Oregon Jewish Museum

I Am This: Jewish artists in Oregon

A new exhibit traces the history and variety of Jewish art in the state. A second show tells the tale of a painting that saved lives.

It’s both easy and hard to wrap your head around I Am This: Art by Oregon Jewish Artists, the elegant small new exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.

Easy because the choices of artists are mostly familiar to Portland art followers, and because they share curator Bruce Guenther’s taste for modern and contemporary works that deal, whatever else might be going on in them, with the notion of beauty.

Hard because the questions the exhibit asks – What does it mean to be Jewish? What does it mean to be a Jewish artist? What does it mean to be a Jewish artist from Oregon? – are so elusive, with so many different answers, and ultimately with so many unanswered and perhaps unanswerable question marks. “Here we are, looking inward,” museum director Judith Margles remarked at a press preview last week, and maybe that’s at least a large part of what being Jewish means.

Frederick Littman's sculpture "Torso" (1968. Bronze, 46 x 22 x 12 inches, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection, Portland) and Mark Rothko's 1928 painting "Beach Scene" (oil on canvas mounted on board, Reed College, Kaufman Memorial Art Collection, gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman in memory of Isaac and Pauline Kaufman). Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Frederick Littman’s sculpture “Torso” (1968. Bronze, 46 x 22 x 12 inches, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection, Portland) and Mark Rothko’s 1928 painting “Beach Scene” (oil on canvas mounted on board, Reed College, Kaufman Memorial Art Collection, gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman in memory of Isaac and Pauline Kaufman). Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Guenther, the former longtime chief curator of the Portland Art Museum who is curating the first year of shows at the Jewish Museum since it moved into the old Museum of Contemporary Craft space in the Pearl District, spoke of the sometimes uneasy relationship between group and individual identity: “We live in an age of individualization, identity as core, as shield, as conflict.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Sweet Lou

A Lou Harrison celebration, invasion of the theater hatchers, Jewish museum's new home, shrinking Bach Fest, more

It’s been a busy seven days in Portland and Oregon, with all sorts of notable cultural events going on. The Astoria Music Festival, after an opening recital Sunday by Metropolitan Opera star and Northwest favorite (she grew up in Centralia, Wash.) Angela Meade, is in full swing. Portland Opera continues its latest foray into musical-theater waters with Man of La Mancha (two more performances, Thursday and Saturday in Keller Auditorium).

Among the past week’s many other highlights:

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Detail from Russian artist Grisha Bruskin’s tapestry series “ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory,” opening exhibit of the Oregon Jewish Museum in its new home. Photo: Oregon ArtsWatch

JEWISH MUSEUM’S BIG MOVE. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education opened its doors in its new, much bigger, home in a prime gallery row location, the former space of the late lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft. Its new home opens up fresh possibilities for OJMCHE. You can read our take: A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum.

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A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education takes over the old craft museum space with a broadened vision and a vibrant Russian art show

In a crowded second-floor gallery at the corner of Northwest Davis Street and Park Avenue, the joint was jumpin’. Television cameras whirred in the new home of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, a small jewel of a museum location that had been sitting vacant for many months. Reporters cornered curators and scribbled notes. Early birds wandered up and down the stairs of the 15,000-square-foot space’s two stories. The Russian artist Grisha Bruskin, outfitted in black from his close-cut coil of hair to his sleek sneakers, was talking about his new exhibit, ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory, which was spread like a giant quilt across the main-floor gallery below. Preparations for Sunday’s free public grand opening were in full swing, and the mood was jubilant.

Bruce Guenther, curator of inaugural exhibition, and Judy Margles, director of Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. Photo: Palma Corral

It was Wednesday in the prime Pearl District space, which had been home to the Museum of Contemporary Craft until that museum was abruptly shut down by the board of the Pacific Northwest College of Art more than a year ago, shocking both the city and a tightknit national craft art scene that had considered MoCC a pacesetting institution. After several months of hammering, sawing, painting, and reshaping spaces, it’s been reborn as the new home of the Jewish museum, which has moved from a space half its size and far less strategically located. Judy Margles, the museum’s longtime director, addressed the preview-day crowd. The designers took a bow. Bruce Guenther, the former chief curator of the Portland Art Museum who is curating the museum’s first season of exhibitions, introduced Bruskin, whose ALEFBET he praised as taking “its place with the tapestry masterworks.” And if the bubbly wasn’t flowing (it was a Wednesday morning, after all) the coffee was: Suddenly a space that had housed an important cultural center that had died before its time seemed alive with hope and possibilities again.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: fires fading and rekindling

As national theater leaders descend on Portland, big questions rise in New York, the Oregon Jewish Museum makes a splash, and Don Quixote hits the opera stage

Listening to the New York Philharmonic’s radio broadcast Sunday evening of the Verdi Requiem on All Classical KQAC, all seemed right with the world. Conductor and music director Alan Gilbert had the orchestra in a heady balance of precision and emotion, with a superb sense of pacing and the ebbs and flows of a great score. The soloists (including Metropolitan Opera star and Northwest favorite Angela Meade, who’ll be kicking off the Astoria Music Festival with a recital this Sunday; see Brett Campbell’s comments below) were superb. This was music the way music was meant to be.

Angela Meade: opening the Astoria Music Festival

But appearances, including aural ones, can be deceiving. Gilbert, at just age 50, was at the end of what turned out to be an eight-year run at the head of the Philharmonic, although when he signed on it was expected to be much longer. What happened? As he told Michael Cooper for a revealing, lengthy and essential story in the New York Times, the fire waned: “To a degree, I lost my stomach to fight for things.” Cooper’s story is well worth reading in its entirety, as is Anthony Tommasini’s more narrowly focused and admiring assessment, also in the Times.

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Quintana, Crow’s Shadow, big day

Art notes: A legendary Native American gallery returns, an innovative eastern Oregon art center comes to Portland, and the Jewish Museum prepares for a grand reopening. Oh: and First Thursday, too.

The innovative Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts has been a boon to the worlds of art and Native American culture in the Northwest since it was established twenty-five years ago by artists James Lavadour, Phillip Cash Cash, and others on the Umatilla Reservation near Pendleton. Its nationally known printmaking center draws artists of all sorts to eagerly sought-after residencies with master printers. The Institute actively boosts economic development for Native American artists and students via classes, workshops, and other programs. And not coincidentally, over its quarter-century Crow’s Shadow has had a hand in the creation of a wealth of vital contemporary art.

Jim Denomie (Ojibwe), “Blue Mountain Portraits,” 2011, print monotype on Somerset satin white paper, 20 x 15 inches; Crow’s Shadow at Froelick

For forty-two years until its founders retired and closed up shop two years ago, Quintana Galleries was a national and even international force in nurturing and selling mostly traditional Native American and First Nations art. Several other Portland galleries represent excellent contemporary Native artists, but no new gallery has sprung up to take Quintana’s place.

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‘Every Minute Counts’: a lost lens on America, rediscovered

An Oregon Jewish Museum exhibit uncovers the vibrant history-in-the-making images of photographer Katherine Joseph's 1930s and '40s

“EVERY MINUTE COUNTS,” the banner in the photograph shouts in big block capital letters, and the four women garment workers below, needles in hand and stacks of cloth surrounding them, make it clear they take the admonition seriously. Isolated and absorbed, yet also somehow bound into this activity together, they exude a serious and determined camaraderie. It’s 1942, and they’re on the home front, working in New York’s garment district, burrowed deeply in the rhythm of the duties of their small corner of the war effort.

This bold and striking image lends its title to the most recent exhibition at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. Every Minute Counts: Photographs by Katherine Joseph, which continues through September 25, is also the final exhibition at the museum’s space on Northwest Kearney Street before it shuts its doors for several months to prepare for reopening in late spring or early summer 2017 at the old Museum of Contemporary Craft space on Northwest Davis Street, by the North Park Blocks. The new space will provide more than double the square footage, to about 15,000.

 "Every Minute Counts," garment workers on the home front, new York, photo by Katherine Joseph, 1942; © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg; photograph courtesy of the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution


“Every Minute Counts,” garment workers on the home front, New York, photo by Katherine Joseph, 1942; © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg; photograph courtesy of the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

If you’ve never heard of Katherine Joseph, don’t feel bad: in spite of the wit and presence and proximity to history of so much of her work, not a lot of people have. Her photography in the 1930s and 1940s slides her neatly into a category of humanistic documentarists that also includes the likes of Dorothea Lange, whose images of Americans in the midst of the Great Depression became iconic, and Margaret Bourke-White, one of the most imaginative and socially revealing photographers for the old Life magazine during its glory years. But Joseph’s career was shorter – less than a decade – and as the war ended, so did it: Joseph hung up her camera, settled down, and raised a family. Even her children didn’t know until relatively recent years of her photographic fling with history.

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Portland Symphonic Choir preview: Problem Child

Still relevant today, Michael Tippett’s 20th century classic, ‘A Child of Our Time,’ deserves attention.

By BRUCE BROWNE 

Sir Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time doesn’t seem to have lived up to its title. Despite earning acclaim at its 1944 premiere, only a handful of recordings exist, three by Tippett’s champion Sir Colin Davis. It is performed roughly yearly in the US and more often in Britain, most recently on December 17, 2015 in a BBC performance broadcast from the Barbican. When the newly hired Matthew Halls and the Oregon Bach Festival brought A Child of Our Time to Portland’s Trinity Cathedral in 2012, the audience was disappointingly small.

Haven’t ever heard it, let alone heard of it before now?  You’re not alone; it is sparsely performed, an expensive work to mount and an extraordinary challenge to conduct.

Steven Zopfi conducts Portland Symphonic Choir in Michael Tippett's oratorio, 'A Child of Our Time.'

Steven Zopfi conducts Portland Symphonic Choir in Michael Tippett’s oratorio, ‘A Child of Our Time.’

“For the choir it’s a ‘big sing,’ unrelentingly vocal,” explains Portland Symphonic Choir music director Stephen Zopfi. “The choir is challenged throughout. Also, the piece is full of mixed meter, especially in the third movement. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever conducted.”

Given all the challenges, why, then, are Zopfi, PSC and the Portland Sinfonietta bringing Tippett’s choral/vocal/orchestral problem ‘Child’ to the Arlene Schnitzer Hall on Wednesday, May 11? And why should you go hear it?

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