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Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education will open 'I AM THIS,' an exhibitionof art created by Oregon Jewish artists.

SUBMITTED PHOTOS  - Hilda Morris Early Voyagers #2, 1954-56

Oregon Jewish artists explore self, identity and place

Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education will open a new exhibition, "I AM THIS, Art by Oregon Jewish Artists," Oct. 19 and continuing through Feb. 4, 2018.

Mark Rothkos Landscape (View of Portland), 1928

The exhibition showcases work by four generations of artists born Jewish, associated with or living in Portland, artists who navigate the complexity of aesthetics and self, making and being. Drawing inspiration from American art critic Harold Rosenberg's writings on the relationships of Jewish identity and art production in post-Second World War United States, the exhibition reflects the complex negotiation contemporary artists made in the 20th century between the poles of spiritual community and secular, intellectual theory and aesthetics.

Shirley Gittelsohns Geraniums - Snow - Night, 1981. Courtesy of Reed College.

The artists in the exhibition include Amy Bernstein, Paul Georges, Shirley Gittlesohn, Deborah Horrell, Mel Katz, Michael Lazarus, Frederick Littman, Dana Lynn Louis, David Morris, Hilda Morris, Mark Rothko, Florence Saltzman and Wilder Schmaltz.

"In framing our second exhibition in our new home we thought it was important to look at issues of Jewish identity and self through a lens that also recognizes place," said director Judy Margles. "In working with curator Bruce Guenther we found a grounding in the writings of the mid-century American art critic Harold Rosenberg — specifically a piece titled "Is There a Jewish Art?" The essay was first formed as a talk Rosenberg gave at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1966.

Mel Katz, Marmoleum, 1991. Courtesy of the Artist and the Russo Lee Gallery, Portland.

With the opening of our own Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education just this past June, we found this exploration of self, identity and place just as relevant today. It is our greatest pleasure to mark this particular point in time through exploration of work that ranges from paintings by Mark Rothko to contemporary work by the next generation of Oregon Jewish artists."

The six women and seven men featured in "I AM THIS" share the fundamental experience of the diaspora that marked 20th century Jewish life — from the first decade's programs in Eastern Europe and the Pale of Settlement to mass immigration, the Holocaust, and for immigrant families the discomfiture of American assimilation with its resulting anonymity along the common road of self-definition.

For immigrants like Mark Rothko and Frederick Littman, moving from one national context to another and one class to another, the challenges of balancing the knowledge of oneself as Jewish and status as a Jew with becoming an American and its demands for conformity were lifelong hurdles. The children of immigrants such as Hilda Morris, Florence Saltzman and Mel Katz were to become estranged from their parents' cultural framework through the educational opportunities outside of traditional Jewish structures and the politics of the melting pot in the United States.

With the artists who are second and third generation Jews in the exhibition, Amy Bernstein, Deborah Horrell, Michael Lazarus, Dana Lynn Louis, David Morris, Wilder Schmaltz and brother and sister Paul Georges and Shirley (Georges) Gittelsohn, their childhoods in largely assimilated, secularized families has left them to rediscover and define their identities in the shadow of the Diaspora through art.

For all of these artists, working across the inherent individualism of styles that characterize 20th century Modernism — its Universalist vocabulary isolating collective narratives and cultural characteristics — has meant a journey of recognition and reconciliation of identity as artists and Jews.

The work in the exhibition spans almost 90 years with the earliest work form 1928, and the most recent from 2017. The artists, sculptures and painters, and the 15 works featured in "I AM THIS" demonstrate a breadth of exploration, curiosity and invention. The exhibition is curated by Bruce Guenther.

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