Page 115 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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FREUDENHEIM / BOOKS ON ART
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creation or solidification o f various newer ones, have had sig­
nificant impact on art publishing. (This is also true in the mu­
seum and publishing fields in general: much o f the best mo­
nographic work is being published by or with museums.) That
expansion o f the Jewish museum field results, in turn, from
various other sources — the socio-economic make-up o f a more
mature American Jewish community; a new focus on ethnicity
and individuality, as against melting pot mythology, which
fueled the fire o f ethnic pride still smoldering in Jewish hearts;
and the flourishing o f the State o f Israel, which created a whole
new group o f museums and, thus, in turn, more publications.
The present landscape is very rich, and the beneficiaries are
not only our coffee tables, but also our understanding o f the
visual arts components o f the Jewish past and present.
Perhaps the most expansive and interesting category o f books
to survey is that about Jews in the various lands where they
have lived. We have moved a long way from the sentimental
and exotic attempts to picture the “other” Jews, that used to
be prevalent earlier in this century. Books on “the Jews o f . . . ”
have become a major category unto themselves, reflecting a
pride in Jewish history and the communities in which that his­
tory happened. An important impetus has also been the almost
systematic area studies projects carried out by Beth Hatefutsoth;
these have resulted in a series o f circulating exhibitions, along
with an impressive group o f publications, whose focus includes
art for illustrative purposes. Similar work, but more directly
art and artifact based, has been done by the Israel Museum
on a regular basis, while New York’s Jewish Museum has made
major contributions as well, even if they are a more occasional
aspect o f the exhibition/publication program there.
Indeed, there is an irony in the fact that the book or catalogue
may have even more value than the exhibition for which it is
published. For one thing, the publication has an independent
life beyond the original exhibition. But often the exhibition itself
communicates its bookish ideas much less successfully than the
published work. (“This works better as a book than as an ex ­
hibition” is a problematic comment often heard in the museum
field.)
This rich new view o f the Jewish world is very different from
that given us by early JPS books on the Jews o f Russia, Germany,
Poland, and other such places. Those books seldom included