Tate’s first acquisition of a work by a contemporary American artist after 1945, Orthodox Boys is charged with the anxieties and aspirations of Jews in post-war New York. Its graffitied wall offers a constellation of names from the artist’s own life, examined here in depth for the first time.
In Orthodox Boys 1948 two Jewish adolescents share a furtive conversation as they wait for the subway in front of a newspaper kiosk in Lower Manhattan. Painted while Bernard Perlin was living on the Lower East Side, this work provides insight into the experiences of Jews living in New York and America more widely.
As well as discussing the social, political, artistic and personal contexts in which Orthodox Boys was created and received, this In Focus investigates the circumstances surrounding the painting’s acquisition by Tate in 1950. Orthodox Boys owes its place in Tate’s collection primarily to Lincoln Kirstein, a figure responsible for championing a number of American visual artists at home and abroad. The painting became a symbol of the museum’s increasingly international scope and a key inspiration to British artists.
Published in August 2016, the project is edited by Professor Aaron Rosen (Rocky Mountain College) and includes essays from Professor Erika Doss (University of Notre Dame) and Professor Samantha Baskind (Cleveland State University) alongside those by Professor Rosen.