History Becomes Memory, five installations commemorating the end of WWII, opens September 11, 2015

07/27/15 to 10/31/18
Boca Raton Museum of Art

Comments from the Museum's Executive Director Irvin Lippman and Curator of Contemporary Art Kathy Goncharov on History Becomes Memory:


This fall, the Boca Raton Museum of Art joins a worldwide conversation on anti-Semitism by organizing the powerful exhibition History Becomes Memory, featuring four installations by major contemporary artists. Presented here together, Terry Berkowitz, Shimon Attie, Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, and Izhar Patkin examine ideas of bigotry, fear, resilience, and the need for a homeland. The memory paintings of Samuel Rothbort (born 1882 in Wolkovisk, Poland; died 1971 in New York City), whose works inspired Jerome Robbins’ production of Fiddler on the Roof, serve as an introduction to the exhibition. The opening reception will be held September 11, 2015 and remain on view to the public September 11 through January 10, 2016.

History Becomes Memory marks the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II and the Holocaust with a moving tribute to the endurance of the human spirit. The exhibition is enhanced with educational programs that encourage wide-spread community dialogue to foster increased understanding of existing cultural divides and ways to bridge them. In collaboration with a wide array of community partners, including Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education, the Museum will conduct artist talks, film screenings, musical performances, family activities, and educational programs for secondary and primary school students.

We are proud to present this stimulating public discussion to better understand the history that shaped the world in which we live today.  The artists who are participating in this exhibition have created works that recharge our collective memory.   Kathy Goncharov, our curator of Contemporary Art, organized the exhibition and was well-supported by a staff that feels strongly in this most relevant topic and that the exhibition serves as a reminder of the fundamental importance of freedom.

Irvin Lippman
Executive Director

History Becomes Memory

September 11, 2015 - January 10, 2016

History Becomes Memory features five sections that address the intolerance that leads to murder, genocide, and war. It coincides with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and broadly spans a timeframe beginning in the 15th century and ending with the founding of modern Israel in 1948. The Boca Raton Museum of Art has invited a group of remarkable contemporary artists to create installations especially for this exhibition.

Samuel Rothbort: Memories of the Shtetl

History Becomes Memory is introduced not with the work of a contemporary artist, but with memory paintings by Samuel Rothbort. He was born in 1882 in Wolkovisk, then part of rural Russia and now part of Belarus.  A series of anti-Semitic pogroms that killed thousands of Jews erupted throughout Tsarist Russia in 1903, prompting Rothbort to immigrate to the United States and eventually settle in Brooklyn in 1904. It was in New York that this self-taught artist began his creative career in earnest.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, he made hundreds of small watercolors inspired by boyhood memories of his homeland, which were later exhibited at the Theodor Herzl Institute in New York City, but have largely remained unseen.  This work recalls an almost fairy-tale world where Jews in humble circumstances live and celebrate their everyday lives free from persecution – a carefree, pastoral world that is lost forever.

 In 1960 Harriet Semegram produced The Ghetto Pillow, a movie that includes more than 200 of Rothbort’s watercolors, which won awards at the 1962 Edinburgh Film Festival. Rothbort’s work later became the source material for Jerome Robbins’ 1964 musical and the 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, reissued in 1989 as Memories of the Shtetl. Rothbort’s work was also featured in the 2000 documentary The Lost Wooden Synagogues of Eastern Europe, narrated by Theodore Bikel and directed by Albert Barry under the auspices of Florida Atlantic University.

Terry Berkowitz: Veil of Memory/Prologue: The Last Supper

Terry Berkowitz’ hauntingly evocative Veil of Memory/Prologue: The Last Supper imagines the last meal of the Jews before their expulsion from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. At that time, the country was ruled by Catholics and the Inquisition was firmly established. Having once thrived under the Moors, many Jews decided to flee from Spain – enduring torturous and often deadly conditions to do so – to the lands ruled by the Ottomans, including North Africa, Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans.

In Berkowitz’ vision of this exodus scene, visitors sit at a long table set with empty bowls, candles and half-filled glasses of water and listen to stories about the tribulations the Jews suffered during their expulsion. Two large shadowy video projections depict fleeing crowds and common household objects such as keys and spoons floating amid turbulent waves. Drifting through the installation are the sounds of liturgical music and rushing seawater, the murmurs of people too fearful to speak aloud, and excerpts from the Edict of Expulsion read in both English and 15th-century Castilian Spanish.

Shimon Attie: The Neighbor Next Door

Shimon Attie also poignantly shows us what has been lost. In his words, his immersive multi-media works “peel back the wallpaper of today to reveal the histories hidden below.”

When the New York-based Attie was a resident of Berlin in the 1990s he was disturbed by the lack of visual evidence of the Jews who once lived there. He therefore decided to “make the buildings talk” by projecting historical images of the former residents onto the windows, doorways, and facades of buildings in the formerly Jewish neighborhood. These haunting images – discovered in pre-war archives, family albums, and newspapers – forced passersby to remember and to reflect on the tragedy of those who were forced from their homes and murdered. What we see in this exhibition are the photographs Attie took during the course of that year.

This project is part of a larger body of Attie’s work called Sites Unseen that also includes The Neighbor Next Door (1993). In it, Attie “made the cobblestones speak” using clips of films that were taken in Amsterdam by Jews during the Nazi Occupation from the windows of their hiding places. Unlike the Berlin series that brings back to life those who are missing, The Neighbor Next Door focuses on what the hidden Jews experienced and what they saw if they dared to peek through the windows.

For our exhibition, the visitor enters a dimly lit space that, at first, appears to be empty. Upon closer examination we discover three small holes in the wall. Visitors look through them to see short film clips of Nazi soldiers, a funeral procession, and a military marching band. These images, accompanied by a soundtrack of street noise, are blurred and fragmented – as memories often are. 

Renata Stih & Frieder Schnock: Rosie Won the War

ROSIE WON THE WAR is an installation created by Berlin artists Renata Stih & Frieder Schnock which focuses on the women at the home front in the United States during World War II.  The two-part installation is both a memorial to the Holocaust and a celebration of the Allied victory in World War II.  Using Norman Rockwell's iconic picture Rosie the Riveter as a point of departure, Stih & Schnock bring to light a particular moment in the history of the 20th century and America's engagement in World War II, when the working woman began dominating the public image at home.
This newly commissioned work by the Boca Raton Museum of Art pays homage to women doing "men's jobs" in manufacturing plants while men were fighting the enemy in the battlefields abroad. According to the artists:

We owe the victory over Nazi Germany equally to those women as to the men. In letters to their husbands some of these women have described their working experience as more satisfying than being a house wife… which led to controversial discussions and social tensions after 1945 and the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.

The video Counter Attack (20 minutes) captures a particular aspect in Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter. Rosie is dressed in work gear, sitting in front of an American flag, holding a sandwich in one hand, a riveting machine in the other, and stepping with one foot on Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf reminding us of the reason behind the war. Counter Attack shows women's feet stepping on and crushing a copy of Mein Kampf with spikes on their feet until the book is tattered, destroyed, and then disappears.

Leading the visitor into their installation, Stih & Schnock have created 20 banners each printed with anti-Jewish laws enacted by the Nazis beginning in 1933, noting the date of each decree.  The opposite side presents an illustration that serves as a signpost introducing the decrees and the gradual dehumanization and humiliation the Jews suffered during the Nazi era.  The artists have chosen to print the banners in a red and black at once evocative of the graphics of the Third Reich, creating a dialogue about World War II and the Holocaust.

Izhar Patkin: You Tell Us What to Do

History Becomes Memory concludes with the founding of modern Israel in 1948 and the events that led up to it. To create his monumental installation You Tell Us What to Do, Israeli-born Izhar Patkin manipulated vintage photographs of Palestine from the 19th century to the present. His impressive cinematic montage, depicting conflict and exile, is a kind of memory poem taken from events both real and mythical in the creation of the new nation. Patkin’s images do not follow a strict narrative. Rather, his characters are like ghosts who interact without regard for place or time – a powerful metaphor for History Becomes Memory.

Kathleen Goncharov
Curator of Contemporary Art

These installations are generously underwritten by Dr. Nicole Edeiken, Beatrice Cummings Mayer, Steinberg Global Asset Management, Ltd., Deena & Seymour Freeman, and the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. History Becomes Memory is sponsored in part by the Board of County commissioners, the Tourist Development Council and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County. Additional support is generously provided by our Members and Donors.


About Boca Raton Museum of Art

The Boca Raton Museum of Art is the only museum in South Florida founded by artists. Established in 1950 as the Art Guild of Boca Raton, the organization has grown to encompass an Art School, Guild, Store, and Museum with distinguished permanent collections of contemporary art, glass, non-western art, photography, and sculpture, as well as a diverse selection of special exhibitions.  The Museum is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 AM until 5 PM; on Thursdays from 10 AM until 8 PM; and on weekends from 12 PM until 5 PM. Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month, and otherwise $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and free for students with IDs and children under 12. Learn more at www.bocamuseum.org