Campus receives $10.1M gift to acquire art of renowned Polish Jewish artist

Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection/Courtesy

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Bay Area-based Taube Philanthropies has donated $10.1 million — the largest single monetary gift to acquire art in UC Berkeley history — to the campus’s Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, providing the public access to the artwork of Polish Jewish artist Arthur Szyk, according to a campus press release issued Monday.

The Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection consists of 450 original works of art as well as an entire archival collection of sketches, postcards and original pencil sets, according to Zoe Lewin, a curatorial assistant at the Magnes Collection. The comprehensiveness of the collection, Lewin added, makes UC Berkeley the “headquarters” for any scholar looking to study Arthur Szyk.

“What’s most unique about (the collection) is its move from a private collection to a public university,” Lewin said. “Any global researcher soon has unadulterated access to a private collection for decades.”

Szyk lived and worked in Poland, France and the United States, according to George Breslauer, director of the Magnes Collection and a former campus executive vice chancellor and provost. Breslauer added that Szyk was a man who “deplored evil wherever he found it,” producing cartoons and other drawings as a part of American anti-Nazi efforts.

In addition to living in various countries throughout his lifetime, Szyk was also a refugee and worked in many cultures, languages and artistic dimensions, according to Francesco Spagnolo, curator of the Magnes Collection.

“Global cultural traits, political engagement and refugee status are all prospects that speak greatly to the students of this university,” Spagnolo said. “They seem to resonate with students.”

Shana Penn, executive director of Taube Philanthropies, said UC Berkeley’s diversity was one of the many reasons behind the organization’s decision to donate the collection to the campus. Taube Philanthropies has long supported the Magnes Collection and UC Berkeley, according to the campus press release. In 2010, Taube Philanthropies helped transfer a 15,000-item collection, then known as the Judah L. Magnes Museum, to its current home at UC Berkeley, where it has become the third-largest Jewish museum collection in the United States.

“We thought, ‘What better place to spur young people?’ … Magnes is not just a collecting institution, it’s a research institution,” Penn said. “One of its goals is to bring students and scholars to do research. We’re a part of the Bay Area community and (we) aim to support Bay Area institutions.”

According to Breslauer, Szyk’s artwork will not appear in the Magnes Collection until early 2018. The Magnes Collection is currently undergoing a multiyear process of accessioning the works, conducting research and cataloging and digitizing items.

Multiple representatives of the Magnes Collection said student researchers will have the opportunity to participate in this process.

Lewin, who graduated from UC Berkeley a year ago and worked at the Magnes Collection via the campus’s Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, or URAP, said students recruited through URAP will conduct biographical research, working hands on with the newly acquired collection in a variety of capacities.

“We can’t function without the help of our student researchers,” Lewin said. “We call ourselves first and foremost as a research lab. … Therein lies opportunity for students to engage with all our holdings and the new Szyk collection.”

Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.