Posted on January 12th, 2017 by Rachel
Enjoy our jaunty shot of the exhibit title!
Last week, thanks to tickets through the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, Rachel and Joanna visited the Baltimore Museum of Art’s exhibit “Matisse/Diebenkorn,” which brings together the work of these two artists, Henri Matisse and Richard Diebenkorn, for the first time. As always when museum professionals visit other museums’ exhibits, we had Thoughts.
Alas, no photographs allowed in the exhibition.
I’m not an art historian by any means, but I did take a few classes in college – just enough knowledge to make me dangerous. For one thing, I thought I knew Diebenkorn’s work, but the first gallery showing his early abstract work confused me; thus my very first Thought was, ‘Oops, I was picturing someone else.’ Pro-tip: look at the exhibit website before visiting, instead of just thinking you know what’s going on. The BMA’s helpful list of things to know includes “[Diebenkorn] moved between abstraction and figuration,” which would been useful if I’d read it ahead of time. Thankfully for my ego, the third gallery included works that were more familiar.
I used to have a print of this painting hanging in my kitchen. I know art exhibits should not always be about familiarity and recognition, but it is still a pleasant feeling. Cityscape #1 (1963) via SFMOMA.
Having no background in art history, I tend to find the labels at art exhibitions a little too concise, containing little more than title, date, artist, and who owns the piece now. I was thrilled to find that BMA Senior Curator of European Paintings & Sculpture Katy Rothkopf, who curated the Baltimore-occurrence of this show chose to use meaty labels, often including contextual details about the techniques used, the artists’ lives during the period of the piece’s creation, and particularly helpful explanations of how one piece could have been inspired by another.
A perfect example – Joanna and I loved the label for Matisse’s Reclining nude with arm behind head (1937) which included a reference to a “stumping” and was immediately followed by an explanation of the technique and what it does for the piece!
I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of books from Diebenkorn’s own library, all focused on Matisse’s work. Not only did this help strengthen the exhibit’s argument – that Matisse was a heavy influence on Diebenkorn – but it also showed a willingness to break out of the traditional “art, and art only” style of exhibition and include supporting artifacts and documents, a willingness which I think many art museums have recently embraced.
I agree with Joanna! Including material beyond the artworks themselves really rounds out the experience for me. I would urge all art curators to go even further if possible – I love when there are multiple photos of the artist at work, images of the artist’s workspaces, even cases with their tools.
The BMA offered audio guides, which (at least when we were there) nearly every guest accepted. I am not personally a fan, though I know many people very much enjoy them, and they can be a useful tool for conveying additional information without overloading the walls with text. But one reason I don’t like them is that they discourage conversation. This type of exhibit, with labels asking visitors to actively look at each image and compare them to others in the gallery, seems particularly well-suited to dialogue… but everyone is just listening to their headsets. Rachel and I did not have headsets so we felt free to discuss (quietly, don’t worry), and I think that enhanced our experience. I did see at least one other pair of women braving the isolation of the headphones to talk about what they saw, which made me happy – especially because one of the women said to the other, as if continuing an earlier “Hmm, I’m not so into these” conversation, “Well, I would take a Diebenkorn if someone gave it to me.” Me too!
I will say that having everyone else in the gallery wearing headphones made me much more comfortable voicing all my thoughts and opinions to Joanna! I’m often worried about disturbing other visitors or making anyone feel judged (we don’t have to like the same art, after all), so on a (very) personal level the popularity of the audio tour worked out great for me. But I also know I would have enjoyed the experience much less without the ability to turn to Joanna and discuss.
If you’re hoping to see the exhibit yourself, make plans to go soon – the show closes on January 29th!
Posted on September 26th, 2016 by Rachel
As a former arts-and-crafts camp counselor, and someone who takes art classes for fun, I’m really excited about our new sketching workshops. Earlier this summer we hosted artists both inside and outside the Lloyd Street Synagogue, and in November we’ll bring people into B’nai Israel for the chance to draw the sanctuary.
Rabbi Mintz and his family at our plein air workshop in July.
Participants drawing the inside of the Lloyd Street Synagogue in August.
Last night’s program focused on our collections, so I not only had the fun of participating, I also had the pleasure of choosing a variety of artifacts to create a challenging still life. This required a lot of over-thinking on my part – after all, we have over 11,000 objects to choose from! – and not everything made the cut this time, but it came together into a nice display, with an assortment on one pedestal and a single item – a Russian samovar, which was one of the first things that came to my mind when this program was first mentioned – on another.
Claire Tesh, her daughter Lena, and facilitator Matt Adelberg discuss technique.
Doesn’t my still life look nice? I know you all wish you had the chance to draw that fantastic hat.
Thanks to our wonderful workshop facilitators, Matt Adelberg and Christen Chiori, JMM staff have had the chance to relax and participate, taking some time to really look at and enjoy our buildings and collections.
Facilitator Christen Chiosi works with three of our summer interns in the Lloyd Street Synagogue during the August workshop.
Tracie Guy-Decker took a few minutes to join the artists inside the Synagogue in August.
At yesterday’s workshop I attempted to draw my challenging still life, and it was challenging… but my samovar came out much better. Gift of Hadassah Greater Baltimore. JMM 1979.34.1
We welcome artists of all ages at these events, as the young ladies below attest. After all, our collections – from small wooden blocks to the buildings themselves – are held in the public trust, for research and study as well as preservation and exhibition. Whether you have mad skills with a pencil or just want to give it a try, we hope you take these opportunities to closely examine, with an artist’s eye, our fabulous pieces of history.
Two young artists and their work.
Next workshop: Sketching inside B’nai Israel – Sunday, November 6th at 10:30 a.m.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.
Posted on August 10th, 2016 by Rachel
Art as Resistance
One of my favorite learning activities at this year’s Summer Teachers Institute was experiencing a lesson on the Jüdischer Kulturbund. After visiting the Holocaust Museum yesterday, I had learned a little about the Jewish cultural renewal that occurred in Germany in the face of discriminatory laws, and I was left wanting to know more. In perfect serendipity, one of today’s workshops was on exactly that. When all of Germany’s Jewish artists and performers were fired from their jobs, the Jüdischer Kulturbund formed to allow Jewish artists to continue creating, albeit within tighter restraints. We went through a practice lesson, which was designed to show kids how people use art as a form of resistance, and allow them to creatively engage in this idea. We were split up into groups, and tasked to create four pieces of art, each one with an added restriction. In order, they were: You cannot use the color red, you cannot use writing utensils, you cannot use construction paper, and you cannot portray the American flag, but you must represent the spirit of it. The activity was fun, and the wrap up questions afterward were also helpful in making the lesson more meaningful.
During my second semester at college, I taught a twice-a-week class about democracy and grassroots civic projects to middle schoolers, and lesson planning was definitely one of the most difficult parts. On the one hand, you want the students to get your Big Idea and really understand it, but on the other hand, they have to find it interesting and fun. An activity like the Jüdischer Kulturbund one I expereinced today would be the perfect blend of fun and thoughtprovoking. I could definitely see this being adapted to fit my classroom next year, and am encouraged by seeing the Maryland teachers here today share these innovative lesson plans and ideas.
Day One at Beth El Congregation
The biggest lesson I took from the Summer Teachers Institute program was the difficulty of planning Holocaust education. When dealing with such difficult and distressing subject material, it’s very difficult to stay responsive. My natural tendency when confronted with information about the holocaust is to shut down; I feel that there is so much about the holocaust ingrained in the modern Jewish sub-consciousness that I already know all the raw facts. Rather than just presenting information, the goal of holocaust education should be to illuminate the warning signs of impending tyranny and oppression, and to avoid the mistakes of the past, rather than the revel in the suffering of the past.
Holocaust survivor Goldie Szachter Kalib
During the Summer Teachers Institute, I was able to hear Holocaust survivor Goldie Szachter Kalib’s testimony about her experiences in Poland and Auschwitz as a young girl. Her powerful account demonstrated the lengths to which she and the adults around her went to keep her safe in the face of relentless Nazi cruelty. She so effectively conjured up the image of her as a Jewish child separated from her family in Nazi-occupied Poland; I will never forget her story. Hearing Mrs. Kalib speak emphasized to me that the victims and survivors of the Holocaust are all people with meaningful life stories, not just figures in photos or statistics in books.
Deborah Batiste presenting on “Echoes & Reflections”
The most mesmerizing part of STI was the combination of stories from the past and how they are being understood today. When we worked together in groups it helped me to understand what it means to be part of a community that does whatever they can to stand in solidarity. It emphasized what it truly means to be a person associated with a history people who have overcome tragedy through finding joy wherever they could. This circles back to the importance of supporting your community so that strength is built up in all the members of that community.
The Real Monuments Men
For the summer Teachers Institute program I was able to attend two days of the program, the Beth El hosted day and the JMM hosted Wednesday event. I was captivated by the events as they focused on the arts both during and after the Holocaust. I was particularly interested in the sections centering around the cinematography of the Holocaust as it happened and the fiction and non-fiction films/documentaries that emerged years after. I am interested in video and film myself so it was really interesting to learn about the effects of this cinema in the Jewish community.
For instance, I learned a majority of concentration camp footage was from Nazi propaganda, additionally allies used video footage of the camps for propaganda as well. I was also surprised to learn that the making of Holocaust themed movies has been a fairly recent endeavor. Movies I always assumed had some degree of accuracy were also debunked as well others I thought less of such as Uprising had hidden detail I wouldn’t have known about. I was also really interested to learn of one speaker’s story detailing the exploits of her father. He was one of the monetary men serving in WW2 to track hidden Nazi money and stolen art works. Her story about how she uncovered the classified documents in storage and rooted through them until she discovered the character playing George Clooney in the film Monuments Men was in fact her father. Overall it was a very interesting experience that I learned a lot from.
-O. Cade Simon
JMM Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon welcomes participants at the opening of our 2016 Summer Teachers Institute.
This week the JMM hosted the 2016 Summer Teachers’ Institute about Holocaust education. The theme this year was Holocaust Remembrance through the Arts. I attended both the first session at Beth El Synagogue and the third session at the JMM, unfortunately missing the visit to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. It was, above all else, a singularly moving experience to see so many teachers brought together for the purpose of learning how to better pass on the history and the story of the Holocaust in ways that students can understand and deal with meaningfully. It was also heartbreaking to hear and see so many stories of loss and grief, and knowing that even for those who survived they could never forget. Even though I don’t plan to go into education, I’ve already made plans to follow up on some of the material I learned about in these sessions and I’ll remember this week for the rest of my life.
“Skokie” and “The Wave”
During the summer teacher’s institute there was a lot of information to process. I found the section about Holocaust films especially interesting. I went to a living historian workshop during the spring and they also talked about the value of using film and T.V. to start a dialogue about history. It got me wondering about other films that could be used to tell the story of the Holocaust that might not be Holocaust films, such as “Skokie” which is good at continuing the story and showing that Nazi ideology did not die with the end of WW II, or “The Wave” which looks at a high school history experiment gone wrong to try and show students how the Nazis were able to rise to power. I feel these films would help to contextualize the Holocaust and show how its effects continued past the fact.
Spoken Work Haikus
Participants in “Music and Art: Exploring Responses to Oppression”
I’m not a teacher, and likely won’t become one, but that didn’t matter. The Summer Teachers Institute, especially the third day at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, was a very enjoyable experience. My favorite part was with Gail Prensky and Sarah Baumgarten during their presentation “Music and Art: Exploring Responses to Oppression.” When I first heard about its interactive nature, I admittedly felt apprehensive. I was tired and wanted another presentation like the first, where I could sit back and enjoy. The thing is, the moment we split up into groups to begin projects, I didn’t feel tired anymore. The presenter split us into groups of five and gave us the choice of either a visual art or musical project with specific restrictions. My group contained two other interns and two younger teachers, and we decided to do the musical challenge of writing a love song without the word love. We bounced around all kinds of ideas, the interns easily joking around with the teachers. Eventually, we settled on writing haikus about the love for humanity. Because this took us so long to decide on, as we were busy jotting down synonyms to love and deciding whether we wanted this to focus on a gentlemen longing for a maiden, or a maiden longing for a gentlemen (I was outnumbered), or whether it should follow the “traditional” haiku format with allusions to nature, we were still scribbling down stanzas while watching all the other groups present (everyone was amazing). Finally, I stood up to recite the spoken word poems, with the guys standing behind me and snapping for the musical element. One of the interns encouraged everyone to snap, and soon the whole room was snapping and grinning. I won’t remember the exact words of the other presenters, no matter how engaging. This experience, however, is something I doubt I’ll forget for a long time.
Josh Headley on incorporating graphic novels into Holocaust education.
The Summer Teacher’s Institute took place on August 1st-3rd, the final day hosted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland and was most interesting for me. As an aspiring social studies teacher, the programming and speakers at STI discussed a plethora of topics that I am interested in. My favorite speaker was Josh Headley, the head of the social studies department at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.
Josh did an excellent job explaining how he has incorporated graphic novels into holocaust education. He went on to explain that by sparking his students’ interest in certain topics, he managed to inspire them to research other subjects that mattered to them. This very simple notion is often overlooked by the public school system and leads to disengaged students. Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned international educator, has said “If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners.” Josh is exemplifying this concept by giving his students the tools that are necessary to further their education on their own.
The speakers and programs at STI were all beneficial to me and I look forward to using the abilities I gained as a teacher in the near future.