“All about Norman Ebenstein and World Century Man.” That’s the title of a recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In it, curators display works that include a recreation of the Black House in London; a reconstruction of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain; and, a recreation of a small town in the United States, Mechanicsville. Curators Michael Kessel and Joshua Koschin present works by Ebenstein and others that illuminate the history of twentieth century America.
The exhibition includes Norman Ebenstein’s “The Century Man,” originally created in Publisher’s Weekly in 1947. It charts the journey of a middle class man from his birth in Vienna, where his father was a prosperous trader, to his death in a concentration camp. Ebenstein was so moved by the experience he made this series of self-portraits with an attendant, which appeared in many other publications including, Life and Creativity, and he describes the process in great detail. Here, Ebenstein relates how he was forced against his will to make the series…
His mother, Mina (Kasen), was an artist and he spent much of his time sketching her. When he was seven years old, his father died of a heart attack. Norman had to care for his grandmother, Emili, who became very ill. He took over as sole caretaker. This responsibility became all consuming as his career achieved success…
As he was growing up in New York City, Ebenstein attended the Institute of Fine Arts, where he pursued art, drawing, and drama. After graduation, he traveled to Vienna, where he joined the avant-garde group called the Group for Mutual Improvement. Here, he made friends with a variety of artists including Frank Stella, Morris Louis, Zero Mosto and Pablo Picasso. Within a few short years, Ebenstein’s style was far from mainstream. He made political speeches and other gestures that were considered far more ‘left’ than traditional radicals.
His political writings and his association with the artistic world brought him into contact with such high-profile people as Andrew Wyeth, Frank Stella, and Pablo Picasso. He was married three times and had six children. He died in 1975. After his death, his work still attracts fans the world over.
The’Century Man’ image has been created through the years by many artists, most notably Peter Jackson and Tim Burton. But, Ebenstein is perhaps best recognized as the director of the musical ‘psychedelic Overture’, which he co-directed with Bernard Parry and Richard Curtis. In this film, Ebenstein plays the lead role, playing opposite himself. The late Frank Sinatra also had a starring role.
Ebenstein enjoyed a long and distinguished career. He won four Academy Awards for his’Century Man’ appearances and later in his career he worked on such films as ‘The Deerhunter’, ‘Man Who Played Go’ and ‘A Fish called Wanda’. He also wrote numerous articles for various publications, and taught at a number of colleges in the years between his’Century Man’ and ‘The Deerhunter’ appearances.
When looking at Ebenstein’s life, it seems to be a portrait of everything that is possible in the human personality. It is a sort of’manic leaden’ portrait. When we consider Ebenstein’s life, his artistic tastes are almost universally held in high regard. He had great taste, and that often became a part of his art, even if it was not always expressed in his art. As an artist he showed a style that many people found attractive. Now that the world has become more sophisticated, his work lives on, and his name lives on as the leading authority in the realm of American art.