June 18, 2019

Can the Jewish Museum Be Saved?

“I’m very grateful to Tom Freudenheim, Edward Rothstein, and Richard McBee for their responses to my essay on the doleful condition of New York’s Jewish Museum. It’s wonderful to have the thoughts of a former museum director, a critic, and a painter, all three of whom have long been wrestling with some or all of the issues I dealt with. It’s all the more gratifying that, for the most part, their peer review of my essay finds me in the right.

I’d also like to acknowledge here the many reactions to my essay on social media and the dozens of individuals (including curators and other museum officials, historians, writers, and teachers) who emailed me with their comments, not excluding the harsh and/or dismissive ones.

In a half-dozen posts on Facebook, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, one of the most prominent voices in the Jewish museum world, suggested that Scenes from the Collection, the Jewish Museum’s latest permanent exhibition and the main object of my scrutiny, deserved a slower look than mine. “Give the exhibition a chance,” she wrote. “Consider it in its own terms before judging on the basis of different assumptions. Imagine creatively and constructively how it might be otherwise.” Taking an entirely different tack, another reader commented bitterly on the Mosaic website: “Pretty bizarre that you felt the need to tear apart an exhibition that’s already been open for almost two years already and has been received extremely well.” Evidently, my essay, too premature for some, was too belated for others.”

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