officer dolls and Jewish inmates, and Dollmaker of Nuremberg, a self portrait, which explores the artist’s experience escaping Auschwitz when the Siemens Company chose her to move to Nuremberg to make bombs.
A video about Ms. Watts in the Brady Art Gallery show demonstrates her artistic process, and it is difficult not to squirm seeing her sculpting her dolls, which are so realistic that she seems to be digging her tools into real flesh.
Lenore Miller, M.F.A. ’72, director of university art galleries and chief curator, came up with the unique idea to feature the two artists, who do not know each other and live in different countries, side by side.
“Without painting, the sculpture wouldn’t have taken over the gallery,” says Ms. Miller, noting that Ms. Watts’ works are “more like sculptures or dioramas” than dolls.
Not all the works in the show are so tragic, though. Watts’ Bagel Man is particularly playful, as is Mah-jong, which shows four seated women who seem to be distracted from their game as each looks off in a different direction.
Ms. Zeldis’ works frequently draw on a set of visual elements, including New York street scenes, the Statue of Liberty and Abraham Lincoln.
When Ms. Miller and Olivia Kohler, assistant director of the gallery, visited Ms. Zeldis’ New York home to select the paintings for the exhibition, Ms. Zeldis decided to paint a new work just for the Brady Art Gallery exhibition.
The work, George Washington, features the university’s namesake, with the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in the background. “We decided to place the new George Washington image on the front wall,” Ms. Kohler says.
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