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ARCHIVE OF NEWSLETTERS

NEWSLETTER 2001/2

 

Prestigious award for the Jewish Museum
The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize, conferred upon the Jewish Museum    A major award - the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize - has been conferred upon The Jewish Museum in Prague. Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion handed over the prize to the Director of the Museum, Leo Pavlát, in Cincinnati, Ohio on 30 May. The College, which established this annual prize to honour the memory of Dr. Heller (1897-1976), a great scholar and humanitarian, was founded in 1875 and is the oldest institution of Jewish higher education in America and the intellectual centre of Reform Judaism. The College provides professional courses for future rabbis, cantors and educators with a Reform focus and offers graduate and post-graduate degree programmes. The librariesof the College, comprising almost 700,000 volumes and 6,000 manuscripts, constitute one of the largest repositories of Judaica and Hebraica in the world. The College also maintains the American Jewish Archives and is home to the Skirball Museum, which is one of the leading Jewish museums in the US. Educational centres of the College are active in New YorCZK, Los Angeles and Jerusalem.
   Since its inception in 1990, the Heller Prize has been conferred annually for worCZKthat contributes to the betterment of humanity. The Prize carries an award of $10,000. Past recipients have included historians Serge Klarsfeld and Raul Hilberg and diplomats Uri Lubrani, Dennis B. Ross, Richard C. Holbrooke and Stuart Eisenstat. The Jewish Museum in Prague is the first institution to be awarded the Heller Prize, recognition for ”the clarity of vision with which it has preserved the unique historical material documenting the centuries of vibrant Jewish life in Bohemia and Moravia and the destruction of European Jewry during the Shoah”. It was further stated: ”Principle repository for one of the most extensive collections of Jewish art, silver and textiles, the Museum is today an inspiring example of an institution governed by conscience and memory. The Museum representing Jewish history and heritage is a vibrant symbol of Jewish survival as an institution devoted to memory, scholarship and education for future generations”.
   Leo Pavlát, the Director of the Museum, received a tremendous welcome from Hebrew Union College and was treated to an eventful programme during which he was shown around the institution and introduced to its leading representatives, including the Acting President Dr. Norman J. Cohen, Dr. Paul M. Steinberg, and Co-Trustees of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, Ruth O. Freedlander and Beatrice Weidman. Both institutions expressed the desire for close ties in the future.
   The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize is a great honour for the Jewish Museum in Prague, as well as an encouragement for all its future activities. The Museum expresses its sincere thanks to Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion.

 

New Gallery
The Robert Guttmann Gallery   Apart from a brief period between 1945 and 1948, the Jewish Museum in Prague has never (up until now) had its own gallery for temporary exhibitions. As a result, the Museum was not previously able to feature the results of its research and restoration worCZKor to provide the public with ongoing displays of its collections.
   The newly opened venue - located on the ground floor in the north-east facing part of the Museum’s new premises - offers over 80 sqm of exhibition space and meets all the technical requirements of a modern gallery. The use of high-quality adjustable window shades and a double-door entrance reduce the direct impact of external factors and provide for optimum climate control. Thanks to this and the precise regulation of lighting, it is possible to showcase even the most sensitive of materials, such as parchments, old prints and textiles. In addition, the use of a cornice fitted with security sensors makes for a safe and aesthetic display of artworCZK.
   The opening of a new gallery for temporary exhibitions has been a long-awaited event for the Museum. Since the Museum’s art collection has boasted the most significant acquisitions in the past decade, the new gallery will be a venue primarily for the display of artworks which to date have been shown only to a very limited extent. The exhibitions will focus mainly on Czech Jewish artists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the gallery also aims to showcase contemporary modern art.
   The gallery is named after the well-known Prague naive painter Robert Guttmann (1880-1942), whose worCZKis featured in the first exhibition. The aim of the gallery is to bring this artist to public attention and to promote young artists in their search for original forms of expression. There will also be exhibitions of historical works that highlight the contribution of Jewish artists to various areas of Czech culture. We intend to hold between four and five displays each year and in the future plan to showcase the worCZKof a number of Czech Jewish artists, including Emil OrliCZK, Alfred Justitz, Jiří Kars, Bedřich Feigl.
   Open daily 10am - 5pm until 6pm in summer, closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

 

Robert Guttmann - Painter and Traveller from Prague
Robert Guttmann - Bar Mitzvah in the Temple, 1941, oil on canvas, 54x38.5 cm   The exhibition ‘Robert Guttmann - Painter and Traveller from Prague’ opened at the Museum on 11 April. This is the most extensive display to date of artworCZKby the renowned naive artist from the inter-war period - an eccentric character whose antics on the streets of Prague are remembered to this day. The exhibition includes not only all of Guttmann’s pictures that have been preserved in the Museum’s collection but also a host of sketches and caricatures of Guttmann by other artists, period photographs and documents which the Museum has gathered together over the years. We would welcome any kind of help from the public in tracing further pictures, photographs or any other material relating to Robert Guttmann. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Arno PaříCZKand continues until 19 August 2001.
   Robert Guttmann was born on 20 April 1880 in Sušice, SW Bohemia, and spent his childhood in Sušice. He attended secondary school in České Budějovice but after two troublesome years was sent home to learn the family business. Fond of flowers and animals, he spent most of his time roaming around the countryside. He became known as the ”village poet” on account of his dreamy nature.
   Guttmann came to Prague in 1895, attending the Bergmann Business School. He is said to have acquired a splendid baritone voice and had hopes of becoming a cantor. As a keen athlete he also dreamt of becoming an Olympic champion. For three years he attended a private art school run by the landscape painter Alois Kirnig. But all these interests were pushed aside by Guttmann’s first encounter with the burgeoning Jewish national movement, which proved to be a pivotal moment in his life. He attended lectures held by the Maccabi Students’ Association (1893) and in 1897 he hiked his way to the First Zionist Congress in Basle. He was subsequently to visit nearly all of the Zionist congresses in various towns throughout Europe until 1925. But not everyone understood Guttmann’s devotion to the Zionist movement: ”The local [Prague] Zionists repaid me with the worst gratitude you can imagine… As a result of the personal animosity and antipathy I came across in Zionist circles I began to focus more intensively on painting.”
   In the inter-war period Guttmann was better known in Prague for his distinct appearance than for his pictures. His views, photographs, caricatures and reproductions were often featured in Prague newspapers. In the summer he would set out on long hikes to Zionist congresses or on criss-cross walking tours of Czechoslovakia from Karlovy Vary to Košice, Užhorod and Mukačevo. He often stayed at spas where he would sketch the guests or sell his own caricatures.
   Guttmann’s paintings are unconventional and unclassifiable, and, as a result, unsettling. They give us an insight into a secluded, sensitive soul that was drawn to nature, the integrity of childhood and profound faith. As an artist, he refused to be a mere reproducer of reality and defended his right to his own creative self-expression. ”I am completely independent and happy that I have escaped the pedantry of the academic world and that I am free to live and rage!”.
   After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Guttman lost the genial world in which he had been accustomed to live. He continued to paint from 1939-41, but only from memory. These last pictures were all characterized by bright colours and, apart from a few exceptions, are the only ones to have survived.
   On 16 October 1941 Guttmann was put on the first transport that left Prague for the Lodz ghetto. Ghetto life must have been incomprehensible and unbearable for such a globetrotter who had criss-crossed half of Europe on foot. He became completely apathetic and uncommunicative, just staring into space and clutching his old artist’s folder. He died at Lodz on 14 March 1942.

 

History of the Jews in Bohemia and in Moravia
Part I - From the First Settlements until the Beginnings of Emancipation
Dr. Leo Pavlát, Director of the Jewish Museum in Prague, at the exhibition opening   A newly arranged and extended exhibition of the Jewish Museum in Prague opened in the Maisel Synagogue on 19 April 2001. Replacing an earlier display that was housed here for six years and seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the world, this new exhibition provides a cross-sectional overview of the history of the Jews in the Czech lands from the 10th to the late 18th centuries. The exhibition is thematically based around individual aspects of Jewish life in Bohemia and Moravia, such as legal status, forms of settlement, depiction of Jewry, professions, self-government, literature, spiritual life, prominent representatives, spiritual oppression, scholarship, persecution and discrimination, ceremonial processions, and messianism.
   The new exhibition does not greatly differ from its predecessor in terms of the number or nature of exhibits, but it does feature a wealth of old artefacts from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague and other institutions that have never previously been exhibited. The exhibition features a rich display of worCZKby Jewish goldsmiths as well as such interesting details as a debt note secured by Jan Žižka of Trocnov and the heraldic certificate of Jacob Bassevi (the first Jew to be raised to the nobility). Bohemian and Moravian synagogue curtains from the 17th and 18th centuries are featured in display cabinets between the two main pillars. The two most precious exhibits - late 16th century Torah curtains donated respectively by the Perlsticker family and Mordechai Maisel - are located on the raised platform by the ArCZK. The new exhibition is undoubtedly more diverse in terms of the amount of documents such as maps, unique papers associated with the lives of local Jews and translations of texts that reflect the spirit of the times. Certain exhibits (copies of documents and illustrations) effectively highlight various forms of discrimination against the Jews and reflect anti-Semitic stereotypes.
   Of particular interest to visitors is the fact that the new exhibition features depictions of various objects pertaining to the earliest Jewish history in the Czech lands, which have never (up until now) been on general view to the public. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Alexandr PutíCZK.
   Open daily 9am - 6pm. Closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays

 

Avi Biran: Dialogue with Time
Avi Biran - Etrog container, silver, brass, patinated copper    A new exhibition entitled DIALOGUE WITH TIME opened in the upper floor prayer hall of the Spanish Synagogue on 17 May, featuring liturgical objects from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague and contemporary worCZKby the Israeli designer Avi Biran. The exhibition is curated by Jaroslav Kuntoš and continues until 26 October 2001.
   The production of Jewish liturgical objects seldom finds itself at the forefront of interest in the Czech Republic, where it is generally regarded as something of a closed chapter. In view of tragic historical events there were no new liturgical objects produced after the Second World War; the few surviving Jewish communities made use of liturgical objects that were often hundreds of years old. The exhibition of objects by Avi Biran, complemented by their historical counterparts from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, demonstrates that such objects are being made in the present and that these are no mere replicas of earlier models. Historical counterparts from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague have been selected with a view to their similarity in shape and function, with no particular regard being paid to their age or artistic and historical significance. The majority of these objects are being displayed for the first time.
   Avi Biran was born in 1964 in Haifa, Israel and graduated in 1990 from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Department of GoldworCZKand SilverworCZK. Since 2000 he has been doing postgraduate research in industrial design at the Academy. He specializes in the production of Jewish liturgical objects in which he combines a feeling for tradition with a contemporary aesthetic awareness and professional craftsmanship. In what is a relatively short period of time he has already gained considerable recognition for his unconventional artefacts. He works mainly with silver and common metals but also uses wood and other organic materials, plastic and ceramics. He lives and works in Jerusalem.

 

New publications
The Jewish Museum in Prague Calendar 5762/2002 illustrated by MarCZKPodwal
Jewish Museum calendar    The Jewish Museum in Prague is preparing a new calendar for the Jewish year 5762. The calendar begins with the festival of Rosh ha-Shanah in September 2001 and ends at the close of the year 2002, covering a total of 16 months. It provides a clear arrangement based on the civic and the Jewish calendar and marks all the main Jewish holidays, semi-holidays and commemorative days, the Sabbath, the beginnings of the month and weekly portions of the Torah. Each month will be accompanied by a picture and a sign of the zodiac which have been specially created for this calendar by the eminent US artist and illustrator MarCZKPodwal. The pictures reflect the respective Jewish holidays and recall the Jewish Town of Prague which MarCZKPodwal knows so well and to which he has already devoted a great deal of his worCZK.

 

Arno PaříCZK: Robert Guttmann - Painter and Traveller from Prague
   To accompany the exhibition of Robert Guttmann the Museum has prepared the first ever detailed exhibition catalogue devoted to this eccentric Jewish artist. It features quality reproductions of all his known works from the Museum’s collections as well as numerous photographs from all periods of his life, caricatures of Guttmann by many known and unknown artists, and a host of other documentary material. The catalogue covers Guttmann’s youth, his activities as a Zionist and traveller, his Prague life in the inter-war period and his views on art, and outlines his relations with the outstanding personalities of the day, the Prague Jewish Community and the Jewish Museum. In addition, it looks at various aspects of his worCZK(portraits, genres scenes and the ‘official’ allegorical tableaux) and details his journeys to Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia and Slovakia, his tragic demise in the Lodz ghetto and the fate that met his art works. (48 pp., 115 full-colour reproductions, Czech and English)

 

Prominent visits
   The Jewish Museum in Prague is continuing with its long-established tradition of inviting representatives of the diplomatic corps to tour its exhibition spaces. On 24 April 2001 the Museum was visited by the wives of ambassadors to the Czech Republic who had been on earlier visits.

Prominent visits
February
A delegation of the American Jewish Committee from the U.S.

 

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