Sculpting a Life out February 7th.
In Sculpting a Life, the first book-length biography of sculptor Chana Orloff (1888-1968), author Paula Birnbaum tells the story of a fiercely determined and ambitious woman who fled antisemitism in Ukraine, emigrated to Palestine with her family, then travelled to Paris to work in haute couture before becoming an internationally recognized artist. Against the backdrop of revolution, world wars, a global pandemic and forced migrations, her sculptures embody themes of gender, displacement, exile, and belonging. A major figure in the School of Paris, Orloff contributed to the canon of modern art alongside Picasso, Modigliani and Chagall.
Birnbaum has created a truly remarkable and compelling portrait of the internationally-exhibited multi-national sculptor who worked across—and fully participated in—the tumultuous decades of twentieth century Jewish, modernist and world histories from her elective home in Paris. Wide ranging-research sustains subtle insights into the formal, historical and cultural significance of Orloff’s compelling portraits of her Jewish intellectual, political and artistic contemporaries that she created alongside a modernizing, feminist exploration of women’s subjectivities and life experiences through sculptural embodiment. A truly vital monument to Chana Orloff’s extraordinarily fascinating place in our extended, and fuller understanding of the art of the twentieth century and its creative communities.
Griselda Pollock, Professor Emerita of Social and Critical Histories of Art, University of Leeds
Birnbaum weaves together pioneering research and analysis into a compelling narrative of Orloff’s life and work, a story about the courage, perseverance, and accomplishments of an artist who overcame the dislocation of multiple migrations and trauma of forced exiles, facing anti-Semitism and gender bias. This exemplary biography is a model for analyzing the complexities of an artist whose multiple migrations, identities, and the tensions between cosmopolitanism and national identity deeply informed her work.
Ruth E. Iskin, Professor Emerita in Art History, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Birnbaum’s deeply researched study rescues an extraordinary artist from obscurity. Triumphing over infinite odds, Chana Orloff, a Russian Jewish émigré, became an original and compelling artist in modern Paris during and between the world wars. This book brilliantly restores her resilient voice and amazing story.
Wanda M. Corn, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor Emerita in Art History, Stanford University