Editor’s Notes & Cover Art

About the Cover

Our cover design by John Pickard features a silver-gelatin photograph by André Kertész, titled “Two Friends in Luxembourg, Paris, 1963.”

Kertész was born in Budapest, Hungary, on July 2, 1894, then moved to France in 1925 to pursue magazine photography.

His unconventional approach to camera angles was not appreciated until he joined with other immigrant artists and the Dada movement to gain wider critical success. Because of German persecution and the threat of World War II, Kertész decided to immigrate to the United States in 1936. He worked at House & Garden magazine for many years. By 1962, he left the commercial magazine business to pursue his own art.

This photograph captures a private moment in the public park during a return visit to Paris.

At the time of his death in 1985, Kertész’s work was honored by artists, collected by major museums and galleries, and studied by scholars who recognize his many contributions to the art of photography.

© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures.

Special thanks to the International Center for Photography for their assistance.

Editor’s Notes

Elie Wiesel resists easy classification. He is an author of power, fearlessness, insight. He is also—and perhaps this is foremost—a witness to atrocity, to the paradoxical human capacities for evil and goodness, for cruelty beyond measure, and for endurance, for survival, for kindness. His work is a supreme example of how literature may resonate with the keenest truth. As the recipient of the 2012 Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement he does us honor even as we strive to honor him.

This year’s award to Professor Wiesel is also part of an ambitious year-long symposium developed by The Kenyon Review in collaboration with the Graham Gund Gallery at Kenyon College. “Art and Identity: The Holocaust and Cultural Ownership in the 21st Century” will explore some of the longer-term repercussions that swept across our culture out of the trauma and aftermath of the Holocaust. As is well known, the Nazis looted art from Jewish collectors and families with an efficiency matched by their ruthlessness in the death camps. Paintings and sculpture, antiquities and books were seized, not only to create personal collections and fortunes for their leaders, nor merely to mark the public triumph of their armies—a tradition shared with the Romans and Napoleon, among countless others—but in large measure to feed the financial maw of their ravening military campaigns.

Over the past few decades, a picture has also emerged of the many efforts to protect, hide, disguise, and spirit away as much art as possible from Nazi depredations. The soul of those efforts represented more than the protection of wealth or even of beauty. It raised an issue that continues to reverberate today: What does it mean to “own” art of great significance? Indeed, who can own works that belong in a larger sense to a nation, a public, the world itself?

An obvious case in point would be the Elgin Marbles, looted from the Parthenon in Athens well over a century ago and resident for many decades in the British Museum. The arguments for repatriation are compelling, as are those for the statuary to remain in London. But what does the question itself tell us about national identity, about the relationship between a museum that has national or international significance and claims from countries of origin or earlier owners?

Another example that has struck my own fancy is the claim to ownership of an ancient obelisk long displayed in Central Park, New York. The Egyptian government has recently sought the city’s acknowledgment that the ancient pillar, in fact, belongs to Egypt, the country of its origin. Yet they do not seek repatriation, only an acknowledgment of their rights—and better maintenance of the treasure.

Another aspect of the complexity of ownership arises from decades-old efforts to restore looted art to original owners or heirs of those from whom it was looted. Identifying such heirs is itself a difficult, sometimes hopeless task—all too often, because of that very Nazi efficiency mentioned above, there are no heirs to be located. Yet again, nations and galleries come into play as well. Some museums, especially in Eastern Europe, refuse to this day to recognize claimant rights, and their governments have often supported them, whether actively or passively. Equally, much art has passed into private ownership, often by apparently aboveboard transactions long after the initial horror and theft. The ethical obligations, let alone the legal complexities between national and international codes, are muddied, to say the least.

Finally, the scale of the Holocaust, along with the scorching lights that have exposed its dimensions (after much initial shadow), have helped change the way we understand other genocides as well. Native Americans, African Americans, and other peoples around the world have seen their art belittled, treated as primitive, destroyed, and expropriated. The conversation we will be having through “Art and Identity” will help us address cultures far beyond our own, far beyond this moment.

—D. H. L.

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