Holy Land map exhibit closed “for repairs”

Exhibit reopened, with newly appointed guides-see below.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies’ museum shut down an exhibit featuring Israeli and Palestinian born women artists. This is a transitional time. Staffers in Jewish institutions are taking baby steps towards open debate and inquiry. While we do not know the back story, it’s entirely likely that in this case, as in many similar instances, a major donor to the museum demanded a change. We’ll let you know when we find out more.

Spertus museum shutters Holy Land map exhibit
Curator says building repairs behind closing of controversial show

By Charles Storch and Alan G. Artner

A controversial exhibition on Holy Land maps and boundaries, both ancient and contemporary, was suspended in the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies’ museum less than a week after it opened.

Rhoda Rosen, the Chicago museum’s director and curator of the exhibition, “Imaginary Coordinates,” said Tuesday that the show was closed last Thursday because of maintenance issues in the 7-month-old building’s 10th-floor gallery. She acknowledged that the show is provocative and “some people expressed concerns about presenting these issues in a Jewish museum.”

She declined to elaborate on those concerns, saying only that they are coming from members of the institute’s “core audience.” She contended that the public response has been generally positive.

Because of the hiatus forced by gallery repairs, she said, “we took the opportunity to look at concerns as well.” She said shows on other floors are not affected.

She said she was hopeful the exhibition would reopen this week.

The show, which opened May 2 and is to run until Sept. 7, includes works by eight Israeli- and Palestinian-born female artists as well as maps from the Spertus collection.

Thematically, the show goes beyond conventional notions of national borders and mapping. It expresses the ideas in such means as a video by a Palestinian artist has her discussing her sexuality while showing images of her nude mother.

UPDATE: The Tribune reported on May 15 that the exhibit reopened after a week to move items out of the “harsh light.” (No unintentional use of metaphor there.) As we anticipated, a change was made: now, “selected” docents have been added to the tour. Following the logic of the stated reason for the closure, it’s not clear if they were necessary to shield the exhibit from the glaring light of visitors. While it is good to see the exhibit open, and with the content unchanged, this can hardly be seen as a victory for artists and free speech advocates. You can see art, but only if we tell you what to think about it. (What must the artists think about this?)

An exhibit on Holy Land boundaries and maps reopened Thursday in the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies museum after a week’s suspension.

Museum director Rhoda Rosen said the “Imaginary Coordinates” hiatus was needed to shift fragile items away from harsh light. Hourly tours led by her, selected docents and educators have been added to foster discussion about issues presented by the show, particularly Israelis’ and Palestinians’ differing ideas of homeland.

She acknowledged that after the show opened May 2, some visitors expressed concern about its geopolitical subtext but not about any exhibits.

She said the show’s content was not changed.