Karen Gunderson

JOHN MENDELSOHN: The Jewish Week: Jewish Experience, Times Three: HUC Exhibitions Move From The Ancient Past to Cyberspace: May 19, 2000

….The second exhibition focuses on two notable instances of moral courage during the Holocaust.  Artist Karen Gunderson has created poetic images that evoke the saving of thousands of Jews in both Denmark and Bulgaria.  In these rescues, a crucial role was played by the monarchs of these two countries, King Christian X and King Boris III, respectively.  They are celebrated by imposing, iconic portraits painted all in black.  Shifting textural brush strokes delineate the figures with a kind of metallic sheen.

Darkness and light continue to create the drama in Gunderson’s series of monumental charcoal drawings, the largest of which measures 11 feet in length.  “Night Passage to Sweden” depicts a small boat of Jewish refugees escaping with the help of their fellow Danes.  The roiling sea conveys a sense of the anxiety and danger of that journey.  Gunderson recreates a similar scene in a three-dimensional work, which places the viewer within the boat itself.  Gunderson, who grew up in a Danish community in Racine, Wisc., learned of the role of righteous gentiles, from her uncle, a Lutheran minister of Danish descent.

The long narrow drawing, “Eleven of Many,” is a gallery of Bulgarians, including the king and queen, who are remembered for their contribution in saving 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from the Nazis.  With her images, Gunderson sheds a bright light on this little known episode, which is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the rescue effort was made despite the fact that Bulgaria was an Axis power.  The crux of this political and moral paradox is caught in the dramatic drawing, “King Boris’s Decision.”

Gunderson’s exhibition concludes with a number of prints and smaller drawings, perhaps the most notable of which is “The Enemy is Gone.”  In it the theme of darkness and light is reprised, with a candle, seen through a breeze-blown curtain, lighting up a window at night.