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Archive for January 28th, 2016|Daily archive page

NACHBARN/Neighbors in a German Town

In New Exhibitions on January 28, 2016 at 8:15 am



Carlebach Küchentuch #2, 2015, oil/linen mounted on wood panel, sandblasted glass, bolts, 100cm x 200cm (Translation: “After dark, anonymous neighbors secretly leave the Jewish family baskets of groceries inside their garden gate, considered a serious crime by the Nazis.)


An Exhibition of Paintings, Silverpoint Drawings, and Video by Ken Aptekar

St. Annen Museum, Lübeck, Germany 
7 February 2016—29 May 2016  #nachbarnkunst  #neighborsart
Jews have lived alongside Christians in Lübeck, Germany, since 1350. Their neighbors now include Turkish Muslims as well. The synagogue in Lübeck, built in 1880, is one of the few left standing after Kristallnacht. Just next door to it on the walls of the St. Annen Museum hangs a glittering collection of Renaissance altarpieces. Within walking distance of the Museum and the synagogue are three Mosques. This is the nexus in which Nachbarn/Neighbors unfolds.

Installation View, Nachbarn/Neighbors, 2016, Kunsthalle St. Annen, Lübeck, Germany

After recent tragic events in Paris, and the ferocity of anti-immigrant hatred in Europe and the US, now is the right moment to propose, envision, and cultivate empathy and communication across cultural differences.
During the Nazi years what happened to neighbors in Lübeck who happened to be Jewish is well known. But in the years before the rise of Hitler, Jews flourished there.

Synagogue, Lübeck, built in 1880; to the left is the social services building for the Jewish community

A rabbinical dynasty began with Salomon Carlebach, the rabbi of the Lübeck synagogue from 1870-1919. A grandson of Salomon, Shlomo Carlebach, later became internationally well-known as New York’s Singing Rabbi. Beginning in the 1990’s Russian Jewish immigrants began to replace the once vibrant community that was destroyed in the war. With the onset of terror attacks on the synagogue in 1994, and in 1995, 2005, and 2012, a 24-hour police guard house was erected next to it along the eastern wall of the St. Annen Museum.

I Thought We Were Friends, 2015, oil/linen mounted on wood panel, sandblasted glass, bolts, 100cm x 100cm


When confronted with this history, I wondered if young Christian Germans in Lübeck today think about why their relatives closed the curtains as the Nazis came to pick up the Jews next door. And what are Lübeckers’ attitudes toward Muslims—and the Russian Jews now living in Lübeck? Can people recognize and respect their profound differences and together build a vibrant community? And what can Christian paintings from long ago, some with anti-Semitic imagery, possibly have to say to Jews, and Muslims, not to mention Christians today?

artforum drawing sm

Ihr Hund hat Wieder [Translation: “Your dog shit again in my kid’s sandbox.”], 2015, 60cm x 60cm, silverpoint on clay-coated paper, sandblasted glass, framed

Other elements from which this exhibition evolved include
  • a long-lost monogrammed kitchen towel that fifty years after the end of WWII reconnected neighboring families, Christian and Jewish, and came to symbolize courage and humanity in a town seized by fear and hatred
  • the race against the clock to find the last surviving pre-WWII Bar Mitzvah boy from the Lübeck Synagogue, whose family fled in 1937 to South America
  • this American artist’s determination to broaden the narrative of the tragic victimization of Jews in Nazi Germany, to take on otherness, immigration and community, to speak to new generations in Lübeck and elsewhere

Inspired by a museum of Christian Art and the Jewish and Muslim communities in this German town, Nachbarn invites new viewers and old paintings to speak to each other. All the works in the exhibition are based upon altarpieces in the museum collection. With works that merge my two identities, Jew and painter, I aim to dissolve persistent boundaries between people. As the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote, “My relationship with the Other as neighbor gives meaning to my relations with all the others.”  [Emmanuel Levinas, Autrement qu’être ou au-delà de l’essence (Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence), 1984].


Stills from Video, Die Flüchtling Aus Lübeck, (“The Refugee from Lübeck) 2016, 10 minutes 38 seconds

“Die Flüchtling aus Lübeck” (The Refugee from Lübeck), a video I taped in Santiago, Chile, recounts the Jewish experience of Lübecker Rodolfo Hofmann in 1936. Nachbarn is my first exhibition in Germany.
Following the opening of the exhibition, French psychoanalyst Chantal Maillet wrote an elegant essay that captures the essence of the project from an odd and unpredictable angle: Broken Glass. The writer Caroline Brothers noted that “the most extraordinary symbolism of Chantal Maillet’s story is its echoes, over all the intervening decades, of a Kristallnacht reversed.” You can find it HERE.
A catalogue is available with essays by Dr. Janet Wolff, Professor Emerita of Cultural Sociology, University of Manchester, UK; Dr. Ernst van AlphenProfessor of Literary Studies and Holocaust Studies at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands; and Dr. Thorsten Rodiek, Director of the St. Annen Museum, Lübeck.


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