Harry Houdini: Art and Magic at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

by Admin on 09/30/2011

The Contemporary Jewish Museum presents the first major art museum exhibition to examine Houdini’s life, legend and pervading cultural influence in “Harry Houdini: Art and Magic.” Organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, the exhibition begins October 2, 2011 until January 16, 2012 presenting more than 160 various objects that illustrate the kaleidoscope of Harry Houdini’s colorful life, career and influence: theater ephemera and posters, the magician’s props, and archival and silent films.

The materials anchor Houdini’s larger than life career with a foundational understanding of his origins as a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, son of a Rabbi born Ehrich Weiss by historic photographs and personal effects such as his two private diaries never before shown publicly. An open passage tells of Houdini’s homecoming in 1916 to New York City, and his personal reflection about the moment he was there last to attend the funeral of his father: “I was 18 years of age — and now being 42 I could re-live through the whole scene. It grieves me more now — than it did then. I can still hear our blessed mother weep in supplication . . .”

The exhibition also illustrates how his humble origins gave him a unique advantage to appeal to his audience. He would perform his stunts and feats of strength in common areas of metropolitan cities such as his multiple appearances in San Francisco suspending himself from the Hearst Building at Third and Market or diving into the cold waters of the bay at Aquatic Park. He also endowed common items with magical qualities: trunks, crates, and milk cans, which had significance to other immigrants and the American middle class of the era.

Alongside Houdini’s cultural artifacts, the exhibition seamlessly blends art by 26 contemporary artists who have been inspired the magician, his tools of the trade, and themes of metamorphosis and escape. Artists include Matthew Barney, Whitney Bedford, Joe Coleman, Petah Coyne, Bruce Cratsley, Jane Hammond, Tim Lee, Vik Muniz, Ikuo Nakamura, Raymond Pettibon, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Allen Ruppersberg, Christopher Wool, Carol Yeh, and local Bay Area artist Deborah Oropallo.

“Harry Houdini: Art and Magic” runs Oct 2, 2011 to January 19, 2012 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum 736 Mission Street