Uncomment: Elizabeth Rynecki on a lost chance

Elizabeth Rynecki, Issue 113/11, p16, 01.11.2013
My great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943), painted the Polish-Jewish community in the inter-war years.

His themes included religious study and scenes of everyday life, offering a glimpse into a world before it was destroyed by the Holocaust. Although Moshe perished at Majdanek, many of his 800-plus works survived the war.

Although many historians and museum curators acknowledge the aesthetic appeal of my great-grandfather’s pieces and its historical value, none are interested in a retrospective.

As the director of collections and exhibitions at a Holocaust memorial museum said: “We are a historical museum and, as such, we do not collect art, except as documentation of the Holocaust [art done during or immediately following the Holocaust].”

Since Moshe’s work is primarily from before the war, it isn’t considered Holocaust art. Conversely, Jewish museums specialising in fine art primarily focus on contemporary art and culture; to them, my great-grandfather’s story is a Holocaust one.

Given the sector’s efforts to engage audiences at a level above art appreciation, I am surprised Moshe’s works are stuck in this no-man’s land. His art and the back story offer an opportunity to engage museum visitors in issues ranging from Jewish culture and art history to political studies.

Perhaps it is an inevitable consequence of high levels of specialisation by museums, but it represents a lost opportunity to enhance, deepen and potentially broaden visitors’ connections with the art.