“Hebrew, Yiddish, Aramaic, and sometimes Latin:”

in conversation with Emile Schrijver, curator of the Braginsky Collection

How does one become a curator of a manuscript collection?

When I was a student—I studied Hebrew in Amsterdam—a lecturer took us to see the University of Leiden’s collection of medieval manuscripts. In the impressive vaults there, I had my first ever opportunity to see really ancient manuscripts: the only manuscript of the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), for instance, and one of the earliest Rashi manuscripts. To see these ancient sources, to have first-hand experience of this living history was overwhelming—historical books in general had this effect on me at the time . I subsequently studied a great deal at the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, the Jewish library at the University of Amsterdam and later even began working there. Then, a few years ago, Mr. Braginsky was looking for a curator for his first exhibition in Europe. Mutual acquaintances from the international world of manuscripts put us in touch with each other and, as it happened, we got along very well and were soon able to establish a good working relationship based on trust.

What exactly do you do as a curator of the Braginsky Collection?

A man sits at a table and holding an open book in his hands

Emile Schrijver and the Harrison Miscellany © and photo: Darko Todorovic, Dornbirn (A)

I am responsible for the collection: for new acquisitions, whenever Mr. Braginsky buys something, as well as for existing stocks. Most new acquisitions are delivered with a short description. Others we describe and photograph ourselves, then add them to our inventory. I carefully examine the condition books are in and commission their restoration, if necessary. I’m also responsible for monitoring the climate in the storerooms. Inquiries concerning exhibitions and reproductions involve a lot of work for us. The process of digitizing our stock is ongoing. Occasionally, scholars wish to view specific works at length. We also organize presentations on our own premises, for example, on behalf of the European Association of Jewish Museums. Public relations for events such as the Jewish Book Week in London in 2013 likewise require a great deal of preparation.

What do you think makes the Braginsky Collection so special?  continue reading


Lolek and Bolek

Photograph from World War II for which the sellers reckon to get about 3000 euros

Photograph from World War II. The sellers priced it at 3000 euros.

The financial crisis of 2007 had an impact both on the countries of Western and Eastern Europe. The złoty may still glitter but it has long since ceased to be the “golden coin” Polish currency was originally named for. Unemployment and stagnant economic growth, rising real estate prices and declining purchasing power have put the brake on Poland’s economic recovery. The Netherlands has likewise been in recession for years. Declining competitiveness, private debts, state-subsidized home ownership, the low retirement age and the expensive health care system have fed uncertainty and repeatedly paved the path to success for the Freedom Party of the populist xenophobe Geert Wilders.

Two pages of a letter in Polish language

The Polish letter of offer as we received it.

This downward spiral in state treasury and personal funds led a couple of Polish resp. Dutch wheeler-dealers to scrape the barrel for a bilateral business model. Crafty Dariusz Woźniok and his fly-by-night Dutch client somehow managed to get their hands on infantrymen’s photos from the Second World War—whether as thieves or buyers it is impossible to say. Maybe they were embittered by the fact that no share in the tidy profits made from material goods ever came their way, from the export of Polish geese, strawberries, potatoes and beetroot, for example, or of Dutch cheese and tulips. Maybe they hatched their business plan in an Amsterdam coffee shop and had simply smoked one hash pipe too many. Whatever the case, they figured: “It was a sure bet that snapshots of ghettos and so-called ‘Jewish actions’ in early 1940s Poland could be sold off as ‘Holocaust-ware’ to Jewish Museums—so why not make the most of an historic windfall?”  continue reading


A Letter from the Museum

An Interview with Alex Martinis Roe

Artist sitting at a desk in an nearly empty room

Alex Martinis Roe, Encounters: Conversation in Practice, performance still, 2010.
Image courtesy of the artist.

To obtain a letter from a vending machine – even from an art vending machine – is rather unusual. In this interview, Australian artist Alex Martinis Roe explains what motivated her to create the artwork “A Letters to Deutsche Post.”

Christiane Bauer: Alex, you drafted a letter to Deutsche Post, asking the officers to reissue stamps depicting Rahel Varnhagen and Hannah Arendt. When our visitors purchase the letter, are they supposed to send it to Deutsche Post?

Alex Martinis Roe: I don’t expect visitors to send the letter to Deutsche Post, because I didn’t ask them to. They can do whatever they like with it. If they send it off, I’m happy. If they keep it, I’m also happy. (laughs) What I hope, is that they read the letter and become interested in the story.

Why did you choose to make a letter for the art vending machine?  continue reading