Monday Media: Gail Levin on Lee Krasner

As spring turns to summer, we bring you a final podcast from last fall’s Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. In this talk, Professor Gail Levin discusses her fascinating book Lee Krasner: A Biography.

This first-ever biography of Lee Krasner brings her out of the shadow of her formidable husband, the renowned painter Jackson Pollack. Levin reveals that Krasner was an independent woman of uncompromising genius, as well as a significant artist in her own right. Levin, an art historian and personal friend of Krasner, examines the evolution of a woman whose life was as dramatic and intriguing as her art.

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Funny, You Do Look Jewish – Saturday, In Memory of Ann Loeb Bronfman

Living in Washington since 1985, Ann Loeb Bronfman (z”l) was a champion of the arts and a philanthropist to many causes until she passed away in April 2011.  Her philanthropy at the Washington DCJCC including the establishment of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery during the renovation of the Washington DCJCC’s historic home at 16th and Q Streets. To honor her memory and continue her legacy of providing culture and arts to the community, the Washington DCJCC has established an annual lecture  focusing on women working in the visual arts —spanning both the Jewish community and secular art world.

This year’s esteemed guest lecturer is Robin Cembalest, executive editor of ARTnews Magazine and the galleries columnist at Tablet. She will be discussing historical and contemporary Jewish artists and what makes their art Jewish: Funny, You Do Look Jewish. She will also be discussing her career as a Jewish art journalist, covering both Jewish and non-Jewish art. Her lecture will be followed by a reception.

Robin Cembalest is a native of Long Island and a graduate of Yale. She has written extensively on art and culture for The Forward (where she was arts editor), The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Observer, and many other publications. A veteran editor and writer on Jewish art and culture, she has covered subjects ranging from ancient mosaics in Israel to Barbie’s Jewish roots.

We are looking forward to lively exchanges, including when we try to figure out, exactly what is Jewish art?

We Remember Ann Loeb Bronfman z”l

by Mark Spira, Chief Development Officer, Washington DCJCC

Ann Loeb Bronfman z”l
September 19, 1932 – April 5, 2011

The Washington DCJCC is an exhibit of Ann Loeb Bronfman’s generosity and commitment to philanthropic work.

Early last week, the Washington DCJCC and the Washington community lost a great person who made the life of so many around her better in so many ways. She did so quietly and with little fanfare so we thought to mark the occasion it would be special to share her story of involvement and support of the JCC with you.

In Spring 1995, prior to the beginning of construction to restore and completely renovate the Washington DCJCC building at 16th and Q Streets NW, Ann Loeb Bronfman made a $500,000 gift to the “Campaign to Rebuild the Center in Our Nation’s Capital.” This lead gift was recognized by naming the Art Gallery to be located in the main lobby of the JCC building, the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery.

With the help of Ms. Bronfman’s support and generosity, the Campaign met its goal of raising $13.5 million, and the completely renovated building opened to great fanfare in January 1997.  Included in the opening programs was the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, the thematically appropriate, Urban Diaspora: Reclaiming Space. Featuring photographs from across the country, the exhibit told stories—including the DCJCC’s—of reclaiming Jewish spaces, adapting them, reinterpreting their use and renewing their connection to the Jewish community.

Ms. Bronfman played many roles at the JCC, from campaign donor, to Opening Committee member, to Board member, to Ambassadors Council member and through it all she has remained a steadfast supporter of the Agency and the Gallery.

In the Center’s early years, Ms. Bronfman’s dedicated annual support helped build the infrastructure of the Gallery and set a regular schedule that included 1-2 major exhibits each year. In 2000, Ms. Bronfman created a $250,000 endowment to permanently fund the curation of original exhibitions in the Gallery and that fund has provided sustained support for the Gallery ever since. In 2001 when the JCC launched a campaign to cover the increased costs of operations for the first 3 years of occupancy,   Ms. Bronfman again stepped forward as a lead supporter and generously gave $50,000 to the campaign.

For the past 8 years Ms. Bronfman has given one of the largest annual gifts from an individual to support the entire Agency, and specifically the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, which thanks to her generous and ongoing support has grown into a thriving program which presents 2-3 professionally-curated exhibits each year and a host of auxiliary programs highlighting artists both featured in the exhibits and the area’s arts community.  The Gallery is also a willing partner with the other components of the JCC’s Morris Cafritz Center for the Arts—recently anchoring a examination of Andy Warhol’s art as it intersects with American Jewry, the art and writings of Jules Feiffer and currently exploring the intersection between art and science in an exhibit in partnership with an upcoming production at Theater J.  In addition, the Gallery presents small-scale exhibitions in other spaces around the JCC including the Ina and Jack Kay Community Hall and Harold and Barbara Berman Café spaces and has been working with the Arts specialist in the preschool on major projects that have combined the Gallery exhibits with long-term projects for each of our 7 preschool classes.  Ultimately Ms. Bronfman’s dedicated support has allowed the original intent of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery—to be a public space accessible to all free of charge—to remain a reality by helping the Center to continue to fully subsidize the exhibits and staffing for the program.

In addition to her support of the Gallery and Agency through a major annual gift, Ms. Bronfman has supported special projects from time to time including a gift in 2008 to support Theater J’s world premiere of its first commissioned musical, David in Shadow and Light and a gift to the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival in 2006.

What started as a dream, a concept on paper, flourished into an institution in the 16 years of Ms. Bronfman’s involvement with the DCJCC. With her unwavering support, the JCC serves over 500,000 people each year, and—with the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery as a focal point and a total Arts budget approaching $2 million a year—the Center has become a national leader in presenting Jewish Arts.  Her generosity and gentle kind spirit will be greatly missed at the Washington DCJCC.  The Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery will serve a tangible reminder of the art and beauty that Ann brought into this world.

An Introduction to “Yew Tree Project”

Introductory Remarks presented by Laura Katzman for Carolyn Bernstein’s Artist Talk on Yew Tree Project

I am delighted to introduce our Visiting Artist, Carolyn Bernstein, whom I’ve known since 2002, when we shared an office here at the Washington DCJCC. She was a Program Director for art classes and I was a Guest Curator for the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, organizing an exhibition on the graphic work of Ben Shahn.

Even though Carolyn and I overlapped for only a short time, I was able to see that she was a special, deep-thinking individual with a sharp mind and keen vision—an artist who would bring an intensity of focus and an analytical precision to whatever she undertook.

I was therefore not surprised to learn that she had created such a profound, thought-provoking, and enduring body of work with Yew Tree Project. Nor was I surprised that she went on to pursue art (and win awards) at the Corcoran School of Art and Design and to complete an MFA in 2008 at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago.

Yew Tree Project (initiated in 2006) quickly garnered accolades with two solo exhibitions at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago and at the Museum at Aurora University in Aurora, Illinois.

The series addresses the cancer drug derived from the poisonous yew tree. It deals with what the artist calls “the contemporary visual culture of medical imaging technologies.”

The work documents the labyrinthian journey that diseased individuals (and their bodies) face when encountering the intersection of the corporate, pharmaceutical, medical, and existential worlds that are involved in the battling of cancer.

In the context of this universe, Yew Tree Project  is a brilliant and subtle investigation of relationships between:

–the human body and the natural world
–the individual and the collective
–the worlds of art and science

One of the most fascinating aspects of Carolyn’s work—for me—is the way it draws parallels between how artists and scientists visualize the body in an attempt to understand and make sense of the inevitable processes of aging and deterioration. But at the same time, the work reveals how both art and science record the beauty of the mortal human body—in all its complexities, intricacies, and mysteries.

Carolyn brings her impressive technical skills to Yew Tree Project, sandblasting on glass, and drawing and painting on a range of papers both opaque and transparent. Her images are multivalent and meticulously detailed. They require close looking and intense engagement in order to decode their dense layers of meaning. I encourage you all to give this rich body of work the visual and mental time that it deserves.

Professor Laura Katzman is Associate Professor of Art History at James Madison University. Dr. Katzman was Associate Professor of Art and Director of the Museum Studies Program at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (1995-2007). She has been a Senior Lecturer in Museum Studies at Smith College and a Guest Professor in the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Hamburg in Germany. As a Visiting Curator at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and the Maier Museum of Art, she has organized numerous exhibitions of American photography that have toured the United States.

DCJCC Preschool Provides a Reggio Response to Miriam Mörsel Nathan’s Exhibit

My name is Mandy Sheffer and I am the atelierista at the Washington DCJCC Preschool. Atelierista is an Italian word that translates to studio specialist in English. In simpler terms, I am the school’s art teacher. We are a Reggio-inspired preschool, meaning we follow the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy. Every week each of the seven classes in our school has a one-hour studio session with me in our art studio. This time is a chance for the children to talk, explore, learn and create artworks and projects that are meaningful to them, while at the same time learning new art techniques and becoming familiar with different art styles and artists.

Being a preschool within a community center, we are very fortunate to have access to some amazing resources, including the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. As part of our most recent studios, each class visited the gallery and explored Miriam Mörsel Nathan’s exhibit ‘Memory of a time I did not know…’. The exhibition is described as follows:

“Working from pre-World War II photographs, Mörsel Nathan searches for details of family members, most of whom she has known only through photographs and stories. In working with these images, she creates hauntingly beautiful and provocative works.

By piecing together fragments of information collected from family documents, notes on photographs and oral histories, Mörsel Nathan’s work reveals an elusive story of personal history and ascribed memory, acknowledging what she does not know about the people in these images.”

This is how I explained the exhibit to our preschoolers:

“Miriam, the artist who created the pictures in the gallery, has a family just like you and me. Some of her family she has never met before. They lived far away, long ago and the only way she knew about them was from a box full of old photos. The photos were so old that they were black and white; there was no color at all. She loved to look at the photos and because she didn’t know anything about the people in the pictures, she loved to make up stories about them.

Some of her favorite photos were of her Aunty Greta. Aunty Greta wore lots of different clothes in the pictures, but because the photos were black and white, Miriam didn’t know what color they were. She liked to try and imagine what color Aunty Greta’s dress might have been, or the color of the jumpsuit she was wearing. She decided to paint some pictures of the dress and jumpsuit to help her imagine their color.

She also loved to look at pictures of her Uncle Josef at his wedding, surrounded by his family and friends. Because she didn’t get to go to the wedding she didn’t know the whole story, she didn’t know what happened at ‘the party’. So she decided to imagine and try and guess what happened. She also created artworks using the pictures of his wedding to try to help tell the story.”

The children really connected with the exhibit. There was a lot of continued conversation about the artworks, Aunty Greta and Uncle Josef began to pop up in the children’s play and lots of the children wanted to know more about Miriam. The children also began taking their parents to visit the gallery. To build on this interest we continued our gallery-inspired studio work. Over the following four weeks, each class created artworks inspired by the exhibition – visiting the gallery frequently throughout the weeks for inspiration and to gain new insights. Because we are Reggio-inspired, we wanted to stay true to the approach throughout the process. Having the children guide the direction of the artwork is one way and documentation throughout the process is another.

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Throughout the creation process, we utilized a range of documentation methods to make the process more meaningful and to highlight the learning that has happened throughout, including written, photographic, audio and video observations. Each class created their own binder, which told their individual journey through written and photographic observations as well as work samples. These were presented alongside the artworks.

Below is a summary of each class’s artwork:

DAGIM (2 year old’s): The Dagim’s artwork was inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on each individual child and their favorite color. One-by-one each child laid down on a large sheet of white butchers paper and was traced around to create a silhouette of their body. They then chose a color to represent them. For example Oliver said “Aunty Greta is blue. I am red.” We painted our silhouettes using the color that each child chose to represent themselves. We used watercolor paint and brushes for the base color and then squeezed and flicked tempera paint in squeeze bottles over the top of the watercolor.

PEELIM (2 1/2 year old’s): The Peelim’s artwork was inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on each individual child and the colorful clothing that they wear to school. We visited the gallery again in small groups and looked at Miriam’s repetitive artworks of Aunty Greta’s jumpsuit. We talked about all the different colors we saw and each child chose what color they thought her jumpsuit really was. We looked at our own clothes that we wear to preschool and talked about what every child was wearing and what color their clothes were. We then headed up to the fourth floor photocopier and took it in turns to photocopy the shirt we were wearing at school that day (reminiscent of the simple black and white images of Aunty Greta’s jumpsuit that Miriam created). I also photocopied an assortment of the children’s spare clothes (namely pants and socks). We used watercolor paper for the copies. We built onto this work by adding color to our photocopies using watercolor paints and small brushes. They finished their art pieces by organizing and gluing their water colored clothing into one piece on a large sheet of paper.

RIMONIM (2 3/4 year old’s): The Rimonim’s artwork is inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on portraiture – what Aunty Greta’s face looked like. This class was intrigued by the fact that Miriam hadn’t painted a face on the Aunty Greta silhouettes and we talked a lot about what we thought her face might have looked like. We started our artworks by painting Aunty Greta’s skin – we used large white paper and mixed an assortment of skin-toned tempera paints using different sponges. Next, we shaped Aunty Greta’s head and added the detail to her face. The children’s faces were photographed and their eyes, nose and mouth were cut from their pictures and mixed up together. We drew large circles on the back of our skin-toned paper to represent her head and then cut them out. Using the cutouts of their faces, the children glued and collaged on eyes, noses and mouths. Last, we mounted our faces onto large sheets of watercolor paper and added hair using black markers and watercolor paint. The end results were quite abstract and striking!

KOFIM (3 year old’s): The Kofim’s artwork is inspired by the Uncle Josef series and focuses on memories and storytelling. The Kofim spent a lot of time looking at the Uncle Josef wedding photos. We brainstormed all the things that we thought might have happened at Uncle Josef’s wedding and then individually each child talked in more detail about a specific story they thought took place at the wedding. Next, we created small ink drawings (reminiscent to photographs) to compliment the stories we told in the previous week. These were then combined into a wedding album for Uncle Josef.

SIPORIM (3 year old’s): The Siporim’s artwork is inspired by the Uncle Josef series and focuses on clothing, perspective and storytelling. This class spent a lot of time studying the group photo of Uncle Josef’s wedding. We talked about the clothes that they were wearing and how they were posed. We decided that at weddings you have to dress fancy and at Uncle Josef’s wedding you had to wear a hat. For our artwork we decided to get fancy and go to Uncle Josef’s wedding too. Choosing from a large array of fancy dress-up clothes, shoes and accessories to get dressed in, the children could wear anything they wanted, but they had to make sure they had a hat. Once dressed and looking fabulous, each child took turns to stand against a white backdrop to pose for a picture in black and white, of their front and their back. Once printed we added our own color using colored pencils and then arranged these pictures to resemble the group photo from Uncle Josef’s wedding.

TUTTIM (late 3’s, early 4 year old’s): The Tuttim’s artwork is inspired by the slideshow from the Uncle Josef series and focuses on family, memories and storytelling. Each child brought in an old photo of their families taken before they were born, and in turn told a story about what they thought was happening in in. These were recorded using an audio recorder and combined in iDVD (Apple video-editing software) to create a slideshow of memories. We also talked as a group about our school family. We talked about all the people who make up our school family and together explored each floor of the building to see what school family members we could meet. We took with us an audio recorder, a camera and a list of questions the children had written to ask the people that we met. These recording and photos were also used in our slideshow. The Tuttim were also in charge of creating invitations for the exhibition, creating the menu for the night (pickles, ice-cream, popsicles, bread and apple juice) and curating the artwork.

YAELIM (pre-K): The Yaelim artwork is inspired by the veiled images in the Uncle Josef series and focuses on family, memories and storytelling. Each child brought in an old wedding photo from home (of their parents, grandparents etc) and created stories about the images. The photographs were then copied black and white and the children added their own colors using colored pencils. We also created wedding veils using embroidery circles, white netting, large needles and pastel colored embroidery thread. The children created abstract designs with their thread and added in beaded details. The culmination of the artwork was combining all pieces together into a frame to create veiled memories like Miriam did.

To showcase the children’s incredible work, and to give a fitting end to the culmination of this project, we decided to create our own gallery in the preschool lobby (aptly named The Preschool Lobby Gallery) where we could exhibit our work. November 10th was our opening night and naturally we threw a party for our families and our JCC family to come and see the work. The Tuttim class were our ‘mover’s and shaker’s’ and helped to plan and coordinate the opening night. They set the menu (pickles, ice-cream, popsicles, bread and apple juice), curated the artworks, packed away the school library from the lobby and made sure that all JCC staff were reminded of the event.

On opening night we drew a huge crowd of JCC staff, families, friends and most specially the artist herself, Miriam! The children (and teachers) were so proud at what they had achieved and we were all honored and excited to have Miriam join us. Some found themselves tongue-tied when they got to meet her, while other children grabbed her hand and took her to look and talk about the artworks they had created.

Miriam’s art has been incredibly inspirational for all the children and teachers, acting as a catalyst for strengthened relationships within the school, the centre and with our children’s families. Aunty Greta and Uncle Josef have become so important to all of us that they will never be forgotten – they are part of our families now too!

Scenes from the Opening of Andy Warhol: Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century

Soup Can Flower Vase

The crowds rush-in

In the corner with Freud and Buber

Viewing source photos

Josh Kornbluth speaks about “Warhol’s Jews”

Golda

Washington DCJCC past-president Billy Kreisberg and current Vice-President Mindy Strelitz

In the presence of genius

What’s Your Gangster Story?

gangsters-heebNext Wednesday, the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery will be opening its new exhibit “Real Machers: Pat Hamou’s Portraits of American Jewish Gangsters, 1900-1945.” The opening, which is free and open to the public, is accompanied by a Nextbook reading (tickets required) by Ron Arons, author of The Jews of Sing Sing: Gotham, Gangsters and Gonuvim.

Aron’s motivation for writing his book was the experience of learning that his own great-grandfather, Isaac had been an inmate at Sing Sing– something he didn’t learn until after his own parents had died and he was investigating his family history. In talking about his research he has found many people willing, even proud to boast of their own family connection to the Jewish gangster past.

Which begs the question… got any gangsters in your family?

Just in case you’re a little shy, I’ll go first.

My father had an uncle — Uncle Sammy, who liked to, as Dad put it, “play the ponies.” Either he wasn’t very good at this activity, or his luck ran out because he fell deep in-debt. Not unusual in cases like this, the money was owed to an organized crime outfit. One night at a stoplight, either in Weehawken or Jersey City (my sources were uncertain which) Sammy was gunned down while driving either to or from the gas station he worked at. No one was ever arrested or charged with his murder.

I know it is callous, but the first time I heard this story I thought, “How cool is that!” Not that it was cool that this Uncle Sammy had been whacked, but that it made such a great story. I had been thinking about Sammy a lot as the preparations for this coming exhibition were under way. I wanted to know more of the story. But why? Is it because it connects me, even if only through a victim, to an oft-romanticized gangster past? Is it because that as a narrative, it runs counter to the commonly held belief that Jewish life in America is primarily a story of increasing legitimacy and success? The Sammys of American Jewish history are often lost to us, their travails hushed up.

When I pressed my father for more information in preparation for this post, he was less than enthusiastic. He was very young at the time and couldn’t remember very well what had happened. An aunt I spoke to felt much the same way. They both expressed the concern that I not offer too many specifics since Sammy still had living children. Then my father offered to get me in-touch with Sammy’s son — a person I didn’t even know existed and who my father had spoken to once in the last seven years. He gave me phone numbers. Home and work. As we ended our conversation, my dad challenged me. “Call him up. Introduce yourself. Then ask him about how his dad was killed.”

I haven’t made the call.

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