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Berlewi, Henryk


BERLEWI, HENRYK (1894–1967), painter, graphic artist, stage designer, art critic, and theorist of art. Berlewi was born in Warsaw and as a child attended a ḥeder for a short period of time. He started his art education at the Warsaw Art School (1906–9), while at the same time studying at a local gymnasium. In 1909–10, he attended the Art Academy in Antwerp, where in addition he completed a course at a lyceum. In 1911–12, Berlewi lived in Paris and studied at the École de Beaux Arts. It was during this period that he established close ties with groups of Dadaists and futurists and was influenced by cubism and expressionism. In 1913, he returned to Warsaw and became acquainted with the young Jewish artists who combined a keen interest in avant-garde art with the pursuit for "a new Jewish style" in literature and art. After World War i, he participated in a number of epatage events initiated by Polish Futurist poets (e.g., the Futurist "Subtropical Evening" in Warsaw, 1918). Berlewi became a prominent figure in modernist artistic circles and was a member of various groups. In 1919, he showed his work at the Kultur-Liga exhibition in Białystok. He was close to the "Yung Yiddish" group and was part of its activities; from 1920, he collaborated with a group of Yiddish modernist authors who rallied around the Warsaw Ringen journal, did its cover drawings, and published articles on contemporary European and Jewish art. Berlewi was among the founders of the Jewish Society for the Encouragement of Artists and organized exhibitions of Jewish artists. His work in this period is guided by the idea of developing "contemporary Jewish art" by way of synthesizing the discoveries of the European avant-garde and Jewish folk art traditions. Utilizing scenes of Jewish life in most of his paintings, he treated them in a cubist and expressionist manner, thinking of these works as exemplars of "Jewish expressionism." As a book designer, he made an impressive contribution to contemporary Yiddish typography. In addition, he collaborated with Yiddish theater companies in Warsaw and designed the scenery for several of their productions. In 1921, Berlewi made his acquaintance of El Lissitsky, who introduced him to the theory of suprematism developed by Kazimir Malevich (1878–1935) and aroused his interest in non-figurative art. In 1922–23, Berlewi lived in Berlin and collaborated with the leading constructivist artists. Inspired by the environment, he started developing his personal version of constructivism, which he later called "mechano-faktura." He showed his work at the "Novembergruppe" exhibition and at the First International Exhibition in Duesseldorf. Together with Jankel *Adler, he represented East European Jewish artists in organizing the Congress of the Union of Progressive International Artists (Duesseldorf, May 29–31, 1922). In this period, he maintained close ties with the activists of the Jewish modernist movement who resided in Berlin. In 1922, he did the cover drawing for the second issue of the Albatros Yiddish journal under the editorship of Uri Zevi *Greenberg. He published a number of articles on new trends in European and Russian art in the Berlin Rimon-Milgroim Jewish journal. In 1923, Berlewi returned to Warsaw. To promote the "new Jewish art" within a broader universal and cosmopolitan context, he became an organizer and standard-bearer of the "Block" group that united Polish constructivist artists and adherents of non-figurative art, among them many Jewish artists. In 1924, he published his "Mechano-faktura" manifesto in Polish (the German translation was published the same year in Der Sturm journal). Also in the same year, the first exhibition of his constructivist works was shown in the "Ausrto-Daimler" Auto Salon. In addition, he founded "Reklama-Mechano," a functional design bureau. At the same time, he remained active in book design and designed the typography for several books in Yiddish and Hebrew and published articles on art in Yiddish and Polish. His two one-man exhibitions took place in 1926 and 1928 in Warsaw, showing his figurative works and those inspired by Jewish themes. From 1928, Berlewi made his permanent residence in Paris. In the early 1930s, he returned to figurative painting and produced portraits and still lifes in the manner of the "Neue Sachlichkeit." In the 1930s, his exhibitions were held in France, Belgium, and Holland. During World War ii Berlewi joined the French Resistance. In the 1950s, he returned to his experiments in abstract art and developed a new version of "Mechano-faktura" which he called Op Art. In 1960, Berlewi founded "Les Archives de l'Art Abstrait et de l'Avant-garde Internationale." He published articles in the Paris press in French as well as in Yiddish on European and Jewish art.


H. Berlewi, Mechano-faktura (1924); H. Colleye. Henryk Berlewi: Poolsch Schilder (1937); Retrospective Ausstellung Henryk Berlewi: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Graphik, Mechano-Fakturen, Plastic von 1908bis Heute, exh. cat., Berlin (1964); J. Malinowski, Grupa "Jung Idysz" i żidowskie środowisko "Nowej Sztuki" w Polsce. 19181923 (1987); S.A. Mansbach, Modern Art in Eastern Europe. From the Baltic to the Balkans, ca. 18901939 (1999), 121–23; J. Malinowski. Malarstwo i rzeźba Żydow Polskich w xix i xx wieku (2000), 170–80, 199–205, 214–16, 221–26.

[Hillel Kazovsky (2nd ed.)]

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