• The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin
    Jens Hoffman
    Jewish Museum, New York
    Mar 17, 2017 to Aug 06, 2017
    The Jewish Museum

James Welling, Morgan Great Hall, 2014. Copyright: James Welling. Courtesy of Regen Projects.

The German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin, one of the most influential cultural critics of the twentieth century, began The Arcades Project in 1927 as a short piece about Paris's nineteenth-century iron-and-glass vaulted shopping passages. The arcades' labyrinthine architecture and the juxtapositions of objects and people, offered an ideal metaphor for Benjamin to examine the era's capitalist metropolis. Forced to flee Nazi persecution in 1932, his unfinished manuscript was not published until it was discovered year's after his untimely death. The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin explores The Arcades Project and its ongoing relevance through works of contemporary art representing the subjects of each of the book's thirty-six sections. The exhibition combines material from the Walter Benjamin archive in Berlin, architectural models of Paris's most significant arcades, and work by contemporary artists including Cindy Sherman, Taryn Simon, Mike Kelley, Andrea Bowers, Chris Burden, Lee Friedlander, and Collier Schorr.

Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) was a literary critic and cultural commentator whose work and legacy has endured for more than seventy-five years. Benjamin is widely regarded as one of the most astute witnesses of early European modernity who—despite his early and much mythologized death—left behind a body of work that is as diverse as it is unique. His essays touch on a wide range of topics including children's literature, cinema, travel, folk art, and gambling. His writing style is equally idiosyncratic, floating between fiction, poetry, reportage, cultural critique, and personal memoir. Benjamin's voice remains vivid and engaging even today, and his thoughts are still relevant to understanding today's realities. His recollection of his upbringing in an upper-middle-class Jewish household, Berlin Childhood around 1900, is considered a masterpiece of modern literature, melding an examination of individual memory and everyday life with a much larger historical context. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, his discursive essay published in 1936, has had an immense influence on media studies, art history, and our overall understanding of the role and function of the art object in modern society.

Jens Hoffmann is an exhibition maker, writer, educator, and editor based in New York. He is currently the director of special exhibitions and public programs at the Jewish Museum. He has also served as senior curator-at-large at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit since 2012 and a curator and senior adviser for the Kadist Art Foundation since 2008. Hoffmann was previously director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, and director of exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. He has curated and cocurated over five dozen exhibitions and biennials around the world. The founding editor of The Exhibitionist: Journal on Exhibition Making and editor-at-large of Mousse magazine, he is a frequent contributor to art magazines such as Frieze, Artforum, and Texte zur Kunst. He has written over 250 essays for exhibition catalogues and museum publications.

Shira Backer is the Jewish Museum Leon Levy Curatorial Associate. Before joining the museum staff in 2016 she was a curator at the American Federation for the Arts from 2013 to 2015. She graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College of Columbia University and earned an MA in art history from Bryn Mawr College.

Author, artist, and poet Kenneth Goldsmith provides annotations for the exhibition and publication. Goldsmith is the founder of UbuWeb, an online resource for avant-garde poetry and media, and author of ten books of poetry, including Capital: New York, Capital of the 20th Century, a reinterpretation of The Arcades Project published in 2016. Goldsmith teaches writing at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is a senior editor of PennSound, an online poetry archive.

Project Projects, exhibition and accompanying publication designer, is a New York-based, award-winning studio. Their client list ranges from museums and non-profit art spaces to publishers, architecture firms, universities, fashion houses, and individual artists. The studio has worked with the Jewish Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Guggenheim Museum, Phaidon, National Museum of China, National Park Service, New Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery. In recognition of its achievements, Project Projects was awarded the Cooper Hewitt's 2015 National Design Award.

Founded in 1904, the Jewish Museum located on New York City's Museum Mile serves as a distinctive hub for art and Jewish culture for people of all backgrounds. Known for its distinguished exhibitions and dynamic education programs that reveal a deep and rich exploration of Jewish culture and identity, the Museum also maintains an unparalleled collection of nearly 30,000 works of fine art, Judaica, and broadcast media, spanning more than 4,000 years.