Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shas Pollack Skills of an Art Critic

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Today at work I came across an obituary for Meyer Schapiro, the noted New York intellectual and art historian and critic (NYT, 3/4/96). It notes:

All his life Schapiro had a capacity for total recall. No matter what subject was raised in general conversation, he could usually name not only the necessary books on the subject but the chapter heading and even the page reference that was most appropriate. In this regard, he was rarely faulted.

Equally remarkable was his visual memory for works of art that he had once seen and never forgotten. When the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz was newly arrived in New York from Europe during World War II, he spent an evening in Schapiro's company. The talk turned to the great collections of tribal art in the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, and in particular to a piece that he had especially admired. To help Lifschitz recall it, Schapiro took a sheet of paper and drew, from memory and to scale, not only the piece in question but every other piece that had been in the case with it some years before. He did not see this as anything out of the ordinary.

Schapiro hailed from a long line of “Talmudic scholars,” but his own father had abandoned Orthodoxy for haskalah and the Bund. (For parnasa purposes though his father first job upon immigrating to America was “a teacher of Hebrew at the Yitzcak Elchanan Yeshiva [YU].")

(On the "shas pollack," see On the Mainline here.)

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