Find the Jewish Art

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Judy Goldstein

Every time I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I play a game with myself called “Find the Jewish Art.” You would think this game would be easier, considering the collections of the Met include over two million works of art. However, my current high score at my self-imposed Find the Jewish Art contest is around 12, depending on what I choose to count. Do I only count art made by Jews? Should I count art not made by Jews but that nonetheless connects me to my Judaism (see Artemisia Gentileschi’s Esther before Ahasuerus)? Do paintings with secular content created by Jews count? What are the rules? 

On my last visit to the Met in mid-January, my first weekend back on campus, I had something of a revelation. In the “Surrealism Beyond Borders” exhibit, tucked away on the second floor behind a gift shop and an elevator, I was forced to question my constant compartmentalizing. I wandered through the gallery, reading about Leonara Carrington (“I don’t have time to be anyone’s muse,” she said, regarding her role in the Surrealist movement), Eugenio Granell (“I was forced to leave because one of the traits of my personality, ever since my childhood, is that I do not like to be killed,” he said, exiled from his home country), and countless other extraordinaries. The large majority of the movements and painters displayed in “Surrealism Beyond Borders” were not Jewish. In fact, many Surrealist painters rejected religion altogether. And yet, I saw so much Jewishness in that corner of the Met. Consider, for a moment, the words of Marcel Marien, a Belgian surrealist. “To the extent that Surrealism could have any connection with geography,” he wrote, “One couldn’t think of it as other than international, or, better still, and once and for all—stateless.” 

Although the Jewish people have not been stateless since 1948, we are still a largely diaspora-based community. Many Jews, including myself, grapple with being connected to any state in the first place. The Surrealist art of the Met exhibit rejected border lines altogether. And, like their paintings and films and sculptures, Judaism has never been reliant on one particular place in time. It is not so easily placed in one box or another. “Find the Jewish Art” is no longer a game I play at the Met—I have learned that art is fluid, not to be rigidly conformed into one category or another, and that any art is Jewish if I find a little piece of myself reflected back at me. 

Judy Goldstein  (DD ’25)