JTA — Princeton University spent months planning an exhibit of 19th-century American Jewish art before canceling the exhibit because two of its star artists had supported the Confederacy.
The cancellation drew criticism from the exhibit’s Jewish donors and consulting historians. They say the decision “rewrites art history”.
“I was really amazed that the university took this position,” said Leonard Milberg, the Jewish financial manager and art collector who funded the collection and whose name adorns the gallery where the exhibit was to be displayed. , to the Princeton student newspaper.
The exhibit was to feature the work of Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a renowned sculptor who also designed the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and hung the Confederate battle flag in his Rome studio for his entire career, and painter Theodore Moise , who was a major in the Confederate Army, among other artists.
A famous sculpture of Ezekiel known as ‘Faith’ – an adaptation of an earlier work ‘Religious Liberty’ commissioned by the B’nai B’rith which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and is currently on display outside the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia – was to be the centerpiece of the exhibit; another work by Ezekiel was to feature a sculpture of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of American Reform Judaism.
After initially agreeing to host the exhibit last summer, Princeton canceled the show in December. According to emails first obtained by Religion News Service, the university’s vice provost for equity and institutional diversity had raised concerns about Confederate ties and called for Ezekiel and Moise to be replaced with others. other artists.
This decision did not sit well with Milberg, the exhibit’s curator Samantha Baskind, or the Jewish historians they consulted for the exhibit, Adam Mendelsohn and Jonathan Sarna, who argued that the exhibit as planned thoughtfully addressed the Confederate Artist Associations.
“The donor pulled out because Princeton canceled the art,” Baskind told the Daily Princetonian, saying the decision was “an unfortunate anti-intellectual surrender to cancel the culture.”
She added, “Taking out artists with Confederate ties rewrites art history. Art historians examine the meaning of art in its time as well as how it is perceived today. We need to inform and discuss the past, not bury it.
American institutions, including universities, have increasingly reassessed whether and how to recognize racist figures from their past. This effort has sometimes included Jews with Confederate ties: a northern California synagogue, for example, considered whether to include Confederate Jewish leader Judah Benjamin in an engraved list of illustrious Jews.
In an op-ed, Milberg noted that he has previously sponsored exhibits at Princeton highlighting artists with anti-Semitic ties. “I felt I shouldn’t erase history but learn from it,” he wrote.