Jewish Museum to Open New Contemporary Art Series in Museum Lobby, 11/8
Beginning November 8, The Jewish Museum will launch a new series showcasing contemporary art in its Skirball Lobby. Artists will be invited to create new work or adapt a recent piece for the Museum's spacious entryway. The first installation in the new series, Tears, is a work by French artist Claire Fontaine consisting of nine neon signs suspended from the ceiling, each reading "Isle of Tears" in a different language. The work is inspired by the experiences of immigrants passing through Ellis Island - which was often referred to as the "Isle of Tears" - to enter the United States. Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings builds on the Museum's 1970 program called Using Walls that featured the work of 14 up-and-coming international artists of the time including Richard Artschwager, Sol Lewitt, and Lawrence Weiner, among others. Now, nearly 45 years later, The Jewish Museum is revisiting this innovative moment in its history with a new series of artist commissions, showcasing new or adapted work by artists from around the globe. In May 2014, the series will feature the work of Mel Bochner, who participated in the 1970 Using Walls program, timed to his solo exhibition at the Museum. Claire Fontaine: Tears remains on view at The Jewish Museum through April 20, 2014.
The gateway to a new life, Ellis Island became a place where old identities were left behind in favor of a new American self. Claire Fontaine draws on French filmmakers Georges Perec and Robert Bober's 1979 book and film Récits d'Ellis Island. Perec and Bober interviewed the last surviving immigrants and documented their experiences, finding that although people arrived from many different countries, their stories were similar. The neon signs present translations of "Isle of Tears" in French, Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Greek, Italian, and German, in addition to Spanish and English. These were the languages most commonly spoken at the Ellis Island immigration station by the people who came to America through its doors-nearly sixteen million between 1892 and 1914.
Based in Paris, the collective Claire Fontaine was founded in 2004. She appropriated her name from Clairefontaine, a brand known across France for its line of school notebooks and stationary. The artist explores socio-economic and cultural concepts of power and freedom, often suggesting the falsehood of such notions. Through a range of media - video, painting, text, and sculpture - Fontaine seeks to address the ethical crises and political plight affecting our society, offering her art as a portal to understanding the possibility and optimism for change.