Matisse, Diebenkorn, Church, and Kassman

Posted on January 12th, 2017 by

Enjoy our jaunty shot of the exhibit title!

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.

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!

Thank goodness for the internet - and wikiArt! Here's Chabot Valley (1955) and Corsican Landscape (1898), two of the images paired in the exhibit.

Thank goodness for the internet – and wikiArt! Here’s Chabot Valley (1955) and Corsican Landscape (1898), two of the images paired in the exhibit.



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!

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From Scrap To Screen

Posted on December 30th, 2016 by

Earlier this month you may have read about celebrations of Kirk Douglas’ 100th birthday.  Issur Danielovitch (the future Kirk Douglas) was born December 9, 1916 – though it appears that due to his mother’s misunderstanding of American custom, his birthday was always celebrated on Dec. 14th in his childhood.  When most people think of Kirk Douglas, they think of Spartacus or maybe Vincent Van Gogh… I think of scrap.

A young Kirk Douglas

A young Kirk Douglas

As I explained in last month’s JMM Insights  we are currently in the process of creating a national exhibit on the transforming business of scrap (update: one of our first transformations was the exhibit title – many people were confused by American Alchemy  – so our new, and hopefully final, title is Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling).

Now scrap yards have a significant place in popular cinema – playing “starring roles” in films as diverse as Goldfinger (the car crusher), Star Wars – The Phantom Menace (Anakin Skywalker’s first job), and Stand By Me (with “legendary” junk yard dog, Chopper).  Even animated films like Iron Giant and Wall-E feature aspects of the scrap business.

The Ragman's Son

The Ragman’s Son

However, the scrap business also has played a role in “inspiring” people to enter the world of film and television.  Kirk Douglas’ first autobiography, The Ragman’s Son (1988) describes his life growing up in Amsterdam, NY as the child of an immigrant junk peddler – his father apparently attempted to make a living with both scrap rag and scrap metal.  In Douglas’ case his dad, who he describes as more fond of booze than work, is an unsuccessful peddler.  He manages to take all the money Douglas saved from his childhood jobs and all of his bar mitzvah money and invest it in purchasing a load of scrap.  Unfortunately, the purchase is made in 1929 and the metal loses all its value in the commodities crash that follows the stock market crash.  Kirk Douglas still manages to make his way to college, winning a scholarship to St. Lawrence University.  Reading his book, I sensed little nostalgia for his father or the scrap business, except as obstacles he escaped.

 Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer (1885 - 1957), head of production at MGM, circa 1935.  (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer (1885 – 1957), head of production at MGM, circa 1935. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Douglas was by no means the first to make it from scrap to screen – that distinction may belong to Louis B. Mayer, the guiding force behind Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio.  According to Scott Eyman’s biography, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Mayer was born near the current Ukranian/Belarus border in July of 1884.  Shortly thereafter his parents moved to New York, where his father Jacob was a scrap peddler on Long Island.  By 1892 his family had moved on to Saint John, New Brunswick where Jacob and his son Louis would spend nearly a dozen years collecting and selling scrap.  Aware of the difference in social status, Louis B. Mayer made the claim that the business was always metal, never rag.  Sometimes this meant salvaging shipwrecks that were not uncommon off the coast of New Brunswick – Louis and his brothers learned to dive to scavenge for metal.  Like Douglas, Mayer had an overbearing father and a childhood filled with hunger and hardship plus more than a little anti-Semitic harrasment.  But unlike Douglas, Mayer was unable to continue his formal education past age 12.  He did manage to get out of Saint John, taking a job with a scrap dealer in Chelsea, MA in 1904.  His scrap ventures failed but he did manage to land a job as manager at a small burlesque theater in 1907.  He had the idea of turning the theater into a movie house – “the home of refined amusement devoted to…moving pictures and illustrated songs”.  From then on, his only scrap would be celluloid.

Mandy shows off his trains

Mandy shows off his trains

For my third scrap to screen story I didn’t have to read a biography.  I actually witnessed my cousin Mandy Patinkin working in our family’s scrap yard.  Our grandparents, Max Patinkin and Simon Pinckovitch (a pair of brothers-in-law) had founded People’s Iron and Metal in Chicago in the early 1900s.  Mandy and I – we’re the same age and in the same class at Hebrew School – both worked at the yard in the summers of our teen years.  My recollection is that Mandy as the “extrovert” got the job in the air-conditioned office, kibitzing with the truck drivers when they weighed in and out.  As the “introvert”, I had the job operating the hydraulic press bailing metal in the oppressive heat.  Mandy and I have lost contact over the years so perhaps he remembers it differently – but my lesson from the scrap business was it’s better to be an “extrovert.”  Of course, both of us left the business behind but not without a fair amount of nostalgia.  Follow this link to the 60 Minutes piece where Mandy shows off his model train complete with a miniature of People’s Iron.

Eric Kripke

Eric Kripke

Now you might think that our generation would be the last to make the leap from scrap to screen but the story doesn’t end with Princess Bride.  Those of you following this fall’s history-bending series Timeless may be forgiven for not noticing the name of co-writer and co-producer Eric Kripke.  It’s one of several sci-fi series Kripke has helped create.  It turns out that when you look up Kripke Enterprises, what you’ll find is Kripke’s father’s scrap aluminum business in Toledo.  A long tradition continues.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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Exploring New York’s Jewish Heritage

Posted on December 28th, 2016 by

Last week, I took a few days off work to visit several exhibits and to take a walking tour in New York City. I first visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I explored the exhibit “Jerusalem: 1000-1400 Every People Under Heaven.” The exhibit highlighted how Jerusalem was a melting pot of different cultures and religions from Ethiopian Christians and Indian Sufis to Spanish rabbis. I saw objects such as a gold Jewish wedding ring in the form of the Lost Temple of Jerusalem and a page from a 14th century Spanish Haggadah, with Hebrew words “Next year in Jerusalem.”

gold ring shaped like a fancy building

Jewish wedding ring, courtsey of the MET Museum.

I then walked over to the New York Historical Society where I toured the exhibit “The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World.” This show chronicled how Jewish settlers came to inhabit and then change the New World all while struggling to hold onto their identity. While it focused on the early Jewish population in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, it did mention Baltimore as well as Rabbi David Einhorn, who was a leader in Reform Judaism and spoke out passionately against slavery during the Civil War. There were several outstanding artifacts such as the 16th century memoir and prayer book of Luis de Carvajal the Younger who was persecuted during the Inquisition as well as a Torah scroll from Shearith Israel which was rescued from a fire set by British soldiers in 1776.

Photo of the entrance to an exhibit, with a text panel on the left and an illuminated world map on the right

First Jewish Americans exhibit, courtsey of NYHS

While I was in New York, I also went on a walking tour of the Lower East Side offered by the Tenement Museum. As our Education team is currently developing a walking tour of Jewish sites in Jonestown, I was curious to see how other Jewish museums deliver their tours. On our hour and a half tour, our guide discussed how immigrants lived in over-crowded tenements and worked long hours in sweatshops struggling to make a living. She mentioned many of the same themes we talk about at the JMM, such as the tension between assimilation and holding onto your traditions. We admired the beautifully restored Eldridge Street Synagogue and strolled up Hester Street which was once full of open air markets and push carts in the early 1900s. We also walked past the sites of Ridley’s Department Store and Loew’s Canal Street Theatre as well as PS 42, where generations of immigrants learned how to be “American.”

A female tour guide holds a black and white image of a street scene. She is standing in the same place the photo is an image of.

Then and Now on Hester Street, courtsey of Tenament Museum

I ended my day attending Shabbat services at Central Synagogue. The synagogue was built in 1872 in the Moorish Revival style and was designed by Henry Fernbach, often cited as the first Jewish architect in America. Central Synagogue lays claim to being the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the city. I was awe struck by the glorious sanctuary with its tall central nave and gilded Star of David, which brought to mind architectural elements present in both of our historic synagogues, Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel.

Color photo of the interior of the Central Synagogue building. The room is lit with golden light.

Interior of the Central Synagogue

Throughout my time in New York City, I was able to better appreciate the city’s Jewish heritage and draw connections to my own work at the JMM.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

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