Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Jewish Museum: 92nd St and Fifth Ave

The Jewish Museum is not a religious place.  It is a place where art (paintings, furnishings, documents, object de arte) has some Jewish connection.  It could be that a piece was created by a Jewish artist or writer (like the Ezra Keats exhibit to come in September), was collected by Jewish people (like the Cone sisters described below), or relates to Judaism historically or currently or in some other way.

They currently have an amazing exhibit of about 50 works of art (on loan from the Baltimore Museum of Art) by the Masters.  The collection was gathered by two remarkable German-Jewish-American sisters.  The Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta came from a well-to-do family in textiles and after the first World War (when the family made a fortune uniforming American soldiers), they traveled to Paris and began to collect art.  Over three decades, they amassed one of the world's greatest collections, including Picasso's (see below right, Woman with Bangs), Renoir's, van Gogh's, Cezanne's, Gauguin's ((see below center, Woman of the Mango) which was a portrait that Gauguin painted of his wife and was owned by Degas before being purchased by the Cones), and over 500 Matisse's (see below left, Seated Odalisque, Left Knee Bent, Ornamental Background and Checkerboard)!

Also currently on exhibit is an amazing exhibit of Maira Kalman, artist, author, textile designer, entrepreneur, etcetera.  She may be best known for her collaboration with Rick Meyerowitz that made the cover of the New Yorker of a map called "New Yorkistan." Or perhaps you know her for her work designing fabric for Isaac Mizrahi or Kate Spade?  Or perhaps you recognize her name from her children's books or her illustrations for Stunk and White's Elements of Style?  She also was the "M" in M & Co., a company she ran with her now-deceased husband for which they designed kitschy home goods like clocks. If you like accessible, modern art, you should like this exhibit.

The museum also has a couple of floors dedicated to Jewish history.  They have quite an impressive collection, which includes coins from the time Jesus was alive; spectacular "engagement jewelry" (a tradition in Baghdad in the early 1900s was for the groom to send sweets and jewelry to his prospective bride--see brooches and ring at left); archeological architectural remnants, extravagant altar pieces, and highly decorated Jewish marriage contract documents (the oldest on display is from the early 1300s!).

I will admit that one of the most moving pieces was a video of a Holocaust Remembrance Day which plays in a loop.  Sirens blare for two minutes in Israel and everything and everyone comes to a complete halt.  I don't know what came over me, but before I knew it, I was surprised by tears in my eyes and a tightness in my chest.  Whatever your opinions or political beliefs may be, this video and the surrounding displays of yellow star badges, anti-Semitic novelty items, and drawings by artists killed during the Holocaust cannot help but raise understanding and feeling.

I was really wowed by this museum, and if you have the time to visit, I think you will be too.  Check out hours, admission, current exhibits, and events at The Jewish Museum.

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