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In the Community: Exhibiting the Lower East Side

- Abstract

The Jewish museum did such a thorough job conjuring up group memories in its ambitious exhibition devoted to the Lower East Side that I was moved to wonder just what purposes such memories ought to serve. The exhibition was described in the catalogue, somewhat ominously perhaps, as a “multi-media environmental study,” and audiences were in fact exposed to as much of the variously recorded experience of a particular time and place as could reasonably be crammed into half-a-dozen sizable museum rooms. Being the kind of person who likes to contemplate objects on display in quiet concentration, I am not sure I altogether liked this bombardment of exhibits—it is not easy, for instance, to make out a memorandum by Louis Marshall or a passage from Jacob Epstein’s Autobiography while Zero Mostel’s recorded reading of letters to the Forward rumbles at one ear and the unrelenting drone of a Hester Street huckster assaults the other. But this is probably a cranky prejudice of mine deriving from the benighted age before we realized that media were messages, messages environments, and so forth: the exhibition as a whole surely represented an admirable effort at the total presentation of a subject, its variety was instructive, and the materials were put together with a considerable degree of professional finesse.

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