618 S. Michigan (610 S. Michigan after October 17, 2007) | Chicago | 312.322.1700
  Inaugural Exhibition
November 30, 2007 - April 13, 2008
The New Authentics:
Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation

“The New Authentics” are 21st-century American Jews. Free to choose their affiliations, they are Jewish culturally, religiously, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, partially, biologically, or invisibly. The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation, curated by Spertus Museum Senior Curator Staci Boris, explores contemporary notions of Jewish identity through the work of 16 artists living in the United States. Engaged in the global art community, these artists insert traces of, consciously draw from, or directly address their experiences as Jews, and they are brought together here for the first time in a Jewish context. Their work demonstrates how today, associations with Jewish culture intermingle with issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, politics, history, and nationality, posing questions, challenging boundaries, and defying easy definition.

Artists: David Altmejd, Cheselyn Amato, Johanna Bresnick, Shoshana Dentz, Lilah Freedland, Matthew Girson, Karl Haendel, Laura Kina, Fawn Krieger, Jin Meyerson, Collier Schorr, Mindy Rose Schwartz, Ludwig Schwarz, Joel Tauber, Shoshanna Weinberger, and Jennifer Zackin.

A Grand Opening Special Presentation
Saturday, December 1 from 9-11pm
Heeb Storytelling
The opening reception of Spertus Museum's new exhibitions is followed by a special Chicago presentation of the acclaimed Heeb Magazine Storytelling series. Part cabaret, part literary event, this entertaining program was conceived and is produced especially for Spertus with host Jeff Garlin of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and a new line-up of national and local performers.
Reception is free. Tickets for Heeb Storytelling are $12 | $10 for members.
Tickets go on sale October 29 at 312.322.1773.

Thursday, March 6 at 6 pm
David A Hollinger is one of the United States' foremost intellectual historians. Author of Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, Hollinger will discuss the postethnic age.
Panel Discussion
Thursday, April 10 at 6pm
Re-envisioning Difference: Notes from the Forefront of Culturally Specific Museums
Robin Cembalest, executive editor of ARTnews moderates a panel exploring the challenges and the missions of culturally specific art museums in the 21st century, including Deborah Cullen, Director of Curatorial Programs, El Museo del Barrio, New York; Melissa Chiu, Director of Asia Society Museum, New York; Franklin Sirmans, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Menil Collection, Houston; and Rhoda Rosen, Director of Spertus Museum.
New exhibit gives modern focus to Spertus tradition

By Alan G. Artner
Tribune art critic

December 6, 2007

The Spertus Museum long has mounted contemporary art exhibitions, but they were sporadic and alternated with cultural or documentary shows. During construction of the new Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, however, a more regular art presence asserted itself, in the form of artist-designed barriers at the site. And now that the building is open, the spirit of contemporary adventure continues with the first group show, "The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation."

The exhibition presents work by 16 contemporary American Jewish artists, most born in the 1960s and 1970s. They do not all put forward their Jewish identity in their work, and some have never before exhibited in a specifically Jewish context. But here they are united to illustrate how, in the 21st Century, Jewishness is defined in broad terms that are personally determined and can differ greatly.

The show presents examples of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, video and installation. They are, by no means, equal in interest or accomplishment. Yet in view of the occasion -- the inauguration of a spectacular building that will help determine what a Jewish archive can be today -- the show's openness can scarcely be bettered.

So here's an exhibition that pretty much achieves what it set out to do, with seriousness and freshness and, not least, the participation of some Chicago-area artists.

I like especially that the "traditional" has not been overlooked in favor of the "new," because painting -- representational and abstract -- is as prominent in the exhibition as today's most favored media: drawing, photography and video. Sculpture, often overlooked in theme exhibitions, also is present, both with super-real treatment of the human figure and an expanded idea of construction that incorporates what not long ago were regarded as crafts. And art with primarily visual impact is given equal weight with projects that are conceptual.

All the pieces are persuasively installed on the light-filled top (10th) floor, which has about 5,000 square feet of exhibition space. But because of an atrium, which extends to the floor below, temporary shows are brought into closer relation with an immense arc of glass on the ninth floor behind which are 1,500 works -- religious, documentary, artistic, ephemeral -- from the Spertus' permanent collection. The daring of the temporary shows thus will be italicized by a proximity to and comparison with earlier, often more familiar cultural objects.

The ways in which "New Authentics" artists define Jewishness is, as I have suggested, too varied to be outlined here. But humor relates a number of different pieces, and even the juvenile embrace of popular culture has more point in the present context. May you be as satisfied as I was by the works of Shoshana Dentz (paintings), Fawn Krieger (soft sculpture), Mindy Rose Schwartz ("extreme crafts") and, especially, the video collaboration between Sanford Biggers and Jennifer Zackin.


"The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation" continues at the Spertus Museum, 610 S. Michigan Ave., through April 13, 2008; thereafter, it will travel to the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass. (May 9-July 27). 312-322-1700.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Eye Exam
Authentically Yours

Dan Gunn


"The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation" at the re-vamped Spertus Museum is truly an ambitious inaugural effort. The exhibition is Staci Boris’ first as head Spertus Museum curator, a fifteen-year veteran of the MCA. "The New Authentics" christens a glistening new art space within the Spertus Institute. For the show Ms. Boris has assembled a diverse group of artists such as sculptor David Altmejd, Canada’s representative at the 2007 Venice Biennale, noted photographer Collier Schorr and Chicago artists such as Mindy Rose Schwartz and painter Matthew Girson.

Each of the artists possesses a unique perspective on Jewish identity. For example, painter Laura Kina is a convert to Judaism and a Japanese and Spanish American, Korean-born Jin Meyerson was adopted into a Jewish household and Shoshana Weinberger, of dual Caribbean and Jewish descent, self-identifies as a "Jamaican Jew." Ms. Boris explains that for each artist, their "Jewish identity isn’t the central subject matter of the artwork, but the subjects they are dealing with are seen from a perspective that is informed by their negotiation of Jewish identity." Not only are their lives crafted by an experience of Jewishness but they in turn by their choices, values and lives change what it means to be Jewish. "I think each individual artist has their own perspective and however they engage with Jewishness defines [the Jewish] perspective." This is essentially why the generation earns the name post-Jewish. It’s not that the artists are somehow "after" Jewishness, but that they participate consciously in the evolution of Jewishness.

"The New Authentics" is a case study in ethnic, social and religious hybridity. The show highlights lived experience as the crux where ethnic affiliations are tested. Several artists in the show deal with the home as a place of social formation. Jennifer Zackin and Sanford Biggers present their two-channel video piece in a 1970s-style wood-paneled living room complete with a comfy sofa. Consisting of the two artists’ childhood home movies set side by side, Zackin, from an East Coast suburban Jewish family, and Biggers, from a West Coast African-American family, experience the same activities. Each family takes trips to Disneyland, throws birthday parties and provides their children with piano lessons. These two artists share an American identity, an affiliation that gets played out in mass cultural consumer traditions. For Ms. Boris, Jewish Americans display "a clear desire to remain different or to promote difference, but at other times they can just blend in and be a part of the American culture." This type of cultural ambiguity drives one to create a new category, one unique to the individual. Ethnicity seen in this way is fluid and only the individual can decide what parts to keep and what parts to give away.

Other works negotiate with history through the home as well, such as Mindy Rose Schwartz’s macramé, ceramic and found-object sculpture, "Untitled (The River)." Reaching to the ceiling with macramé and engulfing ceramic trees, wooden block sculptures and an aluminum table on the way, Schwartz’s work calls to mind the tacky but beautiful post-Baby Boomer world of political and social upheaval. Clearly it was an era in which identity was anything but stable. Fawn Krieger’s cartoonish ink-jet prints of foods outside of Kosher rules demonstrate the perspective of another generation’s quizzical gaze on the previous one’s customs. These works remind us that everyone is a hybrid on some level, and whether or not they are Jewish, they can find a kindred spirit amongst the New Authentics.

The process of forming an identity is not without a price, however. The struggle to choose an identity is embodied in Joel Tauber’s provocative videos. Tauber uses an almost mystical brand of conceptualism in combination with a healthy dose of self-deprecation to create situations that stress the importance of striving. For the Spertus, Mr. Tauber filmed himself while he dug holes in the ground and buried himself inside. This repeated action is an attempt to develop a ritual. Each try is fraught with failure and frequently re-thought, but with each new set of problems he is confronted with the meaninglessness of digging the hole again. Mr. Tauber’s words tell the story. His plaintive narration to the camera displays his frustration with the activity. "What am I supposed to do?" "I just wish it was easier." This affecting work demonstrates the stakes of identity as an important component in the exhibition.

If the experience of contemporary Jewishness is free of ethnic and religious determination, as this exhibition of post-Jewishness asserts, then the Spertus Institute has some questions to confront as it develops its future programming. Perhaps it is well on its way to facilitating a larger cultural exchange beyond Jewishness, an exchange where authenticity is at stake.

"The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation" shows at The Spertus Institute, 610 South Michigan, (312)322-1700, through April 13.