A personal encounter brought ‘My Name is Maryan’ to MOCA

I recently toured the “My Name is Maryan” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami and found the collection of works by the late artist Maryan fascinating. However, it was museum executive director Chana Budgazad Sheldon’s personal connection to the artist, that intrigued my interest in writing this story.

“I’m the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. My grandmother Sabine Fox was a hidden child who survived by hiding in a convent in France,” said Chana. “It was there, that she met and became friends with Annette, who would later marry Maryan, himself a Holocaust survivor from Poland.”

Chana shared how Sabine and Annette, along with other young women hiding in the convent, stayed in touch for years after the war.

“They all settled in the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) and regularly got together for meetings. When the convent’s Mother Superior was honored as a ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ at Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust), they all traveled to Jerusalem for the occasion.”

Chana told how her Grandmother and Annette remained close.

“They were both writers and kept in touch through letters and phone calls. Through their friendship, my mother knew Maryan the artist and Annette. My grandmother was not particularly interested in art, but my mother was. I remember from a young age seeing catalogs of Maryan’s work on the bookshelf in our home. Although Maryan died before I was born, I always remember seeing photographs of his art.”

Chana recalled how Annette invited her to her apartment on the Upper East Side when she was in her early 20s and getting serious about pursuing a career in art.

“I was working as a gallery assistant in New York and was invited to sit with Annette and see the private collection she had hidden from the public since her husband’s death. His studio was basically a time capsule of his work that remained untouched for nearly 30 years after his passing. His paint brushes, journals and paintings were there. It was his way of protecting his legacy.”

Chana lost touch with Annette after she moved to Miami a few years later. She found out that she had passed away in 2011.

Through a chance encounter, Chana was reintroduced to Maryan’s work while walking through the Art Basel exhibition in 2018 shortly after becoming executive director at MOCA.

“The New York gallery Venus Over Manhattan was showcasing distinct cartoonish subjects in a series of paintings that I immediately recognized from Annette’s apartment decades earlier. It was Maryan’s!”

“The work was unexpectedly impactful. I connected with Venus Over Manhattan, reached out to curator Alison Gingeras to organize an exhibit at MOCA, and the next three years were spent developing ‘My Name is Maryan.’”

“Until Art Basel, I always wondered what had become of Maryan’s work.”

The New York gallery had just a handful of the artist’s collection.

“Alison did fantastic research into Maryan’s life,” Chana noted. “Uncovering so much content and artwork was thrilling. From that research came our exhibition, the largest anywhere to date featuring Maryan.”

To better understand Maryan’s art, here’s a glimpse at his life.

He was born in Poland in 1927 as Pinkas Schindel. In 1939, his family was placed in labor camps, and then in Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. Imprisoned under his mother’s maiden name of Bursztyn, Pinkas would suffer many injuries leading to a leg amputation. He would be the only member of his family to survive. In 1945, he was 18 when he was liberated by Russian soldiers.

After the war, he spent the years 1945–1947 in Germany in Displaced Persons Camps.

He then went to Israel to begin his art training at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.

After two years in Israel, Bursztyn moved to Paris and adopted the name Maryan.

Maryan moved to New York in 1962 and later received American citizenship. In the US, he changed his name to Maryan S. Maryan.

He died prematurely at age 50 from a heart attack in 1977 in New York.

“With Maryan’s earliest known work dating back to 1949, one historian went as far as to state that he was one of the first artists to present the horrors of the Holocaust,” Chana said.

“As the Holocaust moves from memory to history, Maryan’s work bears witness to that era,” Chana continued. “While much of his art was based on the trauma and suffering Maryan endured, he and Annette tried to make sure he wasn’t identified as a Holocaust artist. He wanted to capture the broader human experience.”

That is why the exhibition not only recreates Maryan’s apartment-studio from his days living in the Chelsea Hotel, but also makes it the first gallery in the tour. The Holocaust is presented later in the retrospective.

At the conclusion of the tour, I viewed Maryan’s film he made in 1975 titled “Ecce Homo.” In this documentary, he reenacts Holocaust memories. Made only two years before Maryan’s death. The film offers a deeper understanding of his artwork.

“The film really is the gem of the exhibition,” Chana added.

As Alison states in the museum’s pamphlet, “The exhibition takes Maryan’s act of renaming himself as more than a gesture of self-definition. Empowered by his new identity, Maryan forges a defiant yet questioning form of humanism that he dubbed ‘truth painting’.”

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Having such a personal connection to the artist and his wife, I asked Chana if she had a favorite in the collection?

“I have an appreciation for all of Maryan’s work. There is not one particular favorite.”

“What I hope visitors take away from the tour is to see that this under-explored artist really speaks for the time we are living through,” Chana continued.

“I absolutely feel we are keeping Maryan’s legacy alive! We were able to reintroduce him to the world, exhibiting work that has never been shown in such depth before. I’m really proud of our efforts.”

The exhibition will travel to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in March 2023 focusing on the time Maryan lived in Israel. An exhibition was presented there in 1977 just months after his death.

“My Name is Maryan” will be on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), 770 NE 125th St., North Miami, through October 2.

For more information, call 305-893-6211 or visit mocanomi.org

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