Twenty-four contemporary artists from around the world grapple with memories that are not their own

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Twenty-four contemporary artists from around the world grapple with memories that are not their own
Guy Goldstein, Eid ist Eid (An Oath is an Oath), 2008. Sound and embroidered tapestry on loudspeaker. Private collection, Tel-Aviv.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The Contemporary Jewish Museum is presenting the work of twenty-four contemporary artists who grapple with memories that are not their own in From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art.

The diverse group of local and international art practitioners, some of whom have never before exhibited in the United States, consider many forms of inherited, often traumatic, memory from the personal and familial to the collective. Through their works in a variety of media including sculpture, film, photography, mixed media, and more, many of the artists search, question, and reflect on the representation of truths related to ancestral and public narratives of historical moments such as the Holocaust, the struggle for civil rights for African Americans, and the Vietnam War among others—ultimately attempting to understand their own past. Others imagine memories from a future present.

The exhibition, co-curated by CJM Assistant Curator Pierre-Franšois Galpin and independent curator Lily Siegel, expands on the research of Dr. Marianne Hirsch, author of The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust. Hirsch introduced the term postmemory to describe the relationship of later generations to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before.

“We see in this powerful and thought-provoking exhibition artists from all over the world and of multiple backgrounds who share a practice of remembrance and transformation,” says Lori Starr, Executive Director, The CJM. “These ideas speak very deeply to Jewish people, and this exhibition speaks directly to the unique sensibilities of our Museum, where we are always looking at the Jewish experience in new ways and in relation to other cultures.”

From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art is organized according to themes suggested by the artworks themselves.

A selection of work concerns itself with personal and family narratives. Guy Goldstein’s (b. 1974, Israel) Eid ist Eid (An Oath is an Oath) (2008) is a response to his experience of visiting Krakˇw and coming across a picture of people, including his grandmother, filing onto a train at Auschwitz. The photo was responsible for leading prosecutors to her to testify in the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Goldstein’s work mixes his grandmother’s testimony with other found audio and projects it through a loudspeaker covered by an heirloom embroidered tapestry. Elizabeth Moran (b. 1984, United States) investigates the myths that surround her family home, a supposedly haunted farmhouse in Tennessee, by exploring a multitude of histories that are present but absent. Her installation, from the Record of Cherry Road project (2014-ongoing), includes audio, photographs, and documents created in the company of her aunt and uncle, both professional paranormal investigators. Eric Finzi (United States) recreates moments of his family’s history famously fictionalized in the book and movie both titled The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. His mixed media sculpture Tennicycle (2014) is on view.

Another area explored in the exhibition is social and cultural memory, often of collective experiences of war or genocide. Christian Boltanski (b. 1944, France) contributes Scratch (2014), a mixed media work that uses found photographs of anonymous faces from the 1928 yearbook of the Jewish School of Grosse Hamburgerstrasse, Berlin as monuments to victims of the Holocaust. Binh Danh (b. 1977, Vietnam) shows eight works from his photographic series Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War in which he reprints media imagery of the war onto leaves through an innovative photosynthesis process. Silvina Der-Meguerditchian (b. 1967, Argentina) explores the Armenian genocide in the early twentieth century in Families I and Families II (2013), two hanging quilts knitted by the artist that incorporate photographs from Ottoman Armenian families, just a few years before the genocide.

Works also speak to collective memories of transformative political movements like revolutions and uprisings. The exhibition includes two pieces, What Goes Without Saying (2012) and Amelia Falling (2014), by Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976, New Jersey) whose work often deals with the struggles that African Americans have faced for decades and its representation in the media. Choreographer Ralph Lemon’s (b. 1952, United States) performance Come home Charley Patton (The Geography Trilogy: Part 3) (2004) includes his research into socially charged sites in the South and recalls iconic but traumatic images such as violent attacks using high-pressure fire hoses on peaceful Civil Rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. Fabio Morais (b. 1975, Brazil) contributes Bandeira (2012), a double-sided flag with two photographs of different public funerals, one a victim of the military police in a protest in 1968 and the other the first democratically elected President of Brazil, Tancredo Neves.

A final category presents works that delve into futuristic fictions, often looking at the near-present from an imagined distant future. For Alien Souvenir Stand (2013), Ellen Harvey (b. 1967, United Kingdom) repurposes a vendor stand similar to those found on the Washington, DC tourist circuit and paints it with a variety of images of the city’s monuments as ruins, reminiscent of many postcards of sites from antiquity. The stand serves as the aliens’ schema for understanding the lineage of obelisks, columns, and domes found there. Rń di Martino’s (b. 1975, Italy) Every World’s a Stage (Beggar in the Ruins of Star Wars) (2012) is a series of photographs taken in the abandoned movie sets of the film Star Wars in Tunisia that now appear as strange archeological sites. Mike Kelley (b. 1954, United States) is represented by a work from his Kandors series, which he initiated in 1999. The mixed media sculptures depict Superman’s birthplace of Kandor, shrunk and bottled by a villain, and later rescued by Superman and protected in his sanctuary. Kandor and its miniature citizens, sustained by tanks of atmosphere, are a constant reminder of Superman’s lost past.

Other artists include Nao Bustamante (b. 1969, United States); Bernice Eisenstein (b. 1949, Canada); Nicholas Galanin (b. 1979, United States); Fotini Gouseti (b. 1974, Greece); Aram Jibilian (United States); Loli Kantor (France); Lisa Kokin (b. 1954, United States); Yong Soon Min (b. 1953, Korea); Vandy Rattana (b. 1980, Cambodia); Anri Sala (b, 1974, Albania); Wael Shawky (b. 1971, Egypt); Chikako Yamashiro (b. 1976, Japan).

Gouseti and Yamashiro are showing their work in the United States for the first time. Der-Meguerditchian, Eisenstein, Goldstein, and Morais make their West Coast debut with this exhibition.

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Twenty-four contemporary artists from around the world grapple with memories that are not their own

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