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Stéphane Mandelbaum

Ranging from large-scale portraits to small sketches, Stéphane Mandelbaum’s drawings of historic figures, friends, and anonymous characters who populated Brussels’s subcultures are consummate in technique and deeply disturbing in subject matter. A native of Brussels, Mandelbaum made art for ten years, but in that time he created hundreds of drawings. Mandelbaum sought to capture the essence of his subject’s characters with a ballpoint pen, graphite, and color pencil, often adding collaged magazine clippings, scribbles, lists, and text in French, Yiddish, Italian, and German.

A precocious and skillful draftsman, Stéphane Mandelbaum used his artistry to probe the depths of his own persona by conjuring some of the darkest visages of the twentieth century in Europe. His drawings are inhabited by figures from his nightmares like the German Nazis Joseph Goebbels and Ernst Röhm, as well as those from his fantasies like Arthur Rimbaud and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Raised in a Jewish household impacted by the Holocaust, Mandelbaum’s subjects are often Jewish figures, and his pages are filled with words in Yiddish, a language that the artist had taught to himself. The presence of the Hebrew alphabet juxtaposed with images of Nazis and underworld characters give his drawings a patina of menace and even violence, which was tragically borne out by the artist’s assassination by a criminal syndicate in 1986 at age twenty-five. Mandelbaum’s sensational end is a coda to an artistic life lived on the edges of society.

A grandson of survivors, Mandelbaum made a conscious choice to grapple with the weight of the Shoah by aggressively appropriating images of Nazis, boldly drawing them over life-size and placing them in juxtaposition with snippets of pornography, derisive caricatures, doodles, and random lists. The representation of images that most people would prefer to avoid was an act of identity-building for a young, rebellious artist hoping to shock. But it was also an act of ownership of a history that Mandelbaum refused to allow to be buried.

Stéphane Mandelbaum is organized by Laura Hoptman, The Drawing Center’s Executive Director, in collaboration with Susanne Pfeffer, Director of the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt where the exhibition debuted in 2022.


Related Programs

Stéphane Mandelbaum, Rainer (Portrait of Rainer Werner Fassbinder), c. 1984. Graphite, charcoal and colored pencil on paper, 58.27 x 42.72 inches (148 x 108.5 cm). Private Collection

DibujoAhora! DrawNow! In-person with Ada Pilar Cruz on Stéphane Mandelbaum

In Conversation: Benjamin Buchloh, Cathy Caruth, and Laura Hoptman

Past Programs