Robert Guttmann Gallery
The Story Continues:
Acquisitions in the Collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, 1994–2014
To mark the first twenty years of the Jewish Museum in Prague as an independent organization, it has prepared an exhibition to showcase more than 100 unique items that have become part of its collections over the last two decades. By highlighting specific artworks, manuscripts, books, archival documents, ritual objects and everyday items, the exhibition draws attention to the museum's acquisition efforts and to the history of these items, as well as telling the stories of the people who originally owned them.
Since regaining its independence in 1994 – when the state returned the collections of one of Europe's most important Jewish museums to the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic – the Jewish Museum in Prague has devoted great attention to developing its holdings. The state authorities had used the museum primarily as a tourist destination between 1950 and 1994; rather than developing the museum, their main concern was to seek ways of selling off its collections abroad. After 44 long years, filling in the gaps in the current collections became the primary task for the museum's curators.
Acquiring new items for the museum's collections does not just involve the gathering of various objects and artworks for their aesthetic quality or the addition of materials solely with regard to typology and chronology. The focus is always primarily on the stories of people and the things they owned and used – the search for meaning and connections. “The collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague include a number of representative illustrations and documentary images, as well as a large amount of small historical mass-produced items and private ephemera: objects that have been made, acquired, collected, preserved and handled with love. They include portraits and topographical items, as well as advertising objects, souvenirs and commemorative trifles whose meaning is usually not entirely clear at first glance to the uninitiated. Revealing these hidden meanings involves a process of examining the slightest connections that have been lost in the passage of time but also – within the context of Jewish history – in a vortex of tragic events,” states Michaela Sidenberg, Visual Arts Curator at the Jewish Museum in Prague.
When looking for new acquisitions, the museum's attention is focused not merely on 'synagogue objects' or 'artworks', but on all areas of Jewish life – collecting everyday objects used by Jews in Bohemia and Moravia, recording the personal testimonies of Shoah survivors, documenting personal objects that are unique reminders of historical events, bringing together documents relating to the cultural and social life of the Jewish community and Jewish businesses, and carrying out research in genizot (storage rooms for discarded materials).
Unlike during the Communist era, when there was no free art market, there are now many more opportunities to add to the museum's collections. Aside from making purchases at auctions in the Czech Republic and abroad or directly on the free market, the museum is acquiring an increasing number of exceptional items through donations and bequests from individuals. This exhibition is also a way of thanking those who have generously given many items to the museum, thus enabling the story of its unique collections to carry on.
Of the several thousand acquisitions made between 1994 and 2014, the curators have selected items that reflect the full range of the museum's collection-building activities. Visitors to the exhibition will also have an opportunity to see, for the first time, a Torah curtain from Mladá Vožice, dating from the mid-19th century, which is the first ever missing piece of Judaica from Bohemia that the museum has successfully reclaimed from the USA (in March of this year).
Thanks to modern technology, visitors will also be able to see exhibits that cannot be put on direct display due to their size or technical condition. Other items of great interest can be seen in great detail or browsed through – such as an album of 33 postcards hand-painted by Eugen von Kahler in 1897-1901 and Robert Guttman's hand-made journal of a journey to the grave of Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk, dating from 1928. Among the particularly noteworthy exhibits in the audio-visual section are unique coloured slides showing sites in Palestine from the early 20th century, and Max Bruch's performance of Kol Nidrei, Op. 47 as recorded on a piano roll by the Leipzig company F. L. Hupfeld, AG in 1922.
The exhibition was conceived and curated by Dana Veselská and Michaela Sidenberg.
The Story Continues: Acquisitions in the Collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, 1994–2014
24 April – 3 August 2014
Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery
U Staré školy 3, Prague 1
Open daily except for Saturdays and Jewish holidays, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Painted cotton, flax and felt; unmarked.
Provenance: acquisition from 2006; donated by a private individual in Prague; a present from the donor's mother, it was made in the tailor's workshop at Terezín; the doll is a depiction of her daughter as a cleaner.
Inv. No. JMP 178.924
Synagogue alms box
Kolín, turn of the 17th and 18th centuries
Chiselled polychrome opuka (arenaceous marlstone) and iron; inside the niche is a rectangular band with an abbreviation of the Hebrew inscription 'A secret gift soothes anger.'
Provenance: acquisition from 1995; purchased from U zlaté růže Antique Shop, Prague; at least until 1970 part of the interior of the Kolín Synagogue vestibule; later ownership history not recorded.
Inv. No. JMP 176.910
Opona Mladá Vožice
Mladá Vožice, 1855 (date in the dedicatory inscription)
Velvet, silk and metal thread embroidery; unmarked; Hebrew dedicatory inscription: 'Donated by Moses Liftschütz and his wife Haylah from Blanice, in the year 615 according to the minor era (= 1855).'
Provenance: acquired by the museum in 1942–1944 from the collection point of Mladá Vožice (Blanice is part of this town) and included in the museum's German Catalogue as Inv. No. 031.669; recorded in an inventory of the museum's collections in 1956; returned to the museum's collections in 2014 from the New York office of the Sotheby's Auction House, where in the spring of 2013 it was held back before the start of the auction A Treasured Legacy: The Michael and Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection at the request of the owner – the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic.
Inv. No. JMP 031.669