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Opening Reception and Panel Discussion, “Judith K. Brodsky: Memoir of an Assimilated Family”

March 2, 2010 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm


Panel topic and participants:
Our Lives as Jews: Material for Art and Literature
Michael Curtis,
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Rutgers University, moderator.
Judith K. Brodsky,
Judy Gelles, artist
Alicia Ostriker, poet, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Rutgers University
Monroe Price, Director of the Center for Global Communication Studies (CGCS) at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Victor Brombert, Henry Putnam University Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus, Princeton University.

“Memoir of an Assimilated Family” by renowned printmaker Judith K. Brodsky consists of approximately 150 etchings based on old family photographs. Brodsky is fascinated by the paradox of assimilation–that in trying to follow the old rules, immigrants and their children created a new order. Another element important to Brodsky is the way in which the Holocaust creates a context for looking at American Jewish family history. For the exhibit, Ms. Brodsky uses family photographs and anecdotal texts; she summons forth memories of a very specific world of aspiring Jewish immigrants—and in doing so, strikes a common chord across ethnic groups and national borders, as she explore the importance of family, memories and heritage. “Memoir of an Assimilated Family” is one of the Independent Projects for PHILAGRAfiKA 2010.

Judith K. Brodsky: Memoir of an Assimilated Family is organized by Wendi Furman, Director, Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art

Artist’s Statement:
For years, I’ve been thinking about an homage to my family. I’m saddened by the way in which people disappear from memory. I often wonder what happened in the lives of people I knew at various periods in my life–a summertime childhood friend whom I never saw again after we were eight years old; friends of my mother and father who I knew when I was young, but have now died; aunts, uncles, cousins who figured in my life as guests at parties and weddings, but whose lives I really didn’t know anything about. I didn’t want these people to go through eternity unremembered.

So I started this project of documenting them through old photographs and anecdotal texts. Even before I began, I planned to do 100 – 200 of these images and mount them as an installation, covering the walls of the gallery. I wanted viewers to be surrounded, immersed in this family life. I don’t
expect viewers to read every single anecdote. Each person will be attracted to different images and read the anecdotes for those images, thus being in touch with a moment in someone’s life and making that individual come alive through memory.

As I became involved with the images and my own anecdotal memories, I became aware of certain themes that transcended my own family. An overriding theme was the process of assimilation. My family arrived in the United States in the 1880s. My grandfather was considered a good catch by my grandmother’s family because he already spoke English very well and knew his way around. My father was the oldest in the first generation born here. He became a writer and an Ivy League college professor. In those days, Ivy League professors were men with family money who could afford to be intellectuals because professors were paid a pittance. They were genteel as well as “gentile.” My father thought he was assimilating into that society, but in the process he was changing it, forming a new society because he came from an immigrant background, he was poor and had to earn a living, and he was a Jew. I became fascinated by the paradox of assimilation–that in trying to follow the old rules, immigrants and their children created a new order. Another element crept into the work–the ghostly presence of the Holocaust in the background. In thinking about my Jewish family and their emergence as Americans, I was haunted by the knowledge that if my family members had not left Europe, they would have been murdered during World War II, and I might never have existed. Thus the Holocaust makes my family memoir all the more poignant to me.

The intent in this work is to strike a common chord across ethnic groups and national borders. Although these particular images are focused around a Jewish family, the same kind of experiences were undergone by many other families with different origins.

– Judith K. Brodsky

About the Artist:
Judith K. Brodsky is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the Department of Visual Arts at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She is the Founding Director of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, renamed the Brodsky Center in her honor in September 2006. The Brodsky Center will have its 25th Anniversary exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2012. Brodsky is the co-founder and co-director with Dr. Ferris Olin, of the Rutgers Institute for Women and Art, a member institute of the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Rutgers. She and Olin are the facilitators of The Feminist Art Project, a national program to promote understanding of the role of women artists in the cultural milieu and are Co-Principal Investigators and Co-Directors of WAAND (Women Artists Archives National Directory).

Brodsky is the chair of Philagrafika 2010, a citywide international contemporary visual arts festival focusing on the printed image. She is a past national president of ArtTable, the College Art Association, and the Women’s Caucus for Art. She is a former dean and former associate provost at Rutgers University as well as former chair of the art department at the Rutgers campus at Newark.

Brodsky has organized and curated many exhibitions and written extensively about women and prints. She was a contributor to the first comprehensive history of the American women’s movement in art, called The Power of Feminist Art. An exhibition she organized and curated called 100 New Jersey Artists Make Prints, recently traveled throughout the United States as well as to Middle East, and Africa venues. Brodsky with Olin recently curated the exhibtions, How American Women Artists Invented Postmodernism, and Eccentric Bodies, both under the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series, of which they are co-curators. Very active in policy-making positions in the art world, Brodsky presently serves on the boards of ArtPride/New Jersey, Jersey City Museum, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the International Print Center New York.

A printmaker and artist in her own right, Brodsky’s work is in the permanent collections of over 100 museums and corporations such as The Library of Congress; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; The Stadtsmuseum, Berlin; the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, University of California at Los Angeles; the Rhode Island School of Design Museum; the New Jersey State Museum; and the Fogg Museum at Harvard. She has a Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University where she majored in art history.

In her own prints and drawings, Brodsky works with an early 21st century iconography, reflecting the intellectual, political, and social issues of our time as filtered through her own individuality. Her images of the environment, women, and family become metaphors for her feelings about life, decay, death, and possible salvation.

Documentation for this event is housed in The Feminist Art Project archives at Rutgers University.


March 2, 2010
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Event Category:


Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art
615 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123 United States