Kartemquin Films interviews Morrie Fred, Director of the Spertus Museum of Judaica, about their 1992 exhibition Chicago Crossings: Bridges and Boundaries. The interview takes place after the exhibition has been finished and on display in the museum, and Fred discusses the risks involved in doing a gallery exhibition about potentially controversial issues.
0:00Copy video clip URL Brief bars and tone cuts to Morrie Fred in midsentence. He talks about the role of ethnic museums within their communities. “Not only do we present our culture to the rest of society, but we become a ground for debating issues within the culture.”
2:56Copy video clip URL Fred says that some of the Spertus staff was concerned that the issues in the exhibition might just “add fuel to the flame.” He says there is a potential, especially when you are doing something about controversial issues, that it won’t go over well in the end. “There is always a risk, and you have to weigh that risk.” He speaks specifically about the risk involved in handing over the reigns to the artists. He says there was a policy of “no censorship,” which could have resulted in works that offended one of both of the involved communities, but that they placed their trust in the artists. Fred speaks highly of the exhibition and says they were all “quality artists.”
6:48Copy video clip URL Fred says that the piece that was most controversial, at least among the Spertus staff, was Othello Anderson’s work, which Fred describes as “unabashedly pro-bomb.” The photo series argued that World War II was a war about race, and the atom bomb was an attack on racism. According to Fred, a young Japanese person came and demonstrated outside the museum in protest against Anderson’s piece. They talk about the problems of race in the piece, and how it may be “the most challenging and difficult” piece. Jerry Blumenthal of Kartemquin mentions the racism against the Japanese within the US at the time, and Fred mentions how the Japanese were themselves racist during the war.
10:28Copy video clip URL Blumenthal says he thinks Kerry James Marshall’s photo series about various uses (and misuses) of the Jewish six-pointed star was also controversial, citing some of the people they interviewed during the exhibition. He suggests the work may have been upsetting for some Jewish people, especially Zionist Jews. Fred talks about how he believes the Jewish artists has already been involved in the race issues discusses in the exhibition, but he’s not sure that was the case with the black artists, who may not have be as concerned about Black–Jewish relations. They continue to talk about Marshall and Anderson’s pieces and the possible controversies surrounding them. Fred also says he thinks Kartemquin’s involvement in the project has had a positive impact.
17:40Copy video clip URL Blumenthal and Fred talk about approaches to art curation and exhibition and how much of it should involve education. They both agree that art should remain connected with the wider world, and it is important for institutions to not just present art, but also educate audiences about how it relates to other issues in the world.