IIn 1938, Nazi troops invaded Austria, immersing the country in the Third Reich in a case known as the Anschluss, bringing official anti-Semitism, along with political violence, to the small, German-speaking nation.
A new exhibition in New York presents works of art by three Jewish artists who fled Vienna during the Anschluss, survived and thrived as commercial artists. Armed with pens, they used their wit, talent and resilience. Their best works can be seen in the group exhibition “Three with a Pen”
Artists fought fascism with political satire almost 100 years ago, and yet their work still resonates. “History does not repeat itself, but there are some phenomena that are at least reminiscent,” said Michael Haider, director of the forum.
“Once you have a certain level of racism, organized hatred in a society where people are systematically scared, that should be a warning sign,” he said. “After what these artists have experienced, we know the result.”
The artists are Lily Renee, Bill Spira and Paul Peter Porges, whose comics, drawings, editorial cartoons and cartoons are available. They are shown along with photos and ephemerals that help illustrate their biographies.
“All three artists have this story of escaping Nazi-occupied Vienna, after which they made their careers and fame – two in New York and one in Paris – elsewhere,” Haider said. “When I saw this exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Vienna in 2019, I thought, ‘Now, let’s bring this to New York. “
Lily Renee, an artist born in 1921 who is celebrating her 100th birthday this year, escaped through Kindertransport, a humanitarian operation that allowed Jewish refugee children to flee to England. Fortunately, she reunited with her parents in New York in 1940.
There she worked as a graphic artist and illustrator and became known for her heroine Senorita Rio, the protagonist of a comic book from the 1940s, a subsequent Hollywood star who fought the Nazis at night as a secret agent. He signed his comics as “L. Reni, ”so many readers thought she was a man.
Some of Rene’s work includes drawings from her comic book Señorita Rio, created in bright colors, along with illustrations from her children’s book Red Is the Heart.
“Lily lived in a high-middle-class family in Vienna. Under normal circumstances, she would not fall into comic art. She wanted to be a serious artist working in fashion design, ”Haider said. “If there was no Anschluss, she would study art and become a designer.”
As a Jewish refugee in New York, she had to earn money to help her family. She started working on comics after her mother found an ad looking for comic artists.
“She was so good that she was allowed to create her own characters,” Haider said. “But she only made comics to make money. Then the comics were looked down upon. “
She was also one of the few women who entered the field at that time. “My mother never used the word ‘feminism’ to describe herself or her work at all times,” said Renee’s daughter, Nina Phillips.
“In fact, she objected to being called a feminist because she thought modern feminism was too ideological and went too far,” Phillips said. “But whether consciously or not, a huge part of her results show female characters in traditionally male roles.”
Paul Peter Porgis is an artist who lived from 1927 to 2016 and created political cartoons for Mad Magazine and the New Yorker, which reef for Western society. Like Rene, he also escaped from Vienna via Kindertransport to England, but was later detained in an internment camp in France as a teenager.
The exhibit features a photograph of the artist holding a self-portrait he painted during his time in the U.S. Army in the early 1950s, showing his approach to exaggerating physical characteristics. There is also a drawing by Sigmund Freud and some of the traffic in downtown Manhattan.
The exhibition also includes shocking drawings made in a concentration camp by Wilhelm “Bill” Spiro, an artist who lived from 1913 to 1999. Spiro painted while in Auschwitz in 1944. They include horrifying images of angry guards and forced laborers. labor.
“He is being dragged to the concentration camps, but if the guards see him, he will be executed,” Haider said. “He was documenting what he saw in the camp. He hid it.
“When the Russians who liberated the camp burned all the prisoners’ belongings, everything he owned was gone,” he said. “The only original drawings are those that other prisoners have smuggled. Spira also made copies of other drawings, which he had already drawn, later, from memory. “
His editorial cartoons from the 1930s are also on display, including a satire by Hitler and drawings by Austrian actor Hans Moser and American playwright Sinclair Lewis.
“Bill Spira is an amazing story,” Haider said. “It has already been published in the newspapers of the Social Democrats, it is actively fighting the Nazis. He left Vienna in 1938. “
Spira did not receive a visa to enter the United States, took it to the Gestapo, survived the concentration camps and later lived in Paris, where he became a famous cartoonist working for French and Swiss newspapers.
“All these artists are different,” Haider said. “They all have unique biographies. They all had promising lives until 1938. “
Anschluss provided a tragic disorder, but everyone miraculously survived and continued to make works of art. These paper drawings are a testament to their survival, armed only with their pens.
“We wanted to honor the works of art of all three artists, to show that they are great artists, despite the fact that they have survived,” said Sabine Bergler, who co-authored the exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Vienna with Michael Freund. 2019
“On the other hand, we wanted to show that they survived,” Bergler said. “We tried to show the people behind the works of art, to see them all as independent artists and how the Holocaust is the destiny of their work.”