“There’s something about her thought that is divinely incomplete,” says Ken Krimstein, speaking on the opening night of his exhibition, The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt, at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning & Leadership. “There’ll be something in the news, and I’ll say, ‘She saw that. She saw that.’” The exhibition attends the release of his graphic biography of the author with Bloomsbury, and includes original drawings and other works not included in the final book. It goes without saying the relevance of philosopher and political theorist Arendt, who coined the term “banality of evil,” and whose history famously involved, at eighteen, an extraordinary love affair with the philosopher Martin Heidegger, her then-professor, a Nazi party member.
At the center of an astounding international circle that included everyone from Albert Einstein and Walter Benjamin, Alfred Hitchcock, Bertolt Brecht, Herbert Marcuse… well, on and on, Krimstein is profoundly interested in the life of the mind she chose, and how she came to terms with, and navigated a world outside her circles equally as profoundly disinterested and apathetic—and how that shaped the historical figure she was eventually to become. For Krimstein, the two are inextricably connected. “I’m interested in how the event of somebody’s life leads to their thought,” he says.
Drawn mostly in a simple, straightforward style, Krimstein, who teaches at DePaul University, spans the range between realism and line-work akin to John Wagner’s grumpy old lady ”Maxine” strips, refined to an evocative habitation. Renowned for his short-form work, he has previously drawn for The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and pretty much every place else. In his second book, what often matters is the relationships that buoy the young-then-aging Arendt as she proceeds on her three escapes, first from Berlin with the rise of Nazism, then Vichy France, and eventually the controversy and ostracism from even her closest friends, on the publication of ”Eichmann in Jerusalem,” a pivotal moment in which the courage to publish her thought that cut against the grain and stoked the ire of Jewish contemporaries still traumatized by the Holocaust. All of which is well-documented and, in a sense, not as relevant as the underlying theme of intellectual courage as a necessary response, of churning through the world of ideas as a method of living, that punctuates its every page.
Without thinking, this book and exhibition tells us, without intentionality and struggle to reflect and to know, without actively working to annihilate, through our thinking, the constructed fascistic agonism operant in our public sphere, we risk allowing them to flourish. Faithfully imagining the forces of history that Arendt faced and vivisected with such tenacity, both from within and without, this exhibition prompts us to also imagine what’s at stake if we choose the role of the bystander to our own minds. In addressing us, his readers and viewers as contemporaries, we are placed among the audience that Arendt sought to warn and inculcate with a sense of responsibility for our history, as we live it, in the moment. Highly recommended.
Through June 23, 2019 at the Spertus Museum’s ground-level arts lab, 610 South Michigan. Sun 10am-5pm, Mon-Wed 9am-5pm, Thu 9am-6pm, Fri 9am-3pm. Closed Saturdays and Jewish and secular holidays. On May 13 at 7pm, the museum will screen the film “Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt.” Tickets $18, $10 for Spertus members, $8 for Spertus alumni and students.
Michael Workman is an artist, writer, dance, performance art and sociocultural critic, theorist, dramaturge, choreographer, reporter, poet, novelist, curator, manager and promoter of numerous art, literary and theatrical productions. In addition to his work at The Guardian and Newcity, Workman has also served as a reporter for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, and as Chicago correspondent for Italian art magazine Flash Art. He is currently producing exhibitions, films and recordings, dance and performance art events under his curatorial umbrella, Antidote Projects. Michael has lectured widely at universities including Northwestern University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Illinois at Chicago, and served as advisor to curators of the Whitney Biennial. His reporting, criticism and other writing has appeared in New Art Examiner, the Chicago Reader, zingmagazine, and Contemporary magazine, among others, and his projects have been written about in Artforum, The New York Times, Artnet, The Financial Times, The Huffington Post, The Times of London, The Art Newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Art In America, Time Out NY, Chicago and London, The Gawker, ARTINFO, Flavorpill, The Chicago Tribune, NYFA Current, The Frankfurter Algemeine, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Village Voice, Monopol, and numerous other news media, art publications and countless blog, podcast and small press publishing outlets throughout the years.