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The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

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SEPT 2020 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

19. (The East Village, Queens)

Of this artist’s early years there is very little happiness to be reported and the same is true of the years—what few there were—that followed: born in the Central Asian city of Andijan to Jewish parents who had fled east to escape the Nazis, an infant refugee, detention camp on Cyprus, transit camp in Israel, frequent separation from parents and sister, childhood of constant poverty, laughed at for her strangeness, self-consciousness about her excessive facial hair, a front tooth broken at 15 in a bicycle accident that her parents didn’t have the money to get fixed, so easily offended that friends had to be careful what they said, a painting teacher who refused to recognize her as an artist and later explained that he wanted nothing to do with a crazy woman, wood planks scored and attacked with knives, pencils and fingernails until her fingers bleed, psychotic attack triggered when she is dosed with LSD and in the hospital voices come through the metal plate in her mouth so she has to rip it out, moving to New York at 31, making work from glass vessels that she shatters with her own hands, sculptures in the form of dark, spiky iron somethings, unable to earn money from her art even though dealers and curators keep telling her how great she is, drawings dense with furious relentless incisions of psychic pain, at 37 writes to a friend that she is “working very intensively, still without success, still without a possibility of exhibiting the works, but people are coming to see me and I know that one day it will happen,” mother dies, loneliness and more loneliness, hallucinations, hospitalization, medication she stops because it gets in the way of her art, declares to her worried sister “I will never kill myself,” studies the Talmud, writes Hebrew poetry, fills her tenement apartment with her unsold unsellable work, pays her rent one year in advance so her sister will have time to deal with the art she will leave behind, one day at the age of 45 buys a bouquet of roses, climbs to the roof of a building in the East Village, leaps to her death, an artist friend says “the flowers that she bought before jumping explain her art to us more than the fact of her suicide,” another artist says “her drawings are very horror vacuii like Paul Klee and they fill the space. I saw them and thought, ‘Holy shit! There is someone doing work like mine!’”, knowing that tradition deems suicides not be buried in Jewish cemeteries but also that exceptions are now made for those who suffer from mental illnesses she asks her sister to seek such an exception, for once she attains what she desires as her body is laid to rest in a Jewish cemetery somewhere in Queens.

(Mirit Cohen)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues