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PRINT September 1989

THE CROOKED ROAD OF JEWISH LUCK

SOME MODERNISMS ARE MORE modern than others: the delay with which “advanced” esthetic ideas penetrated the Czar’s frozen empire only heightened the passion with which Russian artists rushed to embrace them. The years immediately preceding and following the October Revolution saw movements that had taken half a century to unfold in the West replayed in Moscow and Petrograd (and even Vitebsk) with a stunning compression—as in a Futurist movie based on time-lapse photography.

Doubly isolated and oppressed, Russian Jews were the yeast in this cultural ferment, particularly after 1917. But while Russia’s leading exhibition group of the early teens, the painters known as the “Knave of Diamonds,” split into rival camps of folk-nativists and cosmopolitan “Cézannists,” Yiddish modernism was defined by the struggle to integrate these two tendencies. “Our first imprimatur is our modernism, our leftism,

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