Activity: Talk or presentation types › Invited talk
Over the past decade, curatorial practices for building museum collections have been increasingly challenged. This refers particularly to those informed by Western approaches to the global narrative that are alleged to have a tendency of being hegemonic with a male bias. As a result, the search for alternative narratives has become a primary task of current practitioners in the business.
This could be achieved by developing new approaches to the study of sources and exhibits, along with establishing new relationships between art and public. It could also imply revisiting previous endeavours to moderate global narratives to the public, in which notions of inclusiveness and diversity served as animating principles.
One such endeavour was Rachel Wischnitzer’s Yiddish magazine Milgroym whose narrative started in the East. Rather than domesticating prevailing concepts of museum – or exhibition space – as a product of Western civilization, Wischnitzer unveiled in her magazine a Jewish artistic heritage that she narrated within the broader context of Christian and Muslim tradition, i.e. from an Asia-Europe perspective. Free of hegemonic ambition and partiality, Milgroym charts the socio-political factors and common elements that interweave the oeuvre of Jewish artists across the world, while at the same time acknowledging their divergent cultural and historical backgrounds. These topics had formed the focus of Wischnitzer’s studies. Now the time had come to share them with the Jewish world and make them palatable to a wider audience. Yet, Milgroym’s ambition went far beyond popular enlightenment. Its launch acknowledged a period of transition for the display of Jewish heritage.
Whereas the art magazines launched by other Russians who stayed in Berlin during the early 1920s elevated Russian art to the global stage, Wischnitzer gathered items of Jewish heritage scattered around globally – Paris, London, Oxford, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Washington and Prague – for display on the national stage. She addressed the entire Ashkenazy Jewish community, which at the time was split into two ideological camps – Yiddishists and Hebraicists. The motivation for her commitment to both Yiddish and Hebrew was twofold: on the one hand, she intended to maintain scholarly neutrality in the ongoing language battle between both camps, on the other hand, she wanted to create an integrative approach to the relationship between art and public, and mediate her studies to the entire Jewish community including “Jewish groups in America and the growing Jewish community in Palestine”, as she pointed out later on.
Her choice of Yiddish and Hebrew, neither of which she knew, however, implied the involvement of translators whose style of impartiality, together with Wischnitzer’s original analyses, rigorous guidance notes and detached view of the ideological battles prevailing during this period in the Jewish world, became a signature of Milgroym’s non-judgemental pitch.
The present article will concentrate on Milgroym’s arts section, which initiated the most creative period of Wischnitzer’s extended sojourn in Berlin. It sets out to contextualize Milgroym within two larger historical phenomena: first, the history of interwar European Yiddish modernist publishing, and second, the competing discourses governing Yiddish translation. A third goal of the paper is to introduce Rachel Wischnitzer as a doyenne of Jewish art history. It will chart Wischnitzer’s path to Milgroym and shed light on her role as a pioneering scholar of Jewish Art History who transformed the relationship between art and public. In view of the debates on Yiddish translation prevailing during the period under discussion, the article will examine to what extent Milgroym translations, ultimately Wischnitzer’s responsibility, contributed to this transformed relationship, and expose her role in theorizing Milgroym as a pathway towards the global museum.