Samuel Bak: Painting Questions

Artworks by Samuel Bak, painter born in Vilna, Poland, in 1933.

Bak is a survivor of WWII. In his work, memory occupies a central place. In Bak's imagery the past continues, and coexists with the present. Both interact in his oeuvre. Bak paints the history. His history. The history of his people. But that isn't all. He also cultivates the art of questioning. He confronts historical evidence and brings back to life most relevant issues. He asks questions to himself too. Moreover, he inscribes multiple question marks on the very fundamentals of the world to which he belongs.

What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself. —Franz Kafka (Diaries II, 1914-24, January 8, 1914).


Source of Energy


Yellow Sky

Temple of Learning





Personal Corner

In the Old Streets

Roof Top

Green Shul


Under One Flag


Still Life with Ego


Artworks selection and sequence is by Mariano Akerman. Ref. Identity; alienation; uneasiness with the Jewish heritage; quintessential Jewish art.

• Samuel Bak, Speaking about the Unspeakable (lecture, Strasbourg, 2002), Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, 21.8.2012
• Yehudit Shendar, Samuel Bak: An Arduous Road, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 26.5.2013
The Pucker Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts, 24.5.2013
• Lawrence L. Langer, Introduction to Illuminations, Newton, Massachusetts, 25.5.2010
Samuel Bak's Paintings, Facing History and Ourselves, Brookline, Massachusetts, 24.5.2013

El presente trabajo posee también una versión en español, Bak, pintor de interrogantes, 27.5.2013


Art and Ethics

Some days ago a friend of mine told me that she had to deal with some sort of memorable question,

" Is it possible to make good art if you are a bad person? "

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, oil, 1944

• Think about the above-cited question: is it tricky?
• Who can tell a painter was a bad person? What's the of evidence we base our conclusions upon? Gossip? Personal experience? Jealousy? Unfulfilled desire? Sensationalist news from the press?
• Can a person be either good or bad? Isn't this notion reductionist and simplistic? Aren't there any possible transitions between good and bad? What about ambivalence? What about impulse? What about mistakes?
• And what makes art good at all? What is the valid criteria to differentiate a good from a bad work? Aren't there any transitional possibilities in between?
Last but not least, what is art? Anything goes? What about the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome nowadays? What about today's most promoted works? Are they art? Are they not? Why?

TO BE and/or NOT TO BE

Which of the following contemporary works can be considered art? And which do you think cannot? Importantly, how can you justify your viewpoint? According to which criteria?

1. Mariano Akerman, Some Questions, watercolor, 2011

2. Ryden, St Barbie, 2010

3. Wim Delvoye, Linda, stuffed tatoed pig, 2006

4. Author unknown, Extraordinary, 2010

5. Giampaolo Bertozzi & Stefano Dal Monte Casoni, Grottesca, glazed ceramic, 2009

6. Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Simple Science, from Équilibres series, photograph, 1984-87

7. Ghoulish Productions, Parasite, latex Halloween mask, United Kingdom, c. 2010-11

8. Author unknown, Smiling garden gnome with flamingo-lamps, photograph, United Kingdom, 2009

9. Mariano Akerman, Manual, from Between the Whole and the Parts series, digital image, 2011

10. Anonymous, Hand, c. 2007

11. Javier Inga, Envy, Argentina, 2008

12. Julia deVille, Cat Rug, 2008

13. Vita Amara, Sometimes you don't know just where to hide (A volte non si sa proprio dove nascondersi), Italy, 2008

14. Anonymous, Il cache un cadavre pendant 10 ans, grass-sofa, France, 2010

15. Crack Two, Vienna, photograph, Austria, 2009

16. Barbara Kruger, Thinking of You, collage, c. 1980s

17. Marko Mäetamm, Bleeding House #2, oil on canvas, 2004

18. JN, FantasPorto, 31st Oporto International Horror Film Festival, 2011

Conceived and presented by Mariano Akerman at the Seminaire des Arts, Islamabad, 28.11.2011 - All Rights Reserved.