Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Conference: New Papers on Modern Jewish Buildings at College Art Association

 Woodmere, NY. Cong. Sons of Israel (1948-1950). Fritz Nathan & Eugene Schoen, archs. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Conference: New Papers on 20th Century American Jewish Buildings at College Art Association

This week is the annual College Art Association meeting at the Hilton Hotel in New York City.  It is the largest gathering of art historians and art educators in the United States.  I'll be speaking at one session devoted to the role of architecture in shaping post-World War II American Jewish identity.

 Hamden, CT. Cong. Mishkan Israel. Fritz Nathan, arch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

One should be registered for the conference to attend. One can also register for the day or a single session. Go to: http://conference.collegeart.org/2013/registration/

(but this is the last afternoon so who knows if they'll checking badges!) 

Here is the session schedule:

Saturday, February 16, 2:30 PM–5:00 PM

Making Inroads, Paving the Way: Postwar Architecture, Design, and the Formation of Jewish-American Identity
Sutton Parlor Center, 2nd Floor

Chairs: Kai K. Gutschow, Carnegie Mellon University; Lynnette Widder, Columbia University

Newish and Jewish from Europe: Refugees, Survivors, and the Spread of Modernism in Postwar America
Samuel D. Gruber, Syracuse University

Non-Jewish Architecture for Jews: The Jersey Homesteads after Auschwitz
Daniel S. Palmer, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

A Symbolic Landscape for Suburbia: Baltimore Chizuk Amuno’s Hebrew Culture Garden
Jeremy Kargon, Morgan State University

The Faith of Albert Kahn
Claire Zimmerman, University of Michigan

Here are the session abstracts:

CAA Session
Sat. Feb. 16, 2013, 2:30-5:00pm, NYC Hilton
Session Title: Making Inroads, Paving the Way: Post-war Architecture, Design and the Formation
of Jewish-American Identity
Chair: Kai K Gutschow
Co-Chair: Lynnette Widder

Session Abstract:
What role did Jewish-Americans play the establishment of modern architecture and design in the postwar period? What role did modern architecture and design play in (re)establishing Jewish identity in post-war America? This session seeks papers that explore alternatives to the dominant story of moder architecture and design in America, which often leaves out questions of identity politics. The abstraction functionalism, and mechanized production of modern architecture and design, as well as the values of American nationalism and American hegemony in a globalizing post-war world, seemed to allow little space for the overt promotion of identity. Assimilation was the order of the day, and at times conformity seemed to be implicated in even the newest "good design." The post-Holocaust world demanded new answers to questions of identity, assimilation, political engagement, and self-assertion from American Jews. At the same time the new, the upwardly mobile middle class, of which so many Jews were a part, often used modern architecture and design to express their intent to become patrons, producers and tastemakers. The confluence of these two trajectories can be traced throughout Jewish contributions topopular” and “high” cultural production of the period. This development threads through stories as diverse as Rudolph Schindler’s 1946 house for showman Samuel L. 'Roxy' Rothafel; the synagogues of Percival Goodman; Julius Schulman’s role in creating the image of modern architecture; Paul Rand’s work as art director at ‘Apparel Arts’ and ‘Direction’ magazines; the work of the Levitt brothers in establishing Levittown; or the work of Edgar Kaufmann Jr. and Sr. in promoting “good design” in Pittsburgh and New York. The single family house, the backbone of the “American Dream,” alongside the developer suburb, and the commercial and cultural centers of communities provide a particularly fertile ground to explore identity formation. Families, developers, and institutions often sought out particular architects and builders to realize their own milieu. The media’s role in creating the myth of modernism and the American Dream, particularly at the scale of the domestic interior and its wide range of consumer goods, in the local strip mall, or in the community church or temple, is also implicated in this storyline. This session welcomes proposals in the areas of architecture, design, film, media, and cultural studies in order to consider the broad spectrum of design activities and societal practices that bring together modernism and the (re)-creation of Jewish- American identity in the postwar era.

Paper title: Newish and Jewish from Europe: Refugees, Survivors and the Spread of Modernism in the Post-World War II American Jewish Community
Speaker: Samuel Gruber, Syracuse University

Abstract: The architecture of the American Jewish community was transformed following World War II by émigré and refugee architects engaged to design synagogues and Jewish Community Centers. Eric Mendelsohn’s synagogues for St. Louis, Cleveland and elsewhere are well known but the work of Frit Nathan, Mendelsohn’s German-Jewish contemporary, is virtually forgotten. Nathan arrived in the Unite States in 1940 and designed synagogues, teamed with émigré artists, in the New York and New Haven metro areas. Both architects helped create the architectural language for Jewish institutional buildings that was adopted by American. We can now add the work of refugee architects David Moed of Antwerp (arrived 1939), and Norbert Troller from Brno who after surviving Terezin and Auschwitz came to Americ and designed scores of JCCs from the late 1940s through the early 1960s for small Jewish communitie across America. Other Jewish refugees and survivors also championed a modern aesthetic for synagogues.

Paper title: Non-Jewish Architecture for Jews: the Jersey Homesteads after Auschwitz
Speaker: Daniel S. Palmer, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Abstract: The post-1945 transformations of the community and buildings in the Jersey Homesteads (present day Roosevelt, NJ) demonstrate how Jews assimilated into the culture of suburban America. The government established this agro-industrial cooperative in 1933 to relocate an entirely Jewish population of immigrant garment workers from New York City’s slums to a rural garden city of modernist concrete housing with a clothing factory so they could be self-sufficient. Once the government divested itself of sponsorship and the community became fragmented, leftist co-operation gave way to a suburban enclave of commuters with Jewish religious life in a newly built synagogue as one of the few remaining cohesive elements. This paper analyzes the town’s adaptations after World War II, when demographics diversified and many homeowners altered their houses to look more conventional. These changes show an important dimension of the complex relationship between American Jews and the architecture of the “American Dream.”

Paper title: A Symbolic Landscape for Suburbia: Baltimore Chizuk Amuno’s "Hebrew Culture Garden"
Speaker: Jeremy Kargon, Morgan State University
Abstract: The embrace of modern architecture by American Jewish institutions was historicall coincident
with many Jewish communities’ migration from city centers to suburban environments. This geographic shift, accelerating after World War II, reflected changes in widely-held attitudes towards landscape as well as towards architecture. A useful case study is a design for Baltimore’s Chizuk Amuno congregation, which in 1954 began planning a suburban campus with New York architect Daniel Schwartzman. Among the congregation’s most important initial requests was a “Hebrew Culture Garden,” inspired by Cleveland’s ensemble of public ethnic-cultural gardens dating to the 1920’s. Chizuk Amuno’s original interpretation of this earlier example and its development throughout the synagogue-planning process illustrate the Baltimore Jewish community’s changing engagement with patterns of settlement, public space, cultural consumption, and the balance between religious and secular Jewish identities.

Paper title: The Faith of Albert Kahn
Speaker: Claire Zimmerman, University of Michigan
Abstract: Albert Kahn (d. 1942) is a foil to the heroic figures of modern architecture. His factory complexes exemplified conditions of modern building in the 20th century, but also helped establish precisely what modern architecture was not—raw function, and service. As Kahn’s own history ended, architects materially influenced by images of his work fled Europe for the United States. Not all Jewish the émigrés were nonetheless associated with forced emigration. The most successful, perhaps no surprisingly, were not Jewish, seemingly able to separate work from ethnicity. The “international style directly associated with Jewishness by the Nazis, was deployed in the U.S. to suppress ethnic affiliations and maintain architecture as elite aesthetic practice. Here, then, two not-modernisms: industrial building; and Jewish identity in architecture. In Kahn, these two coincide, suggesting a new story to whic mainstream postwar modernism now becomes the foil: an architecture that embedded ethnicity and professionalism at once.

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