Architect and Director of Jewish Museum Berlin to Speak May 3

For immediate release
April 24, 2002

The museum "integrates, for the first time in post-war Germany, the history of the Jews in Germany and the repercussions of the Holocaust," says Daniel Libeskind.

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. - The architect of the acclaimed Jewish Museum Berlin, Daniel Libeskind, and the museum's director, W. Michael Blumenthal, will speak on Friday, May 3, in Gamble Auditorium of the College's art building. Libeskind's talk, about his current design projects and the meaning of architecture in the twenty-first century, begins at 4 PM. He will be preceded at 3 PM by Blumenthal, who will discuss the genesis of the Jewish Museum Berlin and present-day German-Jewish relations.

Following his presentation, called "Proof of Things Invisible," Libeskind will talk with James Young, professor of English and Judaic studies and chair of the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The day's events are sponsored by the Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership as part of the yearlong series Building Meaning: Architecture and Public Space in the Third Millennium.

"We are hoping for a lively discussion that will span the nuts and bolts of building a Jewish museum in the German capital of Berlin to the relation between imagination and architectural practice in the twenty-first century," says Karen Remmler, an associate professor of German studies and co-director of the Weissman Center.

Some visitors have called the Jewish Museum Berlin, opened in 1998, a disorienting "horror," while others have proclaimed it one of the greatest architectural achievements in the past one hundred years. "This is an intentionally difficult and inhospitable building, which makes its surprising popular appeal - having attracted approximately 400,000 visitors even before any displays were installed - all the more remarkable," writes architecture critic Martin Filler in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books. Filler says the museum is one of only two recent buildings in Berlin that "can lay claim to enduring architectural interest."

The Jewish Museum Berlin is an emotionally powerful landmark that shapes its surroundings, and this is exactly the effect that Libeskind hopes all his designs will achieve. "A building has a responsibility to transform the context," he says. "Not just taking from its surroundings, but also contributing. Enlivening, transforming." The Jewish Museum, Libeskind says, "is a museum which explicitly thematises and integrates, for the first time in post-war Germany, the history of the Jews in Germany and the repercussions of the Holocaust."

In addition to his award-winning design for the Jewish Museum Berlin, Libeskind is well known for his extensions to London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the Imperial War Museum North in Trafford, and the Denver Art Museum. Born in Poland in 1946, Libeskind became an American citizen in 1965. He studied music in New York and in Israel on an America-Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarship and became a virtuoso performer before pursuing architecture. He received his professional architectural degree at New York City's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and earned a postgraduate degree in history and theory of architecture at the School of Comparative Studies at Essex University. Currently a professor at the Hochschule für Gestaltung, Karlsruhe, Germany, and the Cret Chair at the University of Pennsylvania, Libeskind works, teaches, and lectures worldwide. He is a member of the European Academy of Arts and Letters, and has been a member of the Akademie der Kunst since 1990. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the Hiroshima Art Prize, given to an artist whose work promotes peace.

Born in Germany in 1926, W. Michael Blumenthal lived in Berlin until his family escaped from Nazi Germany to Shanghai in 1939. He emigrated to the United States in 1947 and became a U.S. citizen in 1952. Blumenthal holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of California, Berkeley, a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University, and a master's degree and doctorate in economics from Princeton. He has had a distinguished career in education and business, having taught economics at Princeton and served in executive positions at Crown Cork International Corporation, Bendix Corporation, Burroughs Corporation, Unisys Corporation, and Lazard Freres & Co. LLC. He was the sixty-fourth U.S. secretary of the treasury, serving in the Carter administration. Blumenthal is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and author of numerous articles and the book The Invisible Wall, Germans and Jews, A Personal Exploration (1998). In December 1997, Blumenthal accepted an invitation from the city of Berlin to become president and chief executive of the Berlin Jewish Museum.

James E. Young is author of At Memory's Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture (2000); The Texture of Memory (1993), which won the National Jewish Book Award in 1994; Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust (1988); and numerous articles about the art, literature, and politics of memory and the Holocaust. He was the guest curator of the exhibition "The Art of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in History," which was displayed at the Jewish Museum in New York City and at venues in Berlin and Munich, and was the editor of the exhibit's catalog, The Art of Memory (1994). In 1997, Young served on the five-member commission appointed by the Berlin Senate to choose the design for Germany's national "Memorial to Europe's Murdered Jews," now under construction in Berlin. Young has been at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst since 1988.

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