Art Libraries Society of North America 32nd Annual Conference
The Roosevelt Hotel, New York City – April 15-21, 2004
Monday, April 19, 2004 9:00 – 10:30 AM
Sponsored by DART (Decorative Arts Round Table)
Greta Earnest, Associate Director Librarian, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City.
Stephen Van Dyk, Branch Librarian, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library, Smithsonian Institution, New York City.
Oscar Israelowitz, Founder, Israelowitz Publishing.
Susan Braunstein, Curator of Archaeology and Judaica, the Jewish Museum.
Gabriel M. Goldstein, Curator, Yeshiva University Museum.
Michael Terry, Chief, Dorot Jewish Division, the New York Public Library.
Elizabeth Broman, Reference Librarian, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library, Smithsonian Institution, New York City.
The speakers in this session presented 4 different aspects of Jewish arts, architecture, culture, and book collections in New York City. Jewish community has been active in the cultural, educational and political fiber of New York City. By the mid-nineteenth century they had established several schools, built synagogues and created a hospital. From the 1880’s to 1910 several immigrated to New York mainly from Germany and Eastern Europe. Today, the Jewish community is an integral part of the cultural scene of the city. The Jewish Museum celebrates its 100th year of operation and there are major collections of Judaica at universities and at The New York Public Library. This session celebrates the contributions of artists and patrons from the Jewish community.
Oscar Israelowitz gave an animated talk on “the “Wandering Jews of New York – Synagogues of Manhattan”. It was a visual historical tour of synagogues starting in lower Manhattan, where the first Portuguese Jews from Brazil settled. They were on their way to Curacao, Barbados, and Touro, Rhode Island when Spanish pirates attacked one of the ships. A French captain picked them up and left them in “ New Amsterdam”. This Spanish and Portuguese congregation of 23 Jews started the first New York City synagogue on Broad Street in 1732. Mr. Israelowitz went on to describe how the architectural styles reflected the changing attitudes and tenets of Judaism. The Reform reaction against Orthodox Judaism is reflected in Gothic Revival style synagogues; and a Bohemian congregation in 1872 built the Moorish Revival style Central Synagogue, which is now a historical landmark.
Susan Braunstein from the Jewish Museum spoke on its history, how it has evolved over time and future directions. It started as the first Jewish museum in America in 1904 with a single donation of 26 objects from Judaica collections in Vienna, Danzig and Prague. A Jewish Enlightenment Movement in the 19th century separated ritual ceremonial art objects from sacred arts and so the museum became the Museum of Jewish Ceremonial Objects. After WWII the U.S. Army recovered thousands of art objects that were returned to their owners. Unclaimed leftover art objects were later distributed to museums in the U.S. and Israel. In 1947 the Museum moved to its present location on 5th Ave and 92nd Street and many of these recovered objects were stored in the basement of the Jewish Museum. In the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s the Museum started showing cutting edge artists that were not necessarily Jewish, but whose works demonstrated humanism and modernity. Their collections represent 4,000 years of culture and heritage from 6 continents and have expanded from antiquities to contemporary ceremonial arts. In the past 25 years, the museum has shifted its vision towards preservation, conservation and the dissemination of Jewish art and identity through its collections.
Michael Terry gave a talk about NYPL’s Jewish Book Arts through the “prism of Passover” using books from their collection. The Dorot Division of NYPL, for example, has a 1489 Passover Haggadah- the order of the home service. He noted that the 2nd commandment prohibits the depiction of an image or likeness and as a result Jewish religious writings have only text without visuals. Jews were not allowed in the Guild system and therefore could not print and own their own books until after the “Battle of the Books”, (1508-1520 to the Reformation). Mr. Terry showed us a 1493 Nuremberg Chronicles and the various printing techniques used in this book and others. He also showed a pictorial Haggadah from 1512 made by Franciscan and Dominican orders. Later Jewish artists and printers used stylistic conventions of contemporary art movements to create new Jewish texts and illustrations. Lilieu was the Aubrey Beardsley of the Jews, the Art & Crafts style was used to illustrate books also. The 1920’saw a Jewish Book Arts revival when Jewish artists and illustrators were learning new book art skills.
Our final speaker, Gabriel Goldstein spoke on Jewish bibliographical issues and research. He mentioned that the Yeshiva University museum recently moved to 16th street, where he is currently a curator. He posed the question of whether studying Jewish art, which is primarily object based, is a similar discipline to the Decorative Arts. Jewish art embodies textiles, metalwork, ceremonial objects that can be considered decorative art. Studying the importance of patronage and history of ancient Jewish objects falls outside of the traditional Western world’s art standards. Ethnographic and anthropological studies of Jewish art allow a broader emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach and a greater acceptance of different media. Jewish art glorifies the ritual and enhances the experience of ceremony. Mr. Goldstein observed that in the past 10 years Jewish arts and decorative arts scholarship has changed, there is greater acceptance of it that embraces academic disciplines and interdisciplinary studies of Jewish culture and history. The impact of new technology has made Jewish art studies with visuals more accessible through the Internet that expands this discourse. He also pointed out that with the fall of the Iron Curtain, there are new art history sources; there has been a flood of information about previously unknown holdings of Judaica.