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The Human Touch

April 12, 1934
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THE Roerich Museum is reaffirming its internationalism these days. Its downstairs exhibition rooms have been turned over to five artists, three of them painters in oil, the fourth a water colorist and the fifth a sculptor. Of the five one is a Japanese and at least one is a Jew. It is possible that two are Jewish, but conjecture can be inconvenient, if not dangerous. (I note in Lewis Browne’s book, “How Odd of God,” that George Grosz, the German artist, is called a Jew.) Another of the five has a name suggesting Irish descent and the fifth name has an English sound. However, the Jew of whom we’re sure is Philip Reisman, painter and etcher, some of whose work has been reproduced in The Bulletin.

With several miles of art being accessible in the heart of New York–5,000 works in oil and sculpture at Rockefeller Center and another vast heap of art at the Independents Show at Grand Central–it may be a little difficult to entice any general section of the great metropolitan public in the direction of Riverside Drive and 103rd street, and I shall make no Canute-like gesture to turn the tide from one direction toward another, except to point out, mildly, that the Roerich five one-man shows are somewhat exclusive and edited and, for the man or woman unused to making selections for the eye, somewhat less exhausting. After leaving Roerich it is actually possible to remember what you’ve seen and what you’ve liked.

A painter lives to show his work. He will go to no end of labor to put his work in the way of people, either to the extent of conveying his work to such places where people are expected to congregate, or conveying to his private studio or abode men and women who may manifest even a polite curiosity in that which said artist has succeeded in accomplishing on canvas, paper, or plate.


I believe it may be stated as axiomatic that on the first day of his exhibition the artist whose work is being exhibited will be hovering in that cubic space containing his daubs or masterpieces, as the case may be. I know of one artist who took his siestas in the room with his pictures. Men have been known to travel several thousands of miles to hear the first performance of a musical composition. I believe that Ernest Bloch, the composer, has traveled no les than 10,000 miles, between Italy, New York and San Francisco, to hear–as well as conduct–premieres of his “Sacred Service,” which the New York public heard for the first time last night. But that’s not so unreasonable, for music can have no existence until it is performed, and no matter how music may sound in the brain of the composer or the gifted reader of music, it has no complete and fulfilled existence until it has been given by all the instruments for which it was composed.

But although pictures exist in space and not in time, and do not vary essentially between the time they’re finished and the time they’re hung, no artist apparently ever sees what he’s done until his work is exhibited–and seen. If you happen to have an artist for a friend, and he is a friend you want to keep, look at his pictures even if you don’t buy them. Admire them also, if you can.


But at the Roerich exhibition neither Mr. nor Mrs. Reisman was about. Many of the friends to whom they had had invitations sent came and saw. Some understood, some did not. Some admired, some did not. Nicholas Roerich himself, a painter in an entirely different manner, was seen to cast grave glances at Reisman’s tormented canvasses, but Philip Reisman was not there to see.

With Mrs. Reisman he was rattling along in an old Ford, somewhere toward the Mason and Dixon line, or perhaps already South of it, on one of the most curious missions ever given to a painter, with the possible exception of Mr. Roerich’s own artistic missions: he is making pictures for the national archives of vanishing Colonial architecture, and of dying Southern types. He left New York with the expectation of finding his chief material in the states of Virginia, Mississippi and Georgia. Reporters have dared to dream of assignments such as this. The Reismans expect to spend the months of April and May in the South. Mrs. Reisman, like her husband, is a painter, and there is no doubt that she too will find settings and characters which she will ache to do.


REVOLUTIONS may not tickle the comic sense of historians, but there is comedy in revolutions for those participants who have a moment for refiection. Ernst Toller, the author of “I Was a German,” a book packed with human interest to which I have been compelled to advert again and again, took part in the formation of the Bavarian Soviet Republic and although he escaped death again and again, he had enough sense of the comic to recall the lighter side of it.

In Munich he was appointed president of the Centrai Committee and, as such, was compelled to see many strange visitors.

“All day long people crowded the anteroom waiting their turn to see me,” he writes. “Each one of them believed that the Soviet Republic had been expressly created to satisfy his own private desires. A woman wanted to get married at once; up to now there had been difficulties, for she lacked the necessary papers, but obviously the Soviet Republic had been instituted for the sole purpose of salvaging her personal happiness. A man wanted me to force his landlord to remit his rent. A group of supporters of the Revolution came to demand the arrest of their own particular enemies.

“Unappreciated cranks submitted their programs for the betterment of humanity, believing that at last their much-scorned ideas would have a chance to turn earth into Paradise … Some believed the root of evil was cooked food, others the gold standard, others unhygienic underwear, or machinery, or the lack of a compulsory universal language, or multiple stores, or birth control.”

All of whom reminded Toller of the Swabian shoemaker he once knew whose pet faddism was the belief that functions of nature should be performed out of doors and with the use of clean fresh leaves and grass, and actually wrote a pamphlet to support his thesis.

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