Fairfield University Art Museum is opening an exhibition of political art by World War II-Era Human Rights Advocate Arthur Szyk, beginning on Friday September 29. The exhibition, formally titled In Real Times. Arthur Szyk: Artist and Soldier for Human Rights was acquired from University of California Berkeley’s Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, and will be open to the public until December 16. An adjunct interactive workstation in the Walsh Gallery, entitled Szyk: The Interactive Experience will simultaneously make its debut on the 29th.

This exhibition of Syzk’s artistry is the largest display of his work in the Northeast in over 50 years, including more than 50 of the artists’ pieces. Described as a “prophetic genius of the 1940s” in Fairfield University Magazine, Arthur Szyk’s artworks range from illustrations of Jewish texts, to political cartoons, to magazine covers—all of which contribute to his wider aim of warning against the rise of fascism in Europe at the time. 

“When he had to flee Europe because of World War II, and he finally was able to get to America, he realized that Americans didn’t understand what was happening in Europe– the gravity of the situation,” explained Executive Director of the Fairfield University Art Museum Carey Weber. “So he devoted himself to doing these political cartoons.”

“As one man, Szyk knew he had to actively stand up against the forces of facism, dictatorships and tyranny– shout out to the world with his pen, crayon and brush,” said Philip Eliasoph, PhD., curator of the exhibition and professor of art history at the University.

Eliasoph explained the process of acquiring the prized exhibition from UC Berkeley, formerly hosted at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, noting that “it’s been a David and Goliath story” which “has been an effort of great time, professional commitment and funding.”

Despite a lengthy process of negotiation for such a valuable collection, Fairfield University was able to obtain the exhibition due in part to UC Berkeley’s shut down during the pandemic. More than this, however, Eliasoph insisted that UC Berkeley saw value in moving this artwork to the Northeast, and to Fairfield’s campus in particular. 

“I am deeply indebted to the people at Berkeley—that they trusted us,” insisted Eliasoph. “They know how all the themes of this exhibit, dealing with human rights, with immigration, with freedom, with social justice… are so beautifully stitched into our Magis Core courses.”

“Our Magis Core– guided by the ethical expectations underscored in our Liberal Arts education, teaches us to openly question when fascism, dictatorship, or tyranny are expanding around the globe today,” he said further.

Students are encouraged to visit the exhibition and interact with Szyk’s work, which is able to be examined up close through the gallery’s digital features. 

Eliasoph addresses Fairfield students, reminding them of the relevancy of Syzk’s art: 

“We are living in a moment today in our own world, as we’re seeing tremendous growth of authoritarian regimes… and we are on the edge of democratic institutions being challenged,” he contends. “We have to understand the relevancy and of course, invoke those words of the great Harvard Professor George Santayana who said, ‘Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.’”

Even prior to its opening, the exhibition has “been a great outreach” to the University’s Jewish community, according to Eliasoph. 

The exhibition’s kickoff will be celebrated on the evening of September 28 with lectures from both Eliasoph and Irvin Ungar, curator emeritus of the Arthur Szyk Foundation, in the Dolan Event Space. Remarks will be followed by a reception in Bellarmine Hall. Registration is required.

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