Access – or no access

A sitting teddy bear

Teddy bear that belonged to Ilse Jacobson (1920-2007), textile, straw, glass, ca. 1920 to 1930, in our online collection

56,250. This is the number that comes up when I search our collection’s database for its complete holdings. 56,250 data sets describing, for the most part, individual objects, and occasionally entire mixed lots. You can now see 6,300 of these objects online. Releasing this information to the public provokes mixed feelings on the part of museum staff: we have a lot to say about many of these objects. Many of them don’t speak for themselves. You can’t tell, for instance, that this teddy bear belonged to a child leaving Germany on a Kindertransport. The meaning of many documents and photographs lies likewise to a large extent in their biographical or political history. They require sufficient detail and well-chosen catchwords to help visitors find other objects related to the same topic.

With this project, we have to proceed pragmatically. 15-30 minutes of working time per object is a lot if you have to inventory a mixed lot with 250 units. We verify everything, including things that occur to us as we’re working. We are aware that there’s more to write about – and there would be more to correct, – if we had the time for more thorough research. Yet we can only make forays into the library or even into the archive for special projects or particularly important objects. And so we rely to a great extent on digital sources.  continue reading


Are these the Jewish Rebels of Tomorrow?

Hotel with tree and meadow

Youth hostel in alpine serenity

What’s the newest of the new in Jewish youth culture? To find out, I visited a machane, a Jewish summer camp, which congregated Europeans under the age of eighteen in a remote village in the Alps. Hoping to scout future Jewish ideas, themes, and memes, I had my eyes and ears open for interesting fashions, cool music, new media, games, slang, and food.

My quest was triggered by a slew of innovations brought about by the current generation. Deviators have exchanged their traditional tallitot (prayer shawls) for colorful ones with lilies and rainbows. Others have produced trip hop versions of Jewish songs, “Matzah raps,” and uploaded parodies of Biblical stories onto youtube.  continue reading


New Forms of Protest

Last summer, the Korean musician PSY sang out in protest against consumerism in Gangnam, a posh district in Seoul. His video shows him dancing, as if on a horse, in front of wealthy-looking men and scantily-clad women. For reasons only posterity may help us to understand, Gangnam Style became Youtube’s most frequently watched video clip. A series of parodies were produced by groups as far distant from Gangnam – geographically and ideologically – as NASA and Greenpeace.

Gangnam-style protest reached the art world with particular fervour. Chinese activist Ai Weiwei released a Gangnam Style video in protest of censorship in his country. Reacting to this video, Jewish-Indian artist Anish Kapoor – whose works are on display starting 18 May 2013 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin – animated art museums in England and the USA to shoot a video in support of Ai Weiwei. Shortly thereafter, the Philadelphia Art Museum posted a video with its staff members dancing to the Gangnam tune, though their object of contention is not immediately apparent:
 continue reading