June ’08 Spotlight

Spacious and beautifully-designed, the top floor of the new Spertus building is now a “must see” stop on our metro list of culturally-significant destinations. For its inaugural exhibition, Spertus combined two programmatic imperatives. The first is local: Spertus is one of 30 Chicago institutions participating in this year’s “Festival of Maps Chicago.” The second is international: worldwide celebration of the 60th birthday of the state of Israel. The result is “Imaginary Coordinates,” an exhibit which triangulates between maps of the Holy Land, contemporary art works, and symbolic objects. This juxtaposition is educational, thought-provoking and highly effective.

Most of the maps are already owned by Spertus (many of them coming from the Museum’s Muriel Yale Collection), but others are on loan. The evolution of European cartography (based on British, Dutch, French, and German examples) is fascinating in its own right, even without the emotion entailed in depicting Biblical sites. As tools and techniques improve, these maps present themselves as increasingly “scientific,” but the exhibit makes it clear that all maps are human artifacts generated from specific points of view.

The artwork reinforces this didactic objective. Most of the pieces are extremely personal, and the Spertus staff has worked hard to balance them. Four of the artists are Palestinian women and the other four are Israeli women. Of course when I took the press tour, the first question asked was “Why are all the artists women?” Rhonda Rosen, Director the Spertus Museum, gleefully pounced on the gentleman’s question: “Because all of the maps were made by men!”

Tzotchkes like the Jewish National Fund “Blue Box” connect abstract themes to daily life. Maps are embossed on key chains, pasted onto tee shirts, and preserved in olivewood boxes. All of these objects thereby become symbolic representations, as precious to some as the art works and antique maps are to others, and all of them together asking us to examine how we construct our identities as individuals and as nations.

“Imaginary Coordinates” runs through September 7. Spertus is located at 610 South Michigan. For more information, call (312) 322-1700 or visit www.spertus.edu.

For more about “Festival of Maps Chicago,” visit www.festivalofmaps.com.

COMING SOON: Music and Dance

When Andy Statman started his set at the Old Town School of Folk Music on March 30, I’ll confess I was confused. I came expecting Klezmer and I didn’t immediately warm to his clarinet improvisations. But the more he played, the deeper his hold became, and by the end I was mesmerized. His New Age stylings have profound Jewish roots, and it’s easy to imagine him in Hassidic garb, playing at a wedding in a 19th Century shtetl.

Statman’s next Chicago appearance will be at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie on Monday, June 30. Call 773.262.2770 for tickets or visit www.lubavitchchabad.org.

The Maxwell Street Klezmer Dance Orchestra will offer more traditional fun on Thursday, June 19, as part of Chicago’s annual SummerDance series, with support from Yiddish dance maven Steve Weintraub. All SummerDance programs are held in the “Spirit of Music Garden” in Grant Park (601 South Michigan, across the street from Spertus). Weintraub’s dance lessons begin at 6 PM, and the whole program runs until 9:30 PM.

For more information, call the SummerDance Hotline at 312-742-4007 or visit www.cityofchicago.org.


I attended a beautiful afternoon concert called “The Sephardic Legacy” at the Instituto Cervantes on April 18. Fascinated by folk music from many nations, composer Manuel García-Morante worked with Jewish scholars to rescue a set of Ladino songs from obscurity. Soprano Yrene Martínez-Roca sang them for us as García-Morante accompanied her on the piano.

Chicago’s Instituto Cervantes is now housed in a large suite at 31 West Ohio with plentiful classroom space in addition to the lovely auditorium in which García-Morante and Martínez-Roca performed. According to Fred Siegman of Chicago’s Alliance of Latinos and Jews, many additional programs are currently under development including a film festival. For more information, visit www.latinosandjews.org. Meanwhile García-Morante’s CD Sephardic Balladeer is available on Amazon.


The Sundance Channel is currently screening a six-part series called Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman by filmmaker Jennifer Fox, but Chicago residents had a head start when the Gene Siskel Film Center featured the series last September.

The ambitious daughter of a progressive Jewish family, Fox came of age in an era when smart girls were encouraged to achieve great things. She rejected her mother’s homebound life and emulated her father’s freedom. Each segment begins with footage of her father at the control panel of his private plane, then cuts to Fox also airborne, jetting around the world doing interviews and lectures.

But approaching age forty, this award-winning documentary filmmaker started turning inward, becoming increasingly obsessed with personal concerns: should she “settle down,” get married, and have a baby? Pointedly ignoring the one woman on the planet with the most at stake, she asks advice from women on almost every continent until their hospitality finally opens the door to rapprochement. The final episodes, in which Fox’s mother emerges from the background and assumes center stage are enormously moving, as, together, Fox and her mother nurse her mother’s mother in her final days.

Tightly focusing her camera on her own face in all its variations, often exhausted, sometimes unkempt, is revelatory. Baring her soul, she confronts us with all the contemporary realities absent in most American films. So I was delighted when she told me in September that one of her role models is Barbra Streisand. Reflecting on the first time she saw Funny Girl, Fox said: “Back then [1968] you got dressed up to go to the movies. I had gloves on. I remember all this. I sat in that theater and I said, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to make people feel like this film is making me feel.”

For a link to the complete Sundance Channel schedule as well as information on the DVD version of Flying, visit www.flyingconfessions.com.


Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com.

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