It is heartening to know that there are several Jewish Museums throughout the United States and the world. New York City has a few Jewish museums, and the highest profile is the Jewish Museum on Museum Mile, a section of 5th Avenue  in the Upper East Side. On both sides of that august street, although mostly on the east side, there are several stellar museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, The Frick Collection, the Neue Galerie, Museum of the City of New York, El Museo del Barrio are among them. The Jewish Museum is housed in the former Warburg Mansion, the Warburgs having been a wealthy, philanthropic Jewish family.

The permanent collection at the Jewish Museum has many wonderful pieces of ritual art and artworks, and covers the better part of the 3rd and 4th floors of the building. The temporary exhibits have run the gamut over the years, and I have deeply enjoyed some (retrospectives of Chagall's theater work and another of Art Spiegelman's comics and book work come to mind) and this time around I saw five that were each quite different.

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As I entered the museum on Thursday, January 19 I passed by two elementary school classes that had just finished their school trips. I was pleased to see these diverse groups of young kids, who apparently visited the permanent collection and done an activity there. But I had come primarily to see the highly touted show "Take Me I'm Yours," on the 2nd floor. This exhibit was not particularly Jewish in content although a few of the participating artists were Jewish, and there were a few that had Jewish artistic themes (Jewish star folded paper decorations, etc.) To be honest, I am not sure why this was a featured exhibit at the Jewish Museum but it was intriguing and parts of it were humorous. The exhibition consisted of a few dozen different absurdist pieces of which visitors were allowed to take parts. For instance, there were boxes of T-shirts printed with the message "Freedom Cannot Be Simulated." And yes, I took one for myself, just one. Actually, it does fit into the week's Torah reading for we are just starting to read Shemot and the awful saga of Jewish slavery needs to be learned each year and not forgotten.

A few celebrities had pieces in the exhibit, most notably Yoko Ono, who set up a bubblegum ball dispenser with "Air Capsules" for 25c each. I took a photo but did not take a capsule. Filmmaker and  archivist Jonas Mekas (who is Jewish) had set up a film reel with a spool of film in which frame was dark. Another artist had put up boxes of fortune cookies (I took one; my fortune read "Rearrange some meaning." Another artist had left a stack of posters showing every American president and then a space for Hillary Clinton. We know how inaccurate that became. (I took a poster.)

This exhibit was... interesting. It was fun to some extent, funny in ways, and I had a discussion about some of the pieces with one of the museum security guards. I know most people do not engage with the typically stony-faced guards, but occasionally I do. They certainly have thoughts about the work they are guarding!

The other exhibits at the Museum were a collection of paintings and artifacts from a wealthy Jewish family of the late 1800s-early 1900s (the Meyer family, painted by John Singer Sargent) which was nice but did not engage me greatly; "The Television Project" which featured TV ads and scenes of Jewish interest (my favorite was the Sammy Davis Jr. ad for liqueurs); "Masterpieces and Curiosities: Memphis Does Hanukkah" which included some playful and kooky menorahs and other items; and "Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design" which to me, was more interesting for the layout and gimmicks than the actual pieces displayed. (Chareau was a Jewish architect who was well-known in Europe but obscure in the US). See, there was a section that included films or videos of moving shadows that I found mesmerizing, but the actual furniture and items by Mr. Chareau left me cold. And I also had the opportunity to use Google Glasses for the first time ever, which was a novelty. (I almost tripped while I wore them, however.)

In addition I did look at some of the pieces in the Permanent collection because they are favorites; I will write about a few of these in another essay.




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