The London Jewish Museum of Art last night opened an exhibition of crucifixion images, called Cross Purposes. It contains some extraordinary interpretations from varied collections, by artists Jewish, Christian and neither.
The centrepiece is Marc Chagall’s chilling 1945 analogy of Hitler’s assassination of the Jews and their faith, along with a 1942 companion work by Emmanuel Levi in which a man in prayer-shawl and phylacteries is crucified beneath the sign ‘Jude’ in Gothic script.
There is a skeletal Graham Sutherland, a stagey Maggie Hambling and an unforgettable Duncan Grant that accentuates the Christ-figure’s sexuality. A post-colonial triple crucifixion of black men and white, by the Indian artist Francis Newton Souza (1824-2002), somehow follows you around the room and out of the door into the sun-baked street.
But what’s a Jewish art gallery doing putting on a show of crucifixions? The idea has drawn torrents of abuse from Jewish supporters of the museum, who argue (rightly) that the crucifixion image has been the incitement for 2,000 years of Christian persecution of Jews. The gallery counters that the man on the cross was Jewish; it’s time to reclaim that heritage and discuss the terrible act from the victim’s viewpoint.
I don’t subscribe to either standpoint, but the issue is worth examining with greater intellectual clarity and the show should certainly be on your calendar.
LATE EXTRA: The story has been taken up by the JC: