Power of Conversation: Jewish Women
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Power of Conversation: Jewish Women

NEW YORK, NY.- The Jewish Museum will present The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons from through July 10, 2005. From their debut in the 1780s to their emergence in 1930s California, Jewish women’s salons served as welcoming havens where people from different classes and creeds could openly debate art, music, literature, and politics. The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons examines the extraordinary history of these salons where ambitious women of intellect resolved that neither gender nor religion would impede their ability to bring about progressive social change and great art. Salon guests assembled to discuss ideas, exhibit their artwork, perform their music, recite literary works, and forge political alliances. The exhibition demonstrates the influence of the salon on the promotion of new art, music and literature, and on the creation of celebrity. It probes the role that private conversations in the drawing rooms of 14 influential Jewish women had in fostering the careers and fame of such celebrities as Felix Mendelssohn, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Greta Garbo, and others. Henriette Herz, the first Jewish woman to host a salon; Ada Leverson, who welcomed Oscar Wilde to her salon even after his controversial arrest; Anna Kuliscioff, an activist ardently opposed to the oppression of women; and Margherita Sarfatti, who acted as Mussolini’s political partner, are just a few of the engaging cast of characters to be introduced in the exhibition. A total of 197 objects will be on view including portraits of the salonières and their guests, as well as paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, letters, manuscripts, musical scores, political treatises, plays, novels, poems, furniture, fashion, and film. Among the fine arts highlights in the exhibition are: eleven oil paintings by the New York-based American artist and salonière Florine Stettheimer; fifteen drawings by Wilhelm Hensel of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (Felix’s sister and Wilhelm’s wife), Felix Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Henirich Heine, and others; as well as works by Gustav Klimt, Auguste Rodin, Umberto Boccioni, Achille Funi, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Max Beerbohm, and Aubrey Beardsley, among others.

Following its New York City showing, The Power of Conversation will travel to the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College where it will be presented by Boston College and the New Center for Arts and Culture, Boston from August 22 through December 4, 2005.

The Power of Conversation focuses on 14 of the most powerful women who hosted these salons from the late 18th through the mid-20th century. Included are: the first Jewish salonières, Henriette Herz and Rahel Levin Varnhagen in 1780s Berlin; Fanny von Arnstein and her sister Cäcilie von Eskeles in Vienna; the famed music salons of Amalie Beer and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (the sister of Felix) in Berlin; the haute chic 1890s literary salons of Ada Leverson in London and Geneviève Straus in Paris; the subversive political salon of Anna Kuliscioff in Milan; the modernist art salons of Berta Szeps Zuckerkandl in Vienna and Margherita Sarfatti in Milan; the avant-garde gatherings of Gertrude Stein in Paris and Florine Stettheimer in New York; and the salon of Salka Viertel in 1930s Los Angeles. The exhibition reveals these salonières as exceptional women who became major players in the society, arts and politics of their times, despite their minority status, and examines the salon as a seat of power for women and a means of social ascent for traditional outsiders.

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