Art Buzz January 22, 2012: Exhibition Review A Jewish Museum Shifts Identity Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life



Exhibition Review A Jewish Museum Shifts Identity

Source: NYT, 1-22-12

Keegan Houser

Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life A Bay Area museum is part of the University of California, Berkeley. Above left, Italian Book of Esther scroll; right, German Torah binder, both 18th century. More Photos »

The story of how the Judah L. Magnes Museum — whose collection of Judaica is the third largest in the country — became the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley, might not seem terribly ripe with complication or implication. In recent years small private museums facing financial strain have often sought refuge by negotiating new lives within universities. Perhaps on Sunday, when the Magnes opened its doors to the public in a building it had long owned near the campus here, it was simply inaugurating another phase of its 50-year life.


But along the way the Magnes has had more than its share of high drama, including a much anticipated union with another local Jewish museum in 2002, closely followed by a quickie divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences. Then, the Magnes had to watch as its onetime partner achieved local glory as the Contemporary Jewish Museum, opening in downtown San Francisco in 2008 in a new building designed by Daniel Libeskind. Meanwhile the Magnes struggled to map out a future for its rambling and exotic collection of some 15,000 objects and manuscripts, which since 1966 had been housed in a rambling and exotic mansion on a residential street. It attracted no more than 10,000 visitors annually and cost $2 million a year to maintain.

The story also has larger resonance. The fate of the Magnes has much to do with the evolution of the American identity museum, with its chronicles of ethnic liberation amid hardship. And it is also intimately connected to the political and cultural temperament of the Bay Area.

But to understand those issues it is best, first, to consider the collection itself. The Magnes was created in 1962 by Seymour Fromer, a Jewish educator, and Rebecca Camhi Fromer, his wife. Its artifacts were deliberately wide-ranging, including not just Jewish ritual objects but manuscripts, music and ephemera. As the collections grew they shed light on Jewish life in the pioneering era of the American West, on Jewish observance in communities in India or Tunisia, and on artworks that testified in some way to Jewish experience in the 20th century. Over the decades scholarly catalogs were published and exhibitions were mounted in the museum’s Berkeley mansion, examining, say, the culture of Kurdish Jews or the nature of Jewish cemeteries during the Gold Rush….READ MORE

The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life is at 2121 Allston Way, near Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, Calif.;

A version of this review appeared in print on January 23, 2012, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Jewish Museum Shifts Identity.

Art Buzz January 22, 2012: Adele Nelson: Visiting professor speaks on Brazilian art at Southern Methodist University



Visiting professor speaks on Brazilian art at Southern Methodist University

Source: SMU Daily, 1-22-12

On Jan. 19, visiting assistant professor Adele Nelson set an admirable bar for SMU’s first Comini Lecture of the semester.

Nelson’s lecture, “Creating History: The Definition of Modernism at the Second São Paulo Bienal,” featured Brazil’s renowned exhibit, the Bienal from 1953-54, and the recognition it summoned.

“[The Bienal de São Paulo was] a conduit to the international art scene,” Nelson said. “[It] gained international visibility with being the second international exhibit in the Americas.”

The Meadows School of the Arts art history department considered Nelson a fit candidate for their faculty as well as the Comini Lecture Series.

“We are very lucky to have her,” said art history professor and colleague Roberto Tejada. “She brings an intense and deep knowledge of 20th-century Latin American art.”

Nelson’s interesting and stimulating lecture on Thursday showcased her expertise on Brazil’s political position and how it coincided with its modern art exploration.

She emphasized that Brazil found this artistic exploration because Europe was decimated after WWII while Brazil was economically flourishing.

“Brazilian artists have a different history of European modern art,” Nelson said.

Distinguished endowed chair of SMU’s art history department, Roberto Tejada, agrees with Nelson’s argument. “We’re able to talk about European art but from the historical perspective of Latin America,” Tejada said.

As 20th-century Latin American art being one of Tejada’s specialties, he and the department are constantly questioning the term “Latin America.”

However, the SMU faculty definitively has a growing interest in this field.

Professor Nelson is starting her second semester of teaching at SMU.

She has replaced art history professor Amy Buono while professor Buono is on research leave.

Nelson’s specialization in Brazilian studies and Portuguese is not far off from Professor Buono’s studies in Colonial Latin America and the Portuguese Atlantic.

Conversely, Nelson is a modernist and is able to offer SMU students expertise of a different time period.

Interim chair and associate professor Dr. Pamela Patton said, “She augments Dr. Buono’s regular courses.”

Patton believes that Nelson’s three-year curatorial experience at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and her modernist perspective is beneficial for students.

“[Nelson’s knowledge allows Buono’s] students to learn a little more about the same subject,” Patton said.

Also being the subject of her dissertation, Nelson’s lecture on the Bienal de São Paulo sparked passionate interest among the art history faculty on Thursday. Nelson’s thorough analysis on the Bienal de São Paulo’s exhibition in correlation with the architecture designed by Oscar Niemeyer, raised a number of questions from faculty and students.

Professor Patton specifically noted that Nelson’s curatorial experience aids her understanding of how material and texture gave the Bienal de São Paulo’s artwork a presence in the room.

Professor Randall Griffin discussed Brazils’ “utopian project with the Bienal,” adding to Nelson’s lecture.

With the art history department’s newly created Ph.D program, Rhetorics of Art, Space and Culture, Nelson’s historical and political resume has proved to be perfectly synced with their curriculum.