Mel Bochner’s Jew-ish Question

THE DAILY PIC: At the Jewish Museum, hate becomes art.


This is either the perfect or the worst time for me to reproduce Mel Bochner’s Jew (2008), now on display in his show at the Jewish Museum in New York. Worldwide anti-Semitism is once again on the rise, even as some Jews behave worse than they should; showing Bochner’s piece risks inflaming both haters and boosters. I believe that Bochner’s painting, by repeating names that have been thrown at Jewish people, performs apotropaic magic: It wards off evil by naming it. Bochner seems to agree. He circulates his image with the following statement: “Anti-Semitism thrives in the dark. The text of my painting Jew was appropriated from a virulently anti-Semitic website. By shining a light on it, I intend to expose how pervasive it remains and how inextricably it is tied to language.”

Unfortunately, spellcasting is always tricky stuff, and Bochner knows that his magic risks becoming sympathetic: calling up the devil by portraying him. When a Jew invokes kike-dom or heimie-ness, others might easily follow. (Private collection, New York, © Mel Bochner)

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