JMM Insights: Remembering Auschwitz

Posted on February 17th, 2017 by

 

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Opening March 5

The smell of fresh paint wafting from behind the closed gallery door is a tell tale sign marking the transition from one exhibit to another. In January we said goodbye to Beyond Chicken Soup, returned many of the artifacts and crated the text panels and interactives for shipment to its next venue. As soon as the gallery was empty, Mark Ward and his incredible crew were hard at work prepping for our next exhibition, Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity which is set to open on March 5.

This landmark initiative brings four separate exhibit projects together for the first time, each of which explores a facet of Holocaust history and commemoration. Together they shed light on the significance of Auschwitz – the town and the camp – and how it has endured as a symbol of the Holocaust for more than 70 years after its liberation.  With three main camps and more than 40 sub-camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest camp within the Nazi prison system and served as the site where approximately 1.1 million people were murdered included nearly 1 million Jews.

Hotel Schmeidler, 1912. Courtesy of Miroslaw Ganobis. Image from A Town Known as Auschwitz.

Hotel Schmeidler, 1912. Courtesy of Miroslaw Ganobis. Image from A Town Known as Auschwitz.

Our exhibit takes visitors through a multidimensional tour of Holocaust history beginning centuries prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland. A Town Known As Auschwitz: Life and Death of a Jewish Community from the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust reveals 400 years of the vibrant Jewish history of Oświęcim, Poland —the town the Germans called Auschwitz. Told through photographs, maps and oral history interviews, the exhibit focuses on friendships between Jewish and non-Jewish residents of the town and how the Jewish community flourished for centuries.

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Architecture of Murder

Construction of the camp known as Auschwitz I began in 1940 in an abandoned Polish military barracks on the outskirts of the town. Architecture of Murder: The Auschwitz Birkenau Blueprints developed by Yad Vashem and on loan from the American Society for Yad Vashem, explores this darker period in the town’s history through blue prints, architectural drawings and other documents. To provide further visual evidence of the camp, the exhibit also features a model of the camp created by local high school student, Andrew Altman, to honor the experiences of his great-grandfather, Edward (Yehuda) Biderman who was sent on a transport to Auschwitz in August of 1944 from the Lodz Ghetto in Poland.

Image combining the train station at Buhosovice, near Terezîn (left) and Auschwitz (right). Image from Loss and Beauty by artist Keron Psillas.

Image combining the train station at Buhosovice, near Terezîn (left) and Auschwitz (right). Image from Loss and Beauty by artist Keron Psillas.

Today, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum is visited by millions of visitors each year. Loss and Beauty: Photographs by Keron Psillas provides a contemporary perspective on the experience of visiting and documenting Auschwitz and other camps today. Psillas’s beautiful and haunting works consist of layered photographs that seek to commemorate and honor the lives of those murdered during the Holocaust. A catalog of her work that includes her poetry as well as her reflections on each photograph on display in the exhibit will be available for sale in our gift shop.

A collage made to honor and remember Gitta Nagel.

A collage made to honor and remember Gitta Nagel.

The Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project is an original art installation developed in partnership with The Human Element Project that adds the voices and stories of Maryland’s community of Holocaust survivors. The plaques on display feature the collages that were created during the many different workshops that we held this summer and fall for Holocaust survivors and their families and highlight incredible stories of survival.

We look forward to marking the opening of Remembering Auschwitz with a special pre-opening brunch and tour for Holocaust survivors and their families in the morning on Sunday, March 5. We will then open the exhibit to the public at 12:00 that day. At 2:00, we have invited artists Lori Shocket of the Human Element Project and Keron Psillas to talk about their experiences documenting the Holocaust and other tragedies through the medium of art. We hope you will join us for what will surely be a moving experience. The exhibit remains on display through May 29.

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

 

 

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The Last Drop of Chicken Soup

Posted on January 13th, 2017 by

Performance Counts: January 2017

The time has come. On Tuesday, January 17, the doors to the Feldman gallery will remain closed, even when the Museum opens at 10 AM, so that our ambitious exhibit, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America, can make way for the next occupant of the 2000 square foot space. It will also need to be made ready for its next venue, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Lest you think this is merely a matter of packing a box or two and heading to Cleveland, we thought we’d review some of the numbers of where Beyond Chicken Soup has been and what it takes to get it to the next step.

The exhibition consists of 229 artifacts, of which, 82 are on loan from other institutions or individuals. The artifacts from the JMM collection will be lovingly returned to their homes in our collections, until it is time for them to be meticulously packed for travel. Some of the materials on loan will be returned to their owners only to be re-borrowed. A conservator from the National Library of Israel will be traveling 6000 miles to oversee the removal of 8 volumes on loan from NLI. She will hand-carry her precious cargo, originally collected by Dr. Harry Friedenwald, the 6000 miles back to Israel. These volumes, while an important and impressive part of the exhibition, are too fragile to go on tour.  Instead, we have hired an expert book binder to spend approximately 70 hours creating facsimiles of each of them. The facsimile copies will be created precisely to mimic the original volumes, down to the way they sit in their cradles.

To be facsimiled!

To be facsimiled!

Beyond Chicken Soup boasts 25 cases, 122 panels and 131 captions that will all need to be crated or palletized for storage and eventually to travel the 364 miles to the Maltz Museum of Jewish History. There are 10 screens (5 TVs, 3 touchscreen monitors and 2 iPad tablets), 8 hands-on activities, and 3 audio loops from oral histories. The technology will require its own special treatment as it makes ready for its new home. There is precisely one “slice” of a real ambulance with working lights that will need to be removed from the wall and prepped for shipping. Additionally, there are 26 images or quotes that are applied directly to the wall. These will need to be re-printed for each new venue at which the exhibition appears.

Just one of the many environments to be de-installed, packed, and shipped!

Just one of the many environments to be de-installed, packed, and shipped!

We anticipate that the deinstallation will take somewhere in the vicinity of 200 to 250 man-hours to complete. That will involve everything from the meticulous, white-gloved work of removing artifacts from their mounts to the dirty and dusty job of sledgehammering the walls that were created expressly for the exhibition. It will also involve a lot of cleaning, patching and painting to make the gallery ready for our next exhibition, Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity.

Once the dust has settled and the artifacts, furniture, technology, and informational panels make their 364-mile-journey, if Beyond Chicken Soup’s run here is any indication, the Maltz Museum of Jewish History can anticipate 4,749 total visitors, including 1,401 students and teachers, and 791 adults through scheduled groups. Of course, we had the help of more than 25 public programs we hosted while the exhibition was mounted.

If you haven’t seen this one-of-a-kind exhibition, yet, don’t wait! You have only 2 more days to see it here in Baltimore (this Sunday and Monday).

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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.

Joanna:

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.

Rachel:

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.

 

Joanna:

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.

Rachel:

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.

 

Joanna:

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!

Rachel:

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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