The nearly one thousand posters acquired since the 1960s by the former Judah L. Magnes Museum constitute an important component of the pictorial holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. Purchased in Jewish museums throughout the world, obtained via the networks of ephemera connoisseurs, or simply taken off walls in the streets of Jerusalem, these materials today represent an invaluable source of historical information. Their scope encompasses daily life, politics, advertising, communal events, culture and the arts in the United States, Europe and Israel across the 20th century.
This exhibition highlights a small group of posters that offer a unique perspective on the renaissance of Jewish culture in Europe since the early 1980s, as represented through museum exhibitions in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain. With a few pioneering exceptions–for example, the establishment of the State Jewish Museum in Prague under the Communist regime in 1950 and Museo Sefardi in Toledo under Francisco Franco in 1964–most European collections of “Jewish art” were first advertised to the wider public in the last quarter of the 20th century. State galleries, city libraries, and dedicated Jewish museums promoted the knowledge of Jewish history and culture by displaying artifacts and exploring themes ranging from local history to religious customs in the Diaspora. These efforts produced groundbreaking displays, exhibition catalogs with contributions by leading scholars, and, of course, promotional posters, brochures, and other ephemera.
Viewing these posters today brings forth an archeology of the recent European past. Hidden behind the glossy formats of cultural promotion lies a true narrative of regeneration. Most of the Jewish collections assembled in Europe since the late 19th century through the concerted efforts of Jewish and non-Jewish scholars were devastated during the Second World War and subsequently remained dormant for decades. It was only well after the Holocaust, in a changed cultural landscape that allowed Europeans to confront their own history, that their suppressed memory resurfaced to the collective consciousness.
–Francesco Spagnolo, Curator