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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the October 8, 2003

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Family Memoir for Friends and Strangers: Judith Brodsky

When you hear the institution of the American family

being invoked, it’s usually as the dark host of some pathology or

another. Too much love or too little; parents who are too strict or

not strict enough; dysfunctional offspring who achieve too much or

fail to meet their potential.

Artist Judith K. Brodsky doesn’t see her family this way. She sees

her clan as a bevy of lively individuals who deserve to be remembered

by their nearest and dearest — and by complete strangers, too.

They are her representatives of the living, breathing stuff of



"For years I’ve had in mind doing a project that would be a homage

to my family," says Brodsky in a gallery interview, surrounded

by an installation of almost 100 prints on this single theme. "I

didn’t want them to disappear into the black hole of the dead. Memory

is so evanescent — after one generation, it’s gone."

In their biggest reunion to date, Brodsky’s feisty, forward-looking

family is being celebrated in the exhibition she calls "Memoir

of an Assimilated Family." The two big rooms of the Rider


Art Gallery literally swarm with images and anecdotes representing

her family’s multiple members, some dead and some still living. "I

wanted to surround viewers with my memories," she says, somewhat


For the viewer who traces the artist from her forebears through her

childhood in Providence, Rhode Island, her early and long-lived


to David Brodsky who died in 1997, and her second marriage, through

her children and grandchildren, the story is a positive maze of


Yet at the same time, this is a visual experience. Whether or not

you linger over the texts, the show makes a strong impression.

Artist and Princeton resident since 1955, Brodsky is professor emerita

in the department of visual arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts

of Rutgers University, where she founded the Rutgers Center for


Print and Paper. Active throughout her career in the women’s movement,

she is also the immediate past national president of ArtTable, an

organization of 1,200 women in leadership positions in the visual


Works from Brodsky’s "Memoir of an Assimilated Family" were

shown at the Numina Gallery at Princeton High School earlier this

year. Now an even larger group from the artist’s ongoing series are

on exhibit at the Gallery at Rider University where they will remain

on view to October 26. On Thursday, October 16, at 7 p.m. Brodsky

will give a talk on the show in the gallery. A companion exhibit of

works from the series, "Bending the Grid," curated by Rosemary

Miles, will be exhibited at the Aljira gallery in Newark from January

3 to March 31.

Rider professor of fine arts Harry I. Naar is curator of the current

installation of Brodsky’s "Memoir." It’s a good match because

Naar has known the artist since the mid-1970s when the two shared

a tiny office — and the same desk — at Beaver College in


Using this long association as a jumping-off point, the work is


for maximum effect, and he has produced an impressive catalogue that

includes a transcription of his wide-ranging dialogue with the artist.

Although Brodsky considers herself a colorist — she still


the original Josef Albers silkscreen prints from which she once taught

color theory — this is a monochromatic show. "I was terribly

involved in color," says the artist (who nonetheless believes

she dreams in black and white). Her choice of unremitting black and

white was designed to cool down the show’s emotional quotient. With

a few significant exceptions, most of the show’s photo etchings are

made from 13-by-10-inch plates, printed on 25-by-20-inch sheets of

paper, and placed in simple birch frames.

Working with master printer Sergei Tsvetkov, Brodsky

says her goal was to achieve the rich blacks of Goya’s etchings with

aquatint. The observation allies her project with another artist


to social documentation, in Goya’s case to "the disasters of


The artist’s love of process is manifest in these scanned, cropped,

and manipulated prints. "I wanted the images to have the imprint

of having passed through my hands," she says. Her largest works,

comprised of two separate etching plates, go even further to elucidate

process. And many images show the wear and tear typical of visual

mementos that have been passed down through the family.

Fused together with her bountiful harvest of images spanning six


are Brodsky’s texts, in which she tries to seize the essence of her

subject’s individuality. These are printed uniformly in simple


lettering, another choice, she says, to keep the anecdotes as


as possible.

Reigning over the first room is Brodsky’s paternal great grandmother,

a 19th-century owner of orchards in the Ukraine who "probably

would never have left if not for the pogroms." The matriarch is

decked out in dramatic black silk and seated in an ornately carved

chair. Brodsky’s big print serves as an iconic introduction to the

plethora of meditations in black and white that come after.

Is it a coincidence that the artist arrives at the gallery dressed

in black, with her bobbed hair, pearls and pearl earrings? Slender,

with her shoulder-length hair styled to frame her face, Brodsky looks

decades younger than her 70 years.

Brodsky began her project more than five years ago, but because of

September 11, 2001, and its subsequent events, she has come to feel

that her memoir has taken on more importance and perhaps more urgency

in addressing international affairs.

"It’s a memoir. I felt really strongly that it had to be since

so much of Jewish art concerns the Holocaust, but this is about the

Jewish experience in America." Although these images are focused

around a single Jewish immigrant family that rose to the middle class,

she says the same kind of experiences were undergone by many other

families with different origins.

"As immigrants to the U.S. seeking social and economic mobility,

my family was fulfilling the American dream. The same thing happened

to the Irish, the Italians — and so many other groups. But we’re

now in a period of upheaval, and the European-American tradition may

change, to be replaced by something else," she says.

"Memoir" is a carefully chosen word for this extensive print

series, a word Brodsky contrasts with biography. "It’s strictly

my voice, not a voice of authority," says the artist, who would

like viewers to experience the installation "more like poetry

than a novel."

Autobiography is here in abundance. "Everyone is seen through

my direct memory or through the stories that have been told to me.

The images are those that are most important to me."

The family, whose forebears emigrated from the Ukraine in the 1880s,

matured and prospered during the 1940s, the very years when other

Jews lost each and every member of their European relatives. "None

of my relatives died in the Holocaust. But they left Europe in the

1880s because of pogroms — in other words, under the fear of being

murdered," she says.

In this particular installation, a strong suite of 12

etchings does address the Holocaust. Created in the same genre as

her memoir, the suite chronicles the family of Harvey Isbitts. This

family remained rooted in Europe until World War II. Isbitts’ own

experience of fleeing for his life, and his shock at having his


parents murdered in the Nazi camps, stand in sobering contrast to

Brodsky’s sunnier story.

The images that form the basis for Brodsky’s prints fall, almost


exception, into the genre of the portrait photograph. There are almost

no candid shots. And this element in itself reminds us what a curious

artifact the portrait really is: the posed photograph as a place where

we may try to define ourselves for ourselves and for others. Every

one of these subjects faces the camera bravely, composing their bodies

and their features as best they can. There are many traditional


here — little boys dressed as cowboys and little girls as


We have the sense that, strong and smiling, almost everyone looks

as they believe others would want them to look.

The daughter of two teachers, Brodsky’s father, I.J. Kapstein, was

a scholar, writer, poet, and professor at Brown University in


Rhode Island, where she and her brother Jonathan grew up. Classes

at the Rhode Island School of Design nurtured her early interest in

art. Her mother, Stella, was also a teacher who taught home economics.

She is the subject of one of the show’s most memorable prints,


by Starlight."

Brodsky recalls how she grew up in a white Christian world where


culture was so dominant and Saturday was not the day of rest. Raised

with a Jewish identity and education, her parents’ generation were

still very much engaged in the process of assimilation. "For my

parents’ generation," she recalls, "the whole ideas was not

to be too Jewish."

Thus Brodsky arrives at the "paradox of assimilation," a


in which the immigrant group may feel it is discarding the old ways,

yet they are actively shaping the world they have entered. Brodsky

smiles when she imagines how surprised her grandparents would be to

discover that today’s favorite American foods include bagels and



The same "paradox of assimilation" protected this Jewish


from the 20th-century experiences of so many others, resulting in

an almost shockingly undisturbed family chronicle.

Towering over the gallery’s larger room, and over the densely


show, are life-size images of four young men, teenagers circa 1948.

Three of these young body-builders represent themselves bare-chested,

and the strapping young man on the right is Brodsky’s late husband,

David Brodsky. The brothers and friends grew up in the same dreary

Worcester, Massachusetts, tenement that serves as an almost identical

backdrop to each of these four exuberant portraits.

Married at 20 while still a student at Radcliffe, Brodsky arrived

in Princeton in 1955 with her husband and their first baby. David

Brodsky took a job in the planning department at E.T.S. and gradually

rose to the position of executive vice president. The couple were

married for 44 years. David Brodsky died in 1997 at the age of 67.

She was re-married five years ago to Michael Curtis, an English-born

professor of political science, now retired from Rutgers University.

"I was married to Dave for 44 years, but he died a young 67. He

will never grow old. I hope Michael and I can grow old together,"

writes the artist on a double portrait of David Brodsky and Michael


Once both the children, Frances and John, were in school all day,

she returned to her art studies. Graduate study at Tyler School of

Art in Philadelphia brought her to printmaking. "I loved the


and the surprise of the print pulled from the plate," she says.

"Developing an image through several plates or through additional

states on one plate, the complexity of moving from a drawing to a

plate to a print, all of this physical process became a metaphor for

the layers in my mind."

Immersed in the women’s movement throughout her career,

Brodsky literally came in on the ground floor, working in the


art community. In 1973 she became involved in the Women’s Caucus for

Art, and served as president in 1976.

Brodsky notes that although the kind of cultural documentation she

is pursuing existed in abundance in the work of American writers of

the 1950s and ’60s — Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, and Saul


for example — it has been much less evident in the visual arts.

"It was the women’s art movement that made decoration,


autobiography, social and political issues, photo-based work, and

narrative integral and accepted elements in the visual arts


says Brodsky. "The ideas that came out of the movement gave me

permission to develop my art in the directions that were most


to me — particularly narrative."

"The women’s movement, with its emphasis on autobiography and

family history, made it OK to make art about family," says


While the West Coast branch of the feminist art movement was given

a tremendous kick in the pants by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro,

both women of Jewish descent, Brodsky also considers African-American

photographers Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems as significant


Both Simpson and Weems examine family, identity, and relationships,

also employing text as a tool of their art. Brodsky also cites the

work of Asian-Americans Huang Liu and Yong Soon Min, both of whose

art addresses comparable issues of cultural assimilation.

Daughter Frances is a molecular biologist and immunologist at the

University of California, San Francisco, and author of a series of

mysteries that she published under the pen-name B.B. Jordan. Her son

John lives in Scarsdale, the father of two children, and works in

marketing for Pfizer.

Lest we think that Brodsky’s family life is less fraught than our

own, family foibles are fully in play here — enough for many of

us to ask ourselves how we ever survive the push and pull of family

love. Illustrated on the show’s invitation is "My Grandmother

Worried a Lot," an image of Brodsky in her pram with her


accompanied by the artist’s wry memories of her beloved grandma.

"When they received the invitation, three of my elderly aunts

and uncles called — they were upset with me," says Brodsky

warmly. "Your grandmother was not a terrible cook, she was a


cook," they had insisted. "Well, I knew her chocolate pudding

had lumps in it," she says with a wry smile, "and I could

only tell them that maybe, because she was older then, her cooking

was no longer as wonderful as they remembered it."

"I think, if you idealize your family, no one pays attention.

But you grab people when you tell their little foibles — it makes

them come alive. And I want them to live."

Judith K. Brodsky, Rider University Art Gallery,

2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, 609-895-5588.

"Memoir of an Assimilated Family," on view through October

26 in the gallery on the top floor of the student center. Tuesday

through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. The

artist gives a talk on her work in the gallery on Thursday, October

16, at 7 p.m.

Top Of Page
Art in Town

Hills Gallery, 195 Nassau Street, 609-252-0909. Month-long

exhibition of Oriental Art with original art, limited-edition prints,

and shadow boxes in styles from traditional to contemporary. Open

Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m. to

6 p.m. To October 31.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158

Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Lost Princeton," an exhibit

that explores lost businesses and houses. The historic house also

houses a long-term exhibition about Princeton history highlighting

the Native American occupation, the Revolutionary War, and Princeton

in the 19th and 20th centuries. Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday,

noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

The Williams Gallery, 6 Olden Lane, 609-921-1142.


to Distant Locations: The Art and Artists of Australia, the


and Japan" features limited edition prints by Rolf Weijburg,


Endo, Katsunori Hamanishi, Joerg Schmisser, and Yoshikatsu Tamekane.

By appointment through October 31.

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Campus Arts

Princeton University Art Museum, 609-258-3788. "Aaron

Siskind at 100," photography show on view to November 11.


Than Fiction: 19th-Century Photographs from the Permanent


to December 8. Also "The Book of Kings: Art, War, and the Morgan

Library’s Medieval Picture Bible," exhibiting the greatest


French manuscript of the 13th century. To June 6.

"The Italian Renaissance City: Selections from Princeton


Collections," with rare books and maps that highlight aspects

of the city that fascinated Renaissance artists and architects. A

symposium is planned in conjunction with the show; to January 11.

Also "The Arts of Asia: Works in the Permanent Collection"

and "Recent Acquisitions in Asian Art: 1998 to 2003," both

shows to January 6. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;

Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights tours every Saturday at 2 p.m. Free


Bernstein Gallery, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson

School, 609-258-1651. "Humanity in Action: Resistance and Rescue

in Demark," a show by photographer Judy Ellis Glickman whose focus

is the rescue of Danish Jewry during World War II. Gallery is open

Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To November 6.

Firestone Library, Princeton University, 609-258-1148.

"Brave New World: 20th-Century Books from the Cotsen Children’s

Library," an exhibition that fills the library’s main gallery

and the Milberg Gallery upstairs. To October 26.

Mason Gross Galleries at Civic Square, 33 Livingston


New Brunswick, 732-932-2222. "Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus,

Performance, Intermedia, and Rutgers University, 1958-1972," a

show that traces the early years of avant-garde artmaking based at

Rutgers organized by faculty member Geoffrey Hendricks, a founding

member of Fluxus. Closing reception is Saturday, November 1, from

5 to 8 p.m., for the show that runs to November 5. Show is open Monday

through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Hall Gallery, 20

Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Painting Toward a Book of


an exhibition by painter and printmaker Ellen Wiener. A lecturer in

the Department of Visual Arts at Princeton University, Wiener is


on a series based on the medieval book of hours. Open Monday to


8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. To October 17.

Peddie School, Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown,

609-490-7550. "Embodied Abstractions," a multi-media show

by Tim Trelease, chair of the Peddie arts department for the past

eight years. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To October 10.

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Art by the River

Coryell Gallery, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville,


Annual Fall Exhibition featuring landscape paintings by Albert L.

Bross Jr., Harriet Ermentrout, and Mike Filipiak. Gallery hours are

Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To November 16.

Image Makers Art Gallery of Stars, 12 West Mechanic


New Hope, 215-862-4858. "Annie Haslam: Dream Expressionist,"

art by the former lead singer of the English classic rock band


To October 19.

Peggy Lewis Gallery, Lambertville Public Library, 6 Lilly

Street, 609-397-0275. "Narration of Boundaries," paintings

and drawings by Brooke Schmidt, a student at Tyler School of Art.

Her works focus on memory and intuition, reminding us, without


a complete story. Gallery hours are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 1

to 9 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday 1 to 5 p.m.; Saturday,

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To November 7.

New Hope Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, Union Square, West

Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-862-3396. Sculpture exhibition features

the outdoor installation of seven large-scale works at sites around

town. Host sites include Union Square, New Hope Solebury Library,

the Wedgwood Inn, New Hope Historical Society, Golden Door Gallery,

and New Hope Mule Barge. On view to Spring 2004.

Riverrun Gallery, 287 South Main Street, Lambertville,

609-397-3349. An exhibition celebrating the work of artist Bernard

Ungerleider who died on August 6, 2003. Select paintings spanning

the career of the Bucks County oil painter will be shown with pieces

created by artists who painted alongside Ungerleider in his weekly

sessions at his Bridge Street studio and on plein-air painting trips.

Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesday.

To October 13.

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Art In Trenton

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley, Trenton, 609-394-9436.


Human," an exhibition featuring works by figurative artists


Heinrich, Charles Kumnick, Pat Feeney Murrell, and Susan Wilson.

Each artists employs a different set of materials and techniques to

explore the human form and the frailty and resilience of human nature.

Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To October


Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park,

609-989-3632. Ellarslie 25th season anniversary show features


by Ricardo Barros, Phil McAuliffe, and G. Fredrick Morante. Open


to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To November 9.

The Old Barracks Museum, Barrack Street, Trenton,


"Furniture, Curios and Pictures: 100 Years of Collecting by the

Old Barracks," a new display in the exhibit gallery is included

in the tour admission fee. Open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;

the last tour is at 3:50 p.m.

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Art in the Workplace

Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Route 206,


609-252-6275. "The Fascination of Sun and Shore: Impressionist

Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1870-1940." Curated by Roy Pedersen,

the show features works by 30 artists, members of two successive


who made contributions to the uniquely American brand of


Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends and holidays,

1 to 5 p.m. To December 7.

Johnson & Johnson, Administration Building Atrium,


609-497-9288. Photographs by members of the Princeton Photography

Club are on view in the Atrium of the Administration Building through

January, 2004. Open by appointment only during business hours.

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Area Museums

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton,

609-292-6464. "George Tice: Urban Landscapes," an exhibit

spanning the career of the photographer who has been working in urban

and suburban New Jersey since 1967. Tice’s photographs are in many

major collections and he is the author of 12 books, including the

now-classic "Urban Landscapes" of 1975, just re-issued in

a new edition. Show runs to November 30. Open Tuesday to Saturday,

9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays and

state holidays. Www.newjerseystatemu

American Hungarian Foundation Museum, 300 Somerset Street,

New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "Stephen Spinder: Through My Lens,

Budapest and Transylvania," a collection of photographs of the

Gothic spires and neo-classical facades of Budapest. Also "Homage

to the Skyscrapers," an exhibition of sculpture by Blawenburg

artist Joseph Petrovics. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.;

and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation. Both shows to November 9.

Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, George and


streets, New Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "Vivat, St. Petersburg!

Images of the City and its Citizens from the George Riabov Collection

of Russian Art." Show celebrates the 300th anniversary of the

city’s founding with rare prints and watercolors. On view to February

1. Museum hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday

and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Spotlight tours every Sunday at 2 and 3

p.m. Admission $3 adults; under 18 free. Free admission on the first

Sunday of each month.

Area Galleries

Bordentown Gallery, 204 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown,

609-298-5556. A new gallery in Historic Bordentown City owned by John

and Nina Schroeder. Schroeder, a retiree from the Trenton Police


and his wife have been collecting art for more than 25 years. The

gallery carries traditional landscapes, seascapes, and still lifes

as well as limited-edition prints by featured artists who include

watercolorist Phil Aklonis, painter Gerald Lubeck, and folk artist

Nancy Lubeck. Open Wednesday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.; Friday until

8 p.m.

Gallery of Fine Art, 201 South State Street, Newtown,

215-579-0050. "Home and Away, Photographs of Maine" by David

Graham. Nan and Arthur Kellam are the subject of Graham’s latest


book, "Alone Together." The couple lived on a remote island

off the coast of Maine for 40 years. Now abandoned, the remnants of

their simple home and belongings continue to tell the story of their

lives together. Show runs to October 12.

Hopewell Frame Shop, 24 West Broad Street, Hopewell,


Oil paintings by Betty Dickson. To October 25.

Montgomery Center for the Arts, 124 Montgomery Road,


609-921-3272. Garden State Watercolor Society juried exhibition


by Domenic DiStefano and Siv Spurgeon. Opening reception is Saturday,

October 18, from 1 to 4 p.m., for the show that runs to November 2.

The center is open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays

from 1 to 4 p.m.

South Brunswick Arts Commission, Wetherill Historic Site,

269 Georges Road, South Brunswick, 732-524-3350. "Show Us Your

Face: An Exhibit of Portraiture," featuring works by 21 area


and curated by Joan Arbeiter. Exhibit is open Saturdays and Sundays,

from 1 to 4 p.m., through October 26.

Washington Township Arts Council, Washington Township

Utilities Office, Route 130, just south of Route 33, 609-259-3502.

Fifth annual art exhibit, juried by artist Marge Chavooshian. Exhibit

is on display Mondays to Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To



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