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Modern Jewry and the Arts

A Virtual Exhibit
The Center for Advanced Judaic Studies Library

Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
2000-2001 Fellows
University of Pennsylvania


Introduction

This year's exhibition on Modern Jewry and the Arts presents work in a rich diversity of cultural media and genres. Jewish artists have been respected contributors to modern music, film, theater, and visual art, and their activities encompass high art, mass media, and popular culture forms. But what is "Jewish Art?" Any art produced by Jews? Any art with Jewish content? Is there a distinctive Jewish style?

Most of these questions presume standards set by conventional cultural histories, which despite universalizing goals, define the arts in national terms. Does that mean, then, that Jewish art is exclusively made in Israel, the modern Jewish state, or does it also describe art made by Jews in the Diaspora? Clearly, the questions that emerge from this study of Jewish art and culture are bound to the most pressing concerns of modern Jewish history generally, as well as to questions concerning the production and valuation of modern art.

For a study of Jewish art and culture, diversity acquires additional significance, beyond the variety of forms and media. These works express a diverse "Jewish-ness" -- belying the homogeneity that the term "modern Jewry" implies. They testify to the diversity among Jews, the many ways of being a modern Jew, and through the arts, suggest ways of constructing a modern Jewish identity. At the same time, while often preoccupied with the concerns of Jewish community, Jewish artists in the modern period have avoided parochialism and participated in the many national cultures of which they are also a part. This participation extends to culture's institutional forms: its markets and commerce, its museums and academies, media distributions and technology-all sites where Jews have played an active and formative role.

Our exhibit offers a few examples of works that address these issues and our discussions this year. Each Fellow has selected an image from a particular branch of the arts that represents the strength and the challenge of modern Jewish culture. They demonstrate the extraordinary depth and variety of Jewish art, and suggest, we hope, new avenues of cultural research.

Carol Zemel


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