Veronika Blumstein - Moving Exiles
[ Veronika Blumstein ]Biography
The only child of the Jewish couple Stanisław and Jadwiga Blumstein, Veronika Blumstein is born on 14 October 1940 in the state hospital Collegium Medicum in Kraków.
From 1950 to 1957 she is a gymnast in the Polish Olympic team, but because of severe knee problems she must quit.
In 1959 she starts her studies of philology and art history at Kraków’s Jagiellonian University. The focus of her research is on orthodox icon “writing”. Jerzy Nowosielski, a renowned creator of contemporary icons, becomes one of her best friends.
In 1964 she begins a thesis on the relations between icon writing and Russian avant-garde painting. She never finishes her thesis, because the university rejects her proposal for political reasons.
During her university years she becomes increasingly estranged from her Jewish parents, who have assumed leading positions in the communist party. She even joins an anti-communist movement.
Following a new wave of anti-semitism in 1968, she and her parents go into exile in New York.
Unable to cope with life in exile, her father takes to gambling and squanders the family fortune in illegal casinos. Out of shame, her mother commits suicide in January 1969. Subsequently father and daughter go separate ways. (It is said that Stanisław Blumstein suddenly disappeared in autumn 1969.)
The year 1969 also marks a turning point in Veronika Blumstein’s career. She meets several New York artists, among them the painter Robert Rauschenberg and the choreographers Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton. She re-enters the art world in order to come to terms with the loss of her mother and her home, as well as with her father’s absence. She presents improvisation work at Judson Church. She starts collaborating with Rauschenberg, who commissions her to do the choreography for a re-staging of his “Pelican”, a 1963 performance with dancers on roller skates.
In 1970 she meets the celebrated painter Ike Johnson (called “IKO”), best known for his series of “Neon Icons” (1965–1980). They get married in 1978. On 10 September 1980, IKO is killed in his studio by a single shot. (One of his Neon Icons, “The Glass Tube”, got severely damaged by the fatal bullet and thus became the most famous work of the series. It is currently on view in Tokyo’s Nikon Art Foundation Museum and just recently reappeared in a Nikon commercial made by Chris Cunningham.)
Veronika is accused of the murder, but is eventually found not guilty by all twelve members of the jury. The case is closed on 22 February 1981. Shortly after the trial, “The Glass Tube” is sold in an auction at Sotheby’s New York for two and a half million dollars. As IKO’s only surviving dependant, Veronika inherits the money. (Incidentally, the real murderer of IKO was never identified. The case became an American myth, inspiring authors like Thomas Harris, Paul Auster, and Pauline and Hector Mann.)
In March 1981 Veronika returns to Poland to join the Solidarność movement in Warsaw and to support it with her inheritance. She falls in love with Adam Michnik, the “icon” of the movement’s intellectual wing. A few days before the imposition of martial law in Poland she travels back to New York to raise more funds for Solidarność.
She remains in New York until 2005, when she returns to her native country to participate in the project “Move the Mount” in Jagniątków, an interdisciplinary meeting of artists from Poland and Germany.