MUSEUMS
Fri, 02/13/2009
Staff Writer
“Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges” When the Nazi party took power in 1933, Jewish scholars made up a sizable minority of the German professoriat. You’ve heard of Albert Einstein, but many lesser-known intellectuals had a more difficult time securing posts outside of Germany once Hitler took over. With the help of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, hundreds of heavily accented German Jews acquired visas to teach in the United States, and 50 of them ended up in traditionally black colleges and universities — Tougalloo, Howard, the Hampton Institute, among others. The Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust tells this story and the profound impact it had on the lives of those who lived it. “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges” grew from Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb’s important book “From Swastika to Jim Crow” (1993), and a PBS documentary that followed. The exhibition now tells this tale through artifacts: the $28 fine paid by Professor Lore Rasmussen, who taught at Talladega College, shows the daring he took for having lunch with a black colleague at a blacks-only café. Bronze owls, a gift Professor Ernst Borinski gave to his student, Joyce Ladner, for completing her Ph.D. show the impact he had on her learning. (Ladner also went on to be the first female president of Howard University.) And then there are the paintings by Professor Viktor Lowenfeld and his student John Biggers, now one of America’s most renown black artists. All tell of the mutual respect and admiration these scholars and students shared. Long before Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel became a confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this exhibit highlights the quiet progress made in slavery’s darkest corner, the Jim Crow South. Borinski, we learn, told his black students to arrive to certain lectures early where there would be whites, and to sit among them. Professor George Iggers, who taught at Philander Smith College, became the first white (and Jewish) member of Phi Beta Sigma, a black fraternity. If it’s true that the post-civil rights era challenged black and Jewish relations, this exhibit shows the modest example of interracial empathy that once existed. Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, 36 Battery Place. (646) 437-4333. Opens May 1.  “The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Currents of the River” Nándor Andrásovits was a Hungarian sea captain with a camera.  In 1939, he ferried a ship of Jews heading from Slovakia to the Black Sea (on their way to Palestine) along the Danube River, and filmed the whole thing. Then, a year later, he captained a ship of Slovakian Jews, escaping Russian annexation on their way to Germany, where they thought they would be safer. Again, Andrásovits filmed the whole thing. Several years ago, the multimedia artist Péter Forgács, also a Hungarian, teamed up with art students at the University of Southern California to make a film out of this lost footage. “The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Currents of the River” is the result, and it’ll be on exhibit at The Jewish Museum in March. Forgács and the students, a group called The Labyrinth Project, add a couple more narratives to the captain’s two grainy 8-mm films: the story of the captain himself, and of the Danube River, which viewers learn about through pressing the screen. Yes, it’s interactive, like something you’d see at a nifty science museum.  There are the sounds of rivers, the harbor, ships engines and voice-over prayers by the refugees. The minimalist composer Tibor Szemzö also contributed to the film. But what elevates it to art is the improvisational, poetic reassembling of the facts.  Most intriguing is the murky facts of Captain Andrásovits’ life.  Born in Budapest to a Polish mother, he became a Hungarian nationalist while getting his Ph.D. in political science. He then enrolled in the naval academy, and would film meetings of Central European prime ministers meeting with members of the Third Reich. But little else is known of his personal life, and certainly not why he took the mission to export Slovakia’s Jews back to Germany, in 1940. We can only suspect if his military duties clashed with his moral ones. “The Danube River” begs us to ask.  The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. (212) 423-3200. Opens March 15 and closes Aug. 2. “Joseph, the Bull and the Rose: Anette Pier, Mexico” Frida Kahlo. You can’t talk about Jews, Mexico and art without mentioning her. Sure, Kahlo was just one-part Jewish, on her father’s side. But even she had little fascination in this heritage.  “My Grandparents, My Parents, and I” is one of very few Kahlo paintings that referenced her Jewish past (subject of an excellent show at The Jewish Museum in 2003). So it’s a pleasure to have another fine Mexican-Jewish artist, Anette Pier, who has been referencing her Judaism for quite some time. Still alive if little known, Pier uses the Bible as a reservoir of material to enrich the narratives of other times, places and people.  At the Yeshiva University Museum’s exhibit, Pier will showcase a painting that draws connections between Joseph and the bull in Mexican culture. “Joseph, the Bull and the Rose,” an ochre-and-rust-hued work, has a bull at its center surrounded by a dozen faceless onlookers. Like Joseph, the bull becomes a metaphor for the magnetic attraction, the charisma, of Joseph; the bull’s encirclement parallels the seductive power dance between the matador and the animal, Joseph and his brothers. Pier has done this kind of thing before, using the Twelve Tribes, for instance, as a biblically inspired metaphor of Native American tribes. But this new work makes deeper links. We see the bull, like Joseph, being as much envied by his brothers, as in need of their attention for validation and strength. Yeshiva University Museum, located in the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St. (212) 868-4444. Opens Feb. 26. THE LIST “Seven Generations: Photos and Video by Avishai Mekonen” A lot has changed for Ethiopian Jews since they began immigrating to Israel en masse. The story of the troubled 1980s missions, Operation Moses and Joshua, which transported hundreds of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, are just part of the story.  This new photography exhibit, opening at the JCC in Manhattan, promises to fill in much more. Avishai Mekonen, an Ethiopian Jewish Israeli himself, has documented both old and young generations with a keen eye from contemporary aesthetics. His photographs feature daring, confrontational close-ups, giving the feel of music videos in their defiant postures. Mekonen’s work reminds us of this community’s rich history and the present generation’s desire to transform it. JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. (646) 505-5708. Opens Feb. 12 and closes April 30. “Publishing in Exile: German-Language Literature in the U.S. in the 1940s” When Germany’s literary Jews were exiled with the rise of the Nazi party, many arrived in the U.S. having little knowledge of English. But they still had plenty of ideas left in them, and a cottage industry of German-language publishers — from New York to L.A. — sprang up to support them. This new exhibit at the Leo Baeck Institute, curated NYU professor Paul North, documents these efforts with books, photographs and rarely seen archival material. Leo Baeck Institute, inside the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St. (212) 868-4444. Opens April 20 and closes June 28. “Final Mourner’s Kaddish: Paintings by Max Miller”  In vivid hues and bold, impressionist strokes, the painter Max Miller has created a new series of paintings inspired by his mourning process. Miller, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate whose works have been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, traveled to dozens of synagogues saying Kaddish for his father, who died a few years ago. These paintings, reminiscent of Matisse and Kirchner in their bold brushwork, geometric patterns, and rich tones, imbue the mourning process with its oft-neglected inspirational power. Yeshiva University Museum, inside the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St. (212) 868-4444. Opens Feb. 26. “Mary Koszmary (Nightmares): A Film by Yael Bartana” Yael Bartana, whose current exhibit at P.S. 1 closes on May 4, showcases a recent film at The Jewish Museum this spring. Titled “Mary Koszmary (Nightmares),” the work borrows the structure of a World War II propaganda film — think Leni Riefenstahl — to complicate the picture of Polish Jewish history and the efforts by today’s Poles to confront it. The story of residual anti-Semitism in Poland is well known, but Bartana adds the less exposed story of a revival of Jewish life. Of particular note is Bartana’s scene featuring Slawomir Sierakowski, a left-wing Polish critic, who climbs a podium in a near-empty stadium calling for the return of Poland’s Jews. “Let the three million Jews that Poland has missed … chase away the demons,” he states. “Return to Poland, to your country!” The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. (212) 423-3200. Opens Feb. 19 and closes June 28. “Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker” One of Europe’s preeminent art dealers in Amsterdam before the war, Jacques Goudstikker lost nearly all his art trying to flee. He died escaping the Nazis and left behind 1,400 works by many Old Dutch Masters — Steen, Ruysdael, Goyen — and Italian Renaissance painters. Only recently have his descendents reclaimed parts of Goudstikker’s envied collection, nearly all of the works scattered around the world since the Nazis looted them.  The Jewish Museum brings together dozens of these paintings, in addition to inventory books and archival photos documenting Goudstikker’s painstaking efforts to build his renowned collection. The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. (212) 423-3200. Opens March 15 and closes Aug. 2. “New at the Morgan: Acquisitions Since 2004” The Morgan Library and Museum has quietly been growing its 20th century art collection in recent years, adding to J.P. Morgan’s entrusted collection of Rembrandt’s, da Vinci’s, and Beethoven, Wagner, and Mozart manuscripts. Some of the museum’s most recent acquisitions, since 2004, include paintings by seminal post-war Jewish-American artists, including Bruce Nauman and Helen Frankenthaler. On April 17, these and other newly acquired works — photographs by Irving Penn and Diane Arbus among them — go on display. Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Ave. (212) 685-0008. Opens April 17 and closes Oct. 18.