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From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art

November 25, 2016–April 2, 2017

(San Francisco, CA, September 1, 2016) The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) presents the work of twenty-four contemporary artists who grapple with memories that are not their own in From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art.

The diverse group of local and international art practitioners, some of whom have never before exhibited in the United States, consider many forms of inherited, often traumatic, memory from the personal and familial to the collective. Through their works in a variety of media including sculpture, film, photography, mixed media, and more, many of the artists search, question, and reflect on the representation of truths related to ancestral and public narratives of historical moments such as the Holocaust, the struggle for civil rights for African Americans, and the Vietnam War among others—ultimately attempting to understand their own past. Others imagine memories from a future present.

The exhibition, co-curated by CJM Assistant Curator Pierre-François Galpin and independent curator Lily Siegel, expands on the research of Dr. Marianne Hirsch, author of The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust. Hirsch introduced the term postmemory to describe the relationship of later generations to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before.

“We see in this powerful and thought-provoking exhibition artists from all over the world and of multiple backgrounds who share a practice of remembrance and transformation,” says Lori Starr, Executive Director, The CJM. “These ideas speak very deeply to Jewish people, and this exhibition speaks directly to the unique sensibilities of our Museum, where we are always looking at the Jewish experience in new ways and in relation to other cultures.”

From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art is organized according to themes suggested by the artworks themselves.

A selection of work concerns itself with personal and family narratives. Guy Goldstein’s (b. 1974, Israel) Eid ist Eid (An Oath is an Oath) (2008) is a response to his experience of visiting Kraków and coming across a picture of people, including his grandmother, filing onto a train at Auschwitz. The photo was responsible for leading prosecutors to her to testify in the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Goldstein’s work mixes his grandmother’s testimony with other found audio and projects it through a loudspeaker covered by an heirloom embroidered tapestry. Elizabeth Moran (b. 1984, United States) investigates the myths that surround her family home, a supposedly haunted farmhouse in Tennessee, by exploring a multitude of histories that are present but absent. Her installation, from the Record of Cherry Road project (2014-ongoing), includes audio, photographs, and documents created in the company of her aunt and uncle, both professional paranormal investigators. Eric Finzi (United States) recreates moments of his family’s history famously fictionalized in the book and movie both titled The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. His mixed media sculpture Tennicycle (2014) is on view.

Another area explored in the exhibition is social and cultural memory, often of collective experiences of war or genocide. Christian Boltanski (b. 1944, France) contributes Scratch (2014), a mixed media work that uses found photographs of anonymous faces from the 1928 yearbook of the Jewish School of Grosse Hamburgerstrasse, Berlin as monuments to victims of the Holocaust. Binh Danh (b. 1977, Vietnam) shows eight works from his photographic series Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War in which he reprints media imagery of the war onto leaves through an innovative photosynthesis process. Silvina Der-Meguerditchian (b. 1967, Argentina) explores the Armenian genocide in the early twentieth century in Families I and Families II (2013), two hanging quilts knitted by the artist that incorporate photographs from Ottoman Armenian families, just a few years before the genocide.

Works also speak to collective memories of transformative political movements like revolutions and uprisings. The exhibition includes two pieces, What Goes Without Saying (2012) and Amelia Falling (2014), by Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976, New Jersey) whose work often deals with the struggles that African Americans have faced for decades and its representation in the media. Choreographer Ralph Lemon’s (b. 1952, United States) performance Come home Charley Patton (The Geography Trilogy: Part 3) (2004) includes his research into socially charged sites in the South and recalls iconic but traumatic images such as violent attacks using high-pressure fire hoses on peaceful Civil Rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. Fabio Morais (b. 1975, Brazil) contributes Bandeira (2012), a double-sided flag with two photographs of different public funerals, one a victim of the military police in a protest in 1968 and the other the first democratically elected President of Brazil, Tancredo Neves.

A final category presents works that delve into futuristic fictions, often looking at the near-present from an imagined distant future. For Alien Souvenir Stand (2013), Ellen Harvey (b. 1967, United Kingdom) repurposes a vendor stand similar to those found on the Washington, DC tourist circuit and paints it with a variety of images of the city’s monuments as ruins, reminiscent of many postcards of sites from antiquity. The stand serves as the aliens’ schema for understanding the lineage of obelisks, columns, and domes found there. Rä di Martino’s (b. 1975, Italy) Every World’s a Stage (Beggar in the Ruins of Star Wars) (2012) is a series of photographs taken in the abandoned movie sets of the film Star Wars in Tunisia that now appear as strange archeological sites. Mike Kelley (b. 1954, United States) is represented by a work from his Kandors series, which he initiated in 1999. The mixed media sculptures depict Superman’s birthplace of Kandor, shrunk and bottled by a villain, and later rescued by Superman and protected in his sanctuary. Kandor and its miniature citizens, sustained by tanks of atmosphere, are a constant reminder of Superman’s lost past.

Other artists include Nao Bustamante (b. 1969, United States); Bernice Eisenstein (b. 1949, Canada); Nicholas Galanin (b. 1979, United States); Fotini Gouseti (b. 1974, Greece); Aram Jibilian (United States); Loli Kantor (France); Lisa Kokin (b. 1954, United States); Yong Soon Min (b. 1953, Korea); Vandy Rattana (b. 1980, Cambodia); Anri Sala (b, 1974, Albania); Wael Shawky (b. 1971, Egypt); Chikako Yamashiro (b. 1976, Japan).

Gouseti and Yamashiro are showing their work in the United States for the first time. Der-Meguerditchian, Eisenstein, Goldstein, and Morais make their West Coast debut with this exhibition.

exhibition catalog

The accompanying catalog includes essays from Pierre-François Galpin, Assistant Curator, CJM; independent curator Lily Siegel; Dr. Marianne Hirsch, author of The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust; and historian Abby Smith Rumsey. It will be available for purchase in The CJM Store and online.

The Yud Video Project

Expanding on the theme of memory in From Generation to Generation, The CJM invited the public to submit their own video projects for display in The Museum’s soaring Stephen and Mirabelle Leavitt Yud Gallery. Selected pieces, all five minutes or less, explore the unique ways memory is portrayed, recreated, and reconstructed through video. They are being shown in rotation on six screens throughout the run of the larger exhibition.

What We Hold Teen Storytelling

In conjunction with the exhibition, The CJM’s fifteen Teen Art Connect interns have developed an audio storytelling project that will be available within The Museum and through its digital channels. Working with a professional podcaster, an editor, and a Museum curator, each created a three-minute audio story reflecting on personal relationships to inherited memories passed down from ancestors. The audio pieces incorporate interviews with family members as well as each young person’s ideas about how these myths and memories have helped shape his or her own identity.

Organization and Funding

From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Lead sponsorship is provided by the Koret Foundation and Gaia Fund. Major sponsorship is provided by Dorothy R. Saxe and Wendy and Richard Yanowitch. Patron Sponsorship is provided by Shana Nelson Middler and David Middler and by Anita and Ronald Wornick. Supporting sponsorship is provided in honor of Ellen Kahn. Additional support is provided by Rosanne and Al Levitt and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts

Related Programming


For Schools

From Generation to Generation Tours + Holocaust Survivor Talk

Tuesdays, January 24 and February 14
Thursdays, January 26 and February 9 
9:30am or 10:30am (tour lasts 2.5 hours) 
$75 for groups up to 25 students

The CJM offers school groups grade 8 and up a unique opportunity to tour the exhibition and then hear firsthand accounts from Holocaust survivors.

Presented in partnership with the Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center.

For the Public

Artists on Remembering the Holocaust

Thursday, December 1│6:30–8pm
Free with Museum admission (advance registration recommended)

From Generation to Generation artists Lisa Kokin and Loli Kantor create art that engages memories of lives lost in the Holocaust using the artistic mediums of photography, textile, and sculpture. They will discuss their artistic process, as well as how the difficult subject matter informs their work. Moderated by CJM Assistant Curator Pierre-François Galpin.

Loli Kantor on Image, Process, and Memory

Friday, December 2 | 12:30–1pm 

Free with Museum admission 

From Generation to Generation artist Loli Kantor talks about her small works in palladium and her long-term documentary work in East/Central Europe.

Mel Gordon on Superman’s Kandor

Friday, January 6 | 12:30–1pm 
Free with Museum admission 

UC Berkeley Professor Mel Gordon discusses the mytho-history of the city of Kandor as depicted in Mike Kelley’s work in the exhibition and its allusions to Jewish history.

Poetry and Remembrance

Thursday, January 19 │7-8pm 
$10 general (includes Museum admission) 

Poets read alongside the art in From Generation to Generation, including Mathew Zapruder, Brynn Saito, Gail Newman, James Cagney, Jen Siraganian, Nguyen Do, Cintia Santana, and more.

Binta Ayofemi on Afrofuturism

Friday, February 3 │12:30–1pm 
Free with Museum admission 

Artist Binta Ayofemi explores the threads of Afrofuturism in From Generation to Generation.

Duwenavue Sante Johnson on Flags

Friday, February 17 │12:30–1pm 
Free with Museum admission 

Artist Duwenavue Sante Johnson discusses the creation, history, and design of flags in relation to Fabio Morais’ work in the exhibition.

Shanghai Angel

Thursday, February 23 │ 6:30-8pm 
Sunday, February 26 │ 3pm 
$20 general (includes Museum admission) 

With $2.50 in her pocket, Rosa Ginsberg left her family behind in Shanghai in 1940 for an uncertain future in the United States. The 18-year-old Austrian native, who had fled war-torn Vienna for China, landed at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Rosa was detained at Angel Island for three weeks and was released on the basis of a mostly true story.

Rosa’s granddaughter, vocalist Heather Klein, has created a one-woman musical based on her grandmother’s journey. Heather Klein known as the Yiddish Chanteuse is a classically trained soprano who performs modern opera, Yiddish classical song, cantorial, theater and folk music, as well as other styles. For the past decade, she has performed across the US, Canada, and Europe, as a soloist and as part of various ensembles.

Erik Tiemens on the Design behind Star Wars

Friday, March 24 │12:30–1pm
Free with Museum admission 

In relation to Rä di Martino’s work in the exhibition, Industrial Light and Magic artist Erik Tiemens talks about his work on Star Wars and the ruins of old movie sets in the California desert.

About The Contemporary Jewish Museum

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 exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation. The Museum also thanks the Jim Joseph Foundation for its major support of innovative strategies for educating and engaging audiences in Jewish learning. Additional major support is provided by an Anonymous donor; Alyse and Nathan Mason Brill; Gaia Fund; the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; the Hellman Family; the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Osterweis Capital Management; Dorothy R. Saxe; Target; and Wendy and Richard Yanowitch.

For more information about The Contemporary Jewish Museum, visit The Museum’s website at

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