THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM (The CJM) PRESENTS
An original exhibition examining the representation of fluid identity featuring the work of Claude Cahun, Marcel Moore, and the work of ten contemporary artists.
February 7–July 7, 2019
Press Preview: February 6, 2019; 10am–12pm
"Under this mask, another mask. I will never be finished removing all these faces." — Claude Cahun
(San Francisco, CA, December 6, 2018) The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s newest original exhibition, Show Me as I Want to Be Seen, presents the work of groundbreaking French Jewish artist, Surrealist, and activist Claude Cahun (1894–1954) and her lifelong lover and collaborator Marcel Moore (1892–1972) in dialogue with ten contemporary artists to examine the complex and empowered representation of fluid identity.
Cahun and Moore are recognized as pioneers in their bold depictions of unfixed selfhood. The pair is best known for their striking, collaboratively produced photographic portraits of Cahun, who would perform wildly varying iterations of the self by assuming various guises, gender presentations, and modes of affect. Together, Cahun and Moore declared a definition of selfhood that was almost entirely unprecedented at the time—avowing the self by disavowing its constancy—and that remains uncannily relevant today.
Show Me as I Want to Be Seen positions their work in conversation with a diverse group of emerging and established contemporary artists whose 88 artworks on view—in a wide variety of mediums ranging from painting and sculpture to video and 3-D animation—also address opaque, constructed, and shifting selves: Nicole Eisenman, Rhonda Holberton, Hiwa K, Young Joon Kwak, Zanele Muholi, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Gabby Rosenberg, Tschabalala Self, Davina Semo, and Isabel Yellin.
“The issue of representation, no stranger to art history, has recently catapulted into the cultural zeitgeist,” says Lori Starr, Executive Director, The CJM. “From #OscarsSoWhite to the #MeToo movement, the question of whose story gets told and by whom is dominating cultural conversations the world over. The artists in this exhibition—all of whom are people of color, women, LGBTQ, gender non-binary, or defy classification altogether—are intent on reclaiming their own narratives.”
Show Me as I Want to Be Seen includes over twenty of Cahun and Moore’s collaborative photographs, as well as examples of their photomontages created for Aveux non avenus, Cahun’s pseudo-autobiography. Often referred to as an anti-realistic, surreal autobiography, the work’s title can be translated as both Cancelled Confessions and as Disavowals, and contains within it Cahun’s famous declaration of her position on gender fluidity: “Shuffle the cards. Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” The photomontages incorporate portraits of Cahun and drawings by Moore, which present multiplying and various selves.
Fascinating parallels also exist in Jewish texts, notes Natasha Matteson, Assistant Curator, The CJM, and curator of the exhibition. “The Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible is an archetypal story of an empowered declaration of Jewish identity, while the Talmudic notion of svara is a potent entry-point to Jewish practices of self-determination,” affirms Matteson.
The ten contemporary artists in the exhibition conjure, validate, and update Cahun and Moore’s earlier tactics. Several create overt self-portraits in which self-perception and self-determination take precedence over the pleasure or comprehension of the viewer. Like Cahun, South African artist Zanele Muholi employs powerful postures and varying adornments in their photographic self-portraits. Staring blisteringly into the camera, Muholi styles themself to emphasize the darkness of their skin, proudly upending both gender-normative and white supremacist standards of beauty.
A self-portrait drawn by Toyin Ojih Odutola, My Country Has No Name (2013), depicts the artist from four angles, multiplying her figure. Ribbon-like skin, rendered in many lines of pen ink, looks almost fluid as it gleams with multi-colored flecks of light. Surface, self, and blackness itself are all destabilized through Ojih Odutola’s treatment.
To create the fragrance line Foil (2014), Rhonda Holberton has used methods developed by the CIA to distill human scent from the t-shirts of anonymous volunteers. Scent detection is more accurate than facial recognition or fingerprinting—and these fragrances can mask an individual’s scent to conceal their identity.
Hiwa K’s video Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue) (2017) depicts the artist balancing a sculpture made of mirrors on his nose while retracing the path he took to flee Iraqi Kurdistan for Europe on foot. Seen in this way, Hiwa K’s self-understanding is refracted through the geographies he moves within, and the histories they recall.
Nicole Eisenman’s Guy Artist (2011) is a playful send-up of the archetypal Western male painter haphazardly borrowing from other cultures while monopolizing authorship of the fine art canon. The guy’s massive yellow face eyes the viewer, his subject, and the portrait is complete with jaunty beret.
Other artists in the exhibition approach the conundrum of representation by rendering their figures intentionally illegible. In painter Gabby Rosenberg’s Losing Body (2018), a gender-ambiguous figure watches a specter-like cloud (irreverently rendered in spray paint) escape their torso, body-parts suspended in mid-air in an unmoored fragmentation of the body. The scene exposes the flimsiness of the “body-as-identity” construction while, paradoxically, the inner self appears to diffuse into thin air.
The soft corporeal sculptures by Isabel Yellin evoke fleshy alien infants, desiring and exploring, but indignant, it seems, at being constrained to a body. Yellin’s works, though somewhat abstract, maintain an expressive specificity of gesture that communicates the all-too-familiar discomforts and pleasures of physicality.
Like Cahun’s masks, Young Joon Kwak’s Hermaphroditus’s Reveal I (2017) plays on inconclusive discovery. The sculpture’s swooping arc of resin, an abstract stand-in for a body, meets the ground with its two attached hands. A third hand, uncannily realistic and perfectly manicured, lightly holds the back flap between two fingers, as if preparing to uncover the truth hidden by this ambiguous form — but we know that such a revelation would only ever produce another opacity.
In Tschabalala Self’s sizable fabric-collaged painting, Perched (2016), a voluptuous poised figure turns her back on a mirror to squint pointedly at the viewer. Multiplying her view is an army of graphic eyes that fill the painting’s background. The central figure’s cool gaze seems to tell us that the mirror exists for the sole purpose of her own self-appreciation, not to satisfy the viewer.
Davina Semo’s A GREAT THING IN HER LIFE IS THAT SHE HAS A SECRET (2018) is a small, wall-mounted slab of concrete studded with broken auto glass. The shiny portal withholds the viewer’s reflection from them, while in contrast the title conveys a surprisingly specific interior experience.
Show Me as I Want to Be Seen is accompanied by a 112-page fully illustrated hardcover catalog that includes an essay by Matteson; an interview with Rabbi Benay Lappe, an award-winning educator specializing in the application of queer theory to Talmud study; and a newly-commissioned piece of fiction by Porpentine Charity Heartscape.
In an effort to address questions of representation across demographics, The CJM will also install a Resource Area created with the Disability Visibility Project in its Yud Gallery, which will be available to visitors throughout the run of the show. Developed in conjunction with Alice Wong, Founder and Director of the Disability Visibility Project, the Resource Area will feature podcasts that challenge perceptions around disability, normalcy, and the body, as well as provide access to Wong’s Resistance and Hope Anthology: Essays by Disabled People. The Resource Area is part of The CJM’s ongoing Access Programs in support of the telling, sharing, and witnessing of narratives that all too often remain unheard and unseen.
Show Me as I Want to Be Seen is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum. Leadership support for this exhibition is generously provided by the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund, Dorothy R. Saxe, Judith and Robert Aptekar, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
(b. 1894, Nantes, France; d. 1954, Saint Helier, Jersey)
(b. 1892, Nantes, France; d. 1972, Beaumont, Jersey)
Claude Cahun was a groundbreaking queer Jewish photographer, writer, Surrealist, performer, and radical activist. Born Lucy Schwob, Cahun changed her name to the gender-ambiguous Claude Cahun in 1919, taking the last name of her paternal grandmother. This act of self-determination not only disrupted assumptions about her gender, but emphasized her Jewish heritage—Cahun is the French form of Cohen—which was considered an even more radical gesture in 1920s pre-war Europe.
Since her “rediscovery” over twenty years ago, Cahun has attracted what amounts to a cult following among art historians and critics working from postmodern, feminist, and queer theoretical perspectives. In 1986, Hal Foster dubbed Cahun “a Cindy Sherman avant la lettre.”
Marcel Moore, who also changed her name from Suzanne Malherbe, was an active partner to Cahun in both life and art. Educated at the École des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, Moore’s drawings illustrated many of Cahun’s books. While Cahun’s photographic work is considered self-portraiture by some, much of the work is beginning to be attributed to Moore as well, as Moore often took the photos of Cahun, or switched places with her both in front of and behind the camera.
(b. 1965, Verdun, France. Lives and works in New York, NY)
Painter Nicole Eisenman draws on narrative and rhetorical modes—including allegory and satire—to explore such themes as gender and sexuality, family dynamics, and inequalities of wealth and power. At the same time, she stages dialogues with artists from the past, both by referencing specific works and by employing stylistic and thematic approaches derived from art historical movements.
Eisenman received a BFA (1987) from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at such institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, Kunsthalle Zürich, the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden-Baden.
(b. 1981, Falls Church, VA. Lives and works in Oakland, CA)
Rhonda Holberton’s multimedia installations make use of digital and interactive technologies integrated into traditional methods of art production. Working in sculpture, installation and photography, Holberton employs a hybrid of scientific and metaphysical practices to reveal a symbolic reading of empirical canons of belief.
Holberton received her MFA from Stanford University and her BFA from the California College of the Arts. She was a distinguished lecturer at Stanford University and is currently a professor of Digital Media Art at San Jose State University. Holberton was a CAMAC Artist in Residence at Marnay-sur-Seine, France, and was awarded a Foundation Tenot Fellowship in Paris. Holberton has recently exhibited at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, FIFI Projects Mexico City, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and The Berkeley Art Center.
(b. 1975, Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan-Northern Iraq. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany)
Hiwa K’s works escape normative aesthetics but expand the possibilities of vernacular forms, oral histories (Chicago boys, 2010), modes of encounter (Cooking with Mama, 2006) and political situations
(This lemon tastes of apple, 2011). The repository of his references consists of stories told by family members and friends, found situations as well as everyday forms that are the products of pragmatics and necessity. Many of his works have a strong collective and participatory dimension, and express the concept of obtaining knowledge from everyday experience rather than doctrine.
Hiwa K has participated in various group shows such as Manifesta 7, Trient (2008), La Triennale, Intense Proximity, Paris (2012), the Edgware Road Project at the Serpentine Gallery, London (2012), the Venice Biennale (2015) and documenta14, Kassel/Athens (2017). In 2016, he received the Arnold Bode Prize and the Schering Stiftung Art Award. Recent solo exhibitions include those at KW, Berlin (2017), De Appel (2017), New Museum (2018), S.M.A.K. Ghent (2018), and Kunstverein Hannover (2018).
Young Joon Kwak
(b. 1984, Queens, NY. Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA)
Young Joon Kwak is an LA-based multi-disciplinary artist. Kwak’s sculptures reimagine the function, material, and form of objects, in order to create spaces and scenarios that propose different ways of viewing and interpreting bodies as mutable and open-ended. Kwak is the founder of Mutant Salon, a roving beauty salon/platform for experimental performance collaborations with their community of queer, trans, femme, POC artists and performers, and the lead performer in the electronic-dance-noise band Xina Xurner.
(b. 1972, Umlazi, Durban, South Africa. Lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa)
Muholi is a South African visual activist and photographer. In 2002, Muholi co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activists) media. Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is “to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond.”
In 2003, Muholi studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg. In 2009, Muholi completed an MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University in Toronto. Muholi is also an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen, Germany and has won numerous awards including Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from France Embassy (2017), the ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism (2016), Africa’S Out! Courage and Creativity Award (2016), and the Outstanding International Alumni Award from Ryerson University (2016). Muholi’s Faces and Phases series was shown at the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, Italy (2013), and at dOCUMENTA 13, Germany (2012).
Toyin Ojih Odutola
(Born 1985, Ife, Nigeria. Lives and works in New York, NY)
Toyin Ojih Odutola creates drawings utilizing diverse mediums and surfaces to investigate the potential in the striated terrain of an image as well to question its formulaic representations.
Ojih Odutola has participated in exhibitions at various institutions, including Brooklyn Museum, New York (2016); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2015); Studio Museum Harlem, New York (2015, 2012); Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield (2013); and Menil Collection, Houston, (2012). Permanent collections include Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, Spencer Museum of Art, and the National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian). She earned her BA from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and her MFA from California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
(b. 1992, Chicago, IL. Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA)
Gabby Rosenberg is a painter with a focus on abstracted versions of the body. Currently, she is concentrating on the ambiguous navigation of embodied perception, and the ways in which language and symbols misrepresent it in favor of categorization. Rosenberg completed her BA at Hampshire College in 2014 with a concentration in Studio Art and earned her MFA at California Institute of the Arts in 2018.
(b. 1990, Harlem, NY. Lives and works in New Haven, CT)
Tschabalala Self builds a singular style from the syncretic use of painting, printmaking and assemblage to explore ideas about the black female body. The artist constructs exaggerated depictions of female bodies using a combination of sewn, printed, and painted materials, traversing different artistic and craft traditions. The exaggerated biological characteristics of her figures reflect Self’s own interest in cultural attitudes toward race and gender.
Self holds a BA from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, and an MFA from the Yale School of Art in New Haven, CT. Her work has been exhibited domestically and internationally at public institutions such as the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the New Museum, New York, Crystal Bridges, Bentonville, AR, Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London, UK, and Tramway, Glasgow, UK. She is a recipient of the Yale School of Art’s Al Held Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, and has completed residencies at the Studio Museum in Harlem and Parasol Unit. Self’s work is also in several public collections, including the Pérez Art Museum, Miami, and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.
(b. 1981, Washington, D.C. Lives and works in San Francisco, CA)
Davina Semo completed her MFA at the University of California, San Diego, in 2006. She received her BA in Visual Arts and Creative Writing from Brown University in 2003. Semo is represented by Marlborough Contemporary, New York and London, Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco, and Ribordy Contemporary in Geneva, Switzerland.
(b. 1987, New York, NY. Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA)
Isabel Yellin received her MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art in London in 2014. Recent solo and group exhibitions of her work include All Hands on Deck (2018) at Ben Maltz Galleries at Otis College, It’ll Come (2017) at Night Gallery in Los Angeles, and Tabula Rasa (2017) at Studiolo in Milan. Yellin’s practice has been the focus of articles and reviews in The New Yorker, Artforum, and LA Weekly, among other print and online publications. Earlier this year, Yellin received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant.
With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, The Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase L’Chaim (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.
Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s educational programs for youth, young adults, and families with young children comes from Jim Joseph Foundation. The Museum also thanks the Koret Foundation for its major support of Jewish Peoplehood exhibitions and programs. Additional major support is provided by two anonymous donors; Bank of America; Alyse and Nathan Mason Brill; The Covenant Foundation; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Gaia Fund; Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Grants for the Arts; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; Wendy Kesser; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Nellie and Max Levchin; Millennium Partners; The Bernard Osher Foundation; Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; Taube Philanthropies for Jewish Life and Culture; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Thank you to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for their support of the Helen Diller Institute at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.