Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

A century of Leonard Bernstein

An exhibition of mementos, film clips, and other artifacts from the cultural giant's long career at the Oregon Jewish Museum

by EVAN LEWIS

Leonard Bernstein is a complicated artist to reckon with.  Composer, conductor, teacher, activist, father, cultural figure– the word “polymath” seems designed specifically to try and find a small word to wrap all of his roles into one. 

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education’s exhibit Leonard Bernstein at 100 runs through January 26, 2020.  Curated by the GRAMMY Museum in LA, The New York Public Library, and members of the Bernstein family, the exhibit chronologically illustrates the conductor’s life through photos, documents, mementos, and, most successfully, film clips of his performances. It’s a great exhibit for those who already know a lot about the Maestro (as LB is often referred to, in honor of his amazing conducting career), or those who are learning about him for the first time.  

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

In the interest of full disclosure: when I lived in NYC 15 years ago, fresh out of college, the first job I got was as the administrative assistant at The Leonard Bernstein Office, the organization that manages his estate; and after that I became the personal assistant to the man who had been LB’s personal assistant, Jack Gottlieb.  So to say that I feel like I have heard a lot of his music, thought a lot about his life, and generally been in a musical world with Bernstein always as a presence over my shoulder is a bit of an understatement. I ended up being asked to write this review without any of this being known; just one of those happy, musical accidents. Portland’s a small town, you always have to be on your best behavior because you never know who you’ll run into!

The exhibit starts with an overview of his early years– letters, photos, childhood in Boston– and then you enter a room where each display focuses on a different part of his music and career. Musically, it’s hard to mentally wrap your mind around the boundaries of his creative output and varied styles. Somehow it seems almost comical to remember one composer was responsible for On The Town, Candide, West Side Story, MASS, Symphony 2: The Age of Anxiety, Clarinet Sonata, etc. etc. etc. Bernstein by all accounts was someone hungry to experience all facets of life– read Jamie Bernstein’s excellent memoir Famous Father Girl for more anecdotes about that– and his catalogue of works shows that character trait in action.  Musicals, operas, film scores, “serious” concert works, rock-inflected works, musical lectures– there is no genre he didn’t dabble in. 

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

Last weekend, his daughter Jamie Bernstein was in town to speak about her memoir at the museum, and later that afternoon to introduce Portland’s own Bravo Youth Orchestra in a concert at the museum. Bravo is a proud part of El Sistema, and is dedicated to musical education with the mission to “transform the lives of underserved youth through intensive orchestral music instruction emphasizing collaboration, promoting self-confidence, and creating a community where children thrive.” Ms. Bernstein now, in a surprise to herself, does a lot of music education work in the vein of her father’s Young Peoples’ Concerts, so this musical meeting was a perfect fit. One item in the exhibit is a baton of Bernstein’s that he conducted Mahler with; it was loaned to Gustavo Dudamel, the most famous graduate of El Sistema, for a Mahler performance of his own. Long story short, he ended up snapping the baton at the end of the work, to his great distress. The snapped baton is on display.

In wandering through the exhibit with Ms. Bernstein, I asked her what her favorite item in the exhibit was.  Without pausing, she marched into the first room, planted her feet, and pointed decisively at what looked to be a torture device. “This, this is my favorite,” she said.  

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE with Frederics Permanent Wave machine at the left. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

From a distance, it’s hard to discern what this medusa tangle of wires even is, but it is, of course, a Frederics Permanent Wave machine.  Bernstein’s father Samuel had emigrated to the US from Ukraine and got into the beauty product business in Massachusetts, eventually becoming the exclusive seller of this machine of beauty/torture to salons in the Northeast.  The sales of this machine made Sam’s hair and beauty supply business a big success, and Sam always wanted his son to join him and, eventually, to take it over. Sam wouldn’t pay for music lessons for his son, believing that music wasn’t a stable career (I mean…he’s not exactly wrong) and that he should continue on his father’s legacy of providing perms to the women of Boston. After his son had become a worldwide phenomenon, Sam was asked by a reporter why he had refused to pay for piano lessons. The elder Bernstein replied, “Well, how was I supposed to know he’d turn out to be Leonard Bernstein?”

I asked her at the end of the exhibit if she had a favorite piece of music by him.  She said MASS held a special place in her heart since it seemed to have so much of Bernstein himself in the music and staging, but her real answer would have to be “whatever piece I listened to last.”  It is certainly true that he is hard to pigeonhole, and that one moment your favorite could be the Overture to Candide, and then you hear “America” from West Side Story and think that could be your favorite, and then a snippet of Serenade and you think, well….

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

Because the Maestro’s biography is so wide-ranging and star-studded, it’s hard for one exhibit to delve too deeply into any one aspect of his life– there really quite literally is not enough space. As a result, some of the sections feel like the CliffsNotes version of his biography– his activism is mentioned in one display, with a printout of his (lengthy) FBI file, and while that facet of him and his wife’s life could have its own exhibit, it does leave you wanting more depth, more detail about that part of his life. It’s a tricky balance to find, considering how much time could be spent on, for example, West Side Story alone, that the exhibit tries to speak to both people who know nothing at all about Bernstein as well as those familiar with his career. For the most part, the exhibit is successful in touching on all the major points of his life, and makes you want to go home and listen to everything.

Installation view of Leonard Bernstein at 100 at OJMCHE. Photo by Mario Gallucci.

In the end, when the exhibit is taken as a whole, all the items and photos and personal effects and printed anecdotes are fun to see and read and have novelty value, but only give you the outlines of the man.  It is the film at the end, showing him in action as a conductor, as a performer (and, most memorably as a composer/performer at the piano playing Rhapsody in Blue) that the hairs on your arm stand up.  It is then he feels most alive and vibrant and in reach–  his whole body making music, coaxing sounds out of an orchestra of old men with sideburns, music that was written hundreds of years ago and performed 40 plus years ago– that draws a crowd in the museum. Everytime I walked past the screen, there were people standing in silence, watching, taking in the Maestro in action.  That’s his true legacy: his ability to make music speak to everyone.

Evan Lewis, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, received his Masters in Music in composition from Mannes College, The New School (NYC) in 2008, where he was a winner of the Jean Schneider Goberman/Alaria Competition and had his orchestral work Alecto premiered at the 2008 Contemporary Music Festival by the Mannes Orchestra under the baton of guest conductor Michael Adelson. He is on the board of Cascadia Composers, and has had his writings featured in the LA Chamber Orchestra newsletter, KUSC’s member guide, and social media and blog posts for other musical groups.

In like a lion: March VizArts Monthly

A round-up of new shows at spaces big and small

Spring is creeping up on us between snowstorms, and new work and some big announcements (good and bad) are blossoming all over town. The big story last month was the Oregon College of Art and Craft closing its doors. In happier news, Tannaz Farsi was named the 2019 Bonnie Bronson Fellow. If you’d like to see what artists get up to on local residencies you can check out the Leland Ironworks 2018 residency show this First Thursday at PNCA. While you’re out, you can catch exciting new shows at Upfor, Williamson Knight, the Oregon Jewish Museum, and more.

Che Guevara by Alberto Korda

Korda Y El Espíritu De La Revolución Cubana (Korda and the Spirit of the Cuban Revolution)

Through July 21, 2019

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
1420 Johnson Lane
University of Oregon Campus, Eugene OR

Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez was better known as Alberto Korda or simply “Korda” when he took the photograph of Che Guevara that can now be found on countless T-shirts and posters. This romantic image of the revolutionary is considered to be one of the most reproduced images in history. Though he received almost no royalties for the constant unauthorized reproduction of his iconic image, Korda’s photography career continued to flourish in Cuba. He is also known for an iconic portrait of Fidel Castro. The Guevara portrait is on display as well as many other vintage prints published by Havana’s Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (OSPAAAL). All confirm Korda’s enduring influence on Cuban art and artists.

 

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: We know what it is for, we who have used it

Installation View, We know what it is for, we who have used it

We know what it is for, we who have used it: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme

Through April 7, 2019
Disjecta
8371 N Interstate Avenue

This new, multi-media exhibition by Palestinian artist duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme confronts the imagery and effects of violence, cultural erasure, and the art of resistance. Using Adrienne Rich’s poem, Diving into the Wreck (1971–72), as a “script,” this research-based project looks at the history of sites of disaster and violence as well as personal histories to search for evidence of what can be salvaged from destruction. Abbas and Abou-Rahme traveled to Palestinian villages in Israel that were destroyed in 1948 to ask what happened to the people, places, and things that were destroyed and displaced. This exhibit extends their project And yet my mask is powerful which began in 2014 when the artists first encountered Neolithic masks exhibited at the Israel Museum. These 9,000 year old masks are the oldest known masks at the time of writing. Abbas and Abou-Rahme created 3D printed reproductions of these masks and photographed Palestinian youths wearing them at locations in Palestine that have been destroyed by conflict or occupation. This promises to be a conceptually-deep and affecting show.

M. Acuff

Image from M. Acuff

Polyglot Plume: M. Acuff

Through March 31
Carnation Contemporary
8371 N Interstate Ave

This show of gallery member M. Acuff examines “the slow, invasive, inescapable violence of capitalist-driven climate change.” Interested in contradictory images and materials, Acuff wants to convey aspects of climate change that can’t be truly visualized – the scale and widespread effects of industrial development, chemical contamination of the environment, and habitat loss. Carnation Contemporary describes this work as “bearing witness to the remote forces of our common ruination.”

Chris Mullins

All Parts – Chris Mullins

Behavior: Chris Mullins

Through Mar 23
Opening Reception Thurs, March 7th 5:00–8:00pm
Caplan Art Designs
1323 NW 16th Ave #1001

PNCA alumnus Chris Mullins makes densely layered, often meditative paintings that hint at landscape and a sense of space along the lines of James Lavadour. This show of new paintings represent Mullins’ recent work with poured paint, a technique that makes way for more accident and less of the artist’s hand in the surface. Noting that no painter can be prepared for “every contingency,” Mullins says “the fun then is in allowing for the emergence of simple relationships.” This often leads to what he calls “a submerging of oneself” making the resulting images more aligned with “behavior” than selfhood.

Breadfruit - Alika Cooper

Breadfruit – Alika Cooper

Wabi Sabi Lobby: Alika Cooper and Eric Wesley

Through April 13
Private Places
2400 NE Holladay Street

This small, strange, but affecting show in one of Portland’s more hidden art spaces features a work of complex fabric art by Alika Cooper and sculpture by Eric Wesley. Located in a shared studio in an industrial neighborhood, Private Places may be difficult to find for new visitors (instructions on their site say to ring the doorbell for Holladay Studios) but this project curated by local artist Bobbi Woods is worth checking out for anyone interested in the current wave of independent art spaces in town.

Thank You - Mel Bochner

Thank You – Mel Bochner

Enough Said: Mel Bochner

March 7 – May 26, 2019
Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
724 NW Davis Street

A colorful, fun, and insightful major exhibition by acclaimed American Jewish conceptual artist and painter Mel Bochner. This exhibit draws from the collection of Jordan Schnitzer and highlights the ways that Bochner has visually explored the forms of language as well as its meaning. Editioned prints and unique pieces display Bochner’s skillful, complex printmaking techniques as well as his bombastic usage of words and letters. Colorful graphics wrapping the museum’s windows shout their message from across the Park Blocks, making this one hard to overlook.

Ulama Ule Alley Oop - Ronny Quevedo

Ulama Ule Alley Oop – Ronny Quevedo

Ronny Quevedo

March 7 – April 27
Upfor
929 Nw Flanders St

Working in multiple mediums, Ecuadorian artist Quevedo “posits profound interconnections between the circular movements engendered by sport and the expansive pathways forged by the artist’s personal migration story from Ecuador to the Bronx,” according to Hyperallergic. The result is a show of energetic drawings, diagrams, and otherwise assembled images that harvest the designs of basketball courts and other seemingly-abstract sports iconography.

 

Still from Mickalene Thomas, Do I Look Like a Lady

Still from Mickalene Thomas, Do I Look Like a Lady

Do I Look Like a Lady? (Comedians and Singers): Mickalene Thomas

March 9 – August 31
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205

This exhibition highlights the recently-acquired video installation by internationally renowned artist and former-Portlander, Mickalene Thomas. Thomas has said that a 1994 exhibition featuring Carrie Mae Weems was a crucial moment in her development as an artist.
This powerful, high-energy video collage of performances by African-American actors and singers throughout the 20th century engages with themes of beauty, identity, and representation while celebrating the individual voices of performers including Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Eartha Kitt, Whoopi Goldberg, and Whitney Houston.

Image via Dan Paz

The sun never knew how great it was until it struck the side of a building: Dan Paz

March 7 – April 13
Opening reception 6 – 8pm, March 7
Williamson | Knight Gallery
916 NW Flanders St

Taking its title from a quote by the architect Louis Khan, this solo show by Dan Paz curated by Yaelle Amir explores the role that light has played in the oppression of historically marginalized individuals. Williamson | Knight describe it as an examination of “how light is manipulated in carceral environments to craft a controlled collective space.” Including video, sculpture and performance, the show “demonstrates different methods of performing in, modifying, and refracting light to uncover how psychological and physical development is affected by lightness and darkness,” which is something those of us living near the 45th Parallel should understand well.

VizArts Monthly: Canoes and ice cream are involved

A big Richard Diebenkorn show at the Portland Art Museum, R.B.Kitaj at the Oregon Jewish Museum, and a host of other shows

There’s no denying it—summer is here (well, technically, maybe not)! And what better way to enjoy the precious, fleeting sunny months in Portland than to look at art in small indoor spaces? OK, there might be more appropriate summertime activities, but in between all the biking and lounging in parks and rafting on rivers, the seasonal blooming of events and shows has plenty to offer. In addition to the following list, take note of S1’s anniversary party weekend, June 8—10, with details available at http://s1portland.com/.

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VizArts Monthly: March on

You WILL make it through the last dregs of winter, and a new set of visual arts shows will help

I’ve seen March arrive in Portland more than a dozen times, and yet still some part of me thinks “Ok, it’s spring now, right?” It’s not spring, and it won’t be spring for a while. It’s still winter, still time left in the unpredictable progression from spiteful to mightful to sometimes delightful. It’s easy to think things just won’t change. But we Portlanders go through this every year, filling the outdoor cafes as soon as the sun makes an appearance. It’s built into our constitutions to look for signs of progress and renewal when all seems lost.

Checking the news at any point is a quick reminder that the weather’s not the only thing that manages to be both unexpected and depressing in 2018. Even though the clouds haven’t parted yet, some big, colorful developments are already showing. Black Panther is smashing box office records and inspiring intelligent conversation about a comic book movie, vibrant portraits of the Obamas by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald break the stuffy monotony of official presidential portraits, and the tough-as-nails students of Stoneman Douglas have already managed to budge the national conversation about gun control more than Washington has ever been willing to.

Likewise, our local artists and institutions aren’t waiting for the sun to come back to add some color and light to our city. March is chock full of smart, complex, and beautiful shows representing diverse perspectives. This list should give you plenty of chances to jolt the grey away.

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A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education takes over the old craft museum space with a broadened vision and a vibrant Russian art show

In a crowded second-floor gallery at the corner of Northwest Davis Street and Park Avenue, the joint was jumpin’. Television cameras whirred in the new home of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, a small jewel of a museum location that had been sitting vacant for many months. Reporters cornered curators and scribbled notes. Early birds wandered up and down the stairs of the 15,000-square-foot space’s two stories. The Russian artist Grisha Bruskin, outfitted in black from his close-cut coil of hair to his sleek sneakers, was talking about his new exhibit, ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory, which was spread like a giant quilt across the main-floor gallery below. Preparations for Sunday’s free public grand opening were in full swing, and the mood was jubilant.

Bruce Guenther, curator of inaugural exhibition, and Judy Margles, director of Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. Photo: Palma Corral

It was Wednesday in the prime Pearl District space, which had been home to the Museum of Contemporary Craft until that museum was abruptly shut down by the board of the Pacific Northwest College of Art more than a year ago, shocking both the city and a tightknit national craft art scene that had considered MoCC a pacesetting institution. After several months of hammering, sawing, painting, and reshaping spaces, it’s been reborn as the new home of the Jewish museum, which has moved from a space half its size and far less strategically located. Judy Margles, the museum’s longtime director, addressed the preview-day crowd. The designers took a bow. Bruce Guenther, the former chief curator of the Portland Art Museum who is curating the museum’s first season of exhibitions, introduced Bruskin, whose ALEFBET he praised as taking “its place with the tapestry masterworks.” And if the bubbly wasn’t flowing (it was a Wednesday morning, after all) the coffee was: Suddenly a space that had housed an important cultural center that had died before its time seemed alive with hope and possibilities again.

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‘Every Minute Counts’: a lost lens on America, rediscovered

An Oregon Jewish Museum exhibit uncovers the vibrant history-in-the-making images of photographer Katherine Joseph's 1930s and '40s

“EVERY MINUTE COUNTS,” the banner in the photograph shouts in big block capital letters, and the four women garment workers below, needles in hand and stacks of cloth surrounding them, make it clear they take the admonition seriously. Isolated and absorbed, yet also somehow bound into this activity together, they exude a serious and determined camaraderie. It’s 1942, and they’re on the home front, working in New York’s garment district, burrowed deeply in the rhythm of the duties of their small corner of the war effort.

This bold and striking image lends its title to the most recent exhibition at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. Every Minute Counts: Photographs by Katherine Joseph, which continues through September 25, is also the final exhibition at the museum’s space on Northwest Kearney Street before it shuts its doors for several months to prepare for reopening in late spring or early summer 2017 at the old Museum of Contemporary Craft space on Northwest Davis Street, by the North Park Blocks. The new space will provide more than double the square footage, to about 15,000.

 "Every Minute Counts," garment workers on the home front, new York, photo by Katherine Joseph, 1942; © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg; photograph courtesy of the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution


“Every Minute Counts,” garment workers on the home front, New York, photo by Katherine Joseph, 1942; © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg; photograph courtesy of the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

If you’ve never heard of Katherine Joseph, don’t feel bad: in spite of the wit and presence and proximity to history of so much of her work, not a lot of people have. Her photography in the 1930s and 1940s slides her neatly into a category of humanistic documentarists that also includes the likes of Dorothea Lange, whose images of Americans in the midst of the Great Depression became iconic, and Margaret Bourke-White, one of the most imaginative and socially revealing photographers for the old Life magazine during its glory years. But Joseph’s career was shorter – less than a decade – and as the war ended, so did it: Joseph hung up her camera, settled down, and raised a family. Even her children didn’t know until relatively recent years of her photographic fling with history.

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