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‘Tales, Myths, and Nightmares’ symbolizes struggle and strengths of Jewish people

Paintings by artist and historian Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern on view at Spertus Institute Dec. 9 to 18

Spertus Tales image
Pictured is Petrovsky-Shtern’s painting Exodus, 2012.

In Tales, Myths, and Nightmares, artist and historian Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern introduces a cast of characters he says are “irreducible,” like the spare style and primary colors he uses to set his scenes. His paintings personify fragile survivors who represent the struggle and strength of the Jewish experience, and, more broadly, the vulnerability of humanity.

Thirty-three paintings by Petrovsky-Shtern will be on display for nine days, Dec. 9 to 18, at Chicago’s Spertus Institute.

Petrovsky-Shtern will lecture about his work at an opening program at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9. Tickets to this program are $18 ($8 for students) and include a reception with the artist. There will also be opportunities to meet the artist on Tuesday, Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Thursday, Dec. 13 from 2 to 6 p.m.; and Friday, Dec. 14 from 10 a.m. to noon, when he’ll be in residence at Spertus and available in the gallery to answer questions and discuss his work. Admission to the exhibit, including these opportunities to meet the artist, is free.

Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern was born in Kiev, then USSR, to an assimilated Jewish family. He has never been formally educated as an artist but spent a year studying under Ukrainian satirist David Miretsky. Following Miretsky’s arrest and then immigration to New York, Petrovsky-Shtern turned for inspiration to Russian icons, Ukrainian naïve art, Japanese xylography, and Flemish genre paintings. Unlike some art—such as paintings by Marc Chagall—these types of work were on display at Soviet museums or available in reproduction.

In 1996, Petrovsky-Shtern came to the U.S. to study Jewish history at Brandeis University. In 2003, he joined the History Department faculty at Northwestern University, where he currently serves as the Crown Family Professor of Jewish Studies.

For more information, visit

Spertus Institute is a partner in serving our community, supported by the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Exhibits at Spertus Institute are supported in part by a CityArts 4 grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. 

Betsy Gomberg is director of Marketing & Communications for the Spertus Institute.

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