Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 28 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Chris Jones’s surreal and fascinating, 3D-ish (2.5D?) depiction of an empty house of many rooms, collaged from book and magazine pictures.  

Hebrew Union College Museum
Chris Jones, “After They Had Left,” 2016, Mixed media collage

Hebrew Union College MuseumAccording to the guard at the front desk, in order to visit the museum at Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Institute of Religion, you must do four things.

  1. Hebrew Union College Museum
    Visitor Pass

    Present a photo ID, which they will hold onto for the duration of your visit.

  2. Submit any bags for an inspection.
  3. Agree to be wanded down with a handheld metal detector.
  4. Wear an orange “Visitor” badge around your neck or other suitably prominently visible place for the duration of your visit.

Hebrew Union College dates to 1875, making it the oldest Jewish seminary in North America.   It has branches in LA, Jerusalem, Cincinnati, and of course New York.

The HUC-JIR Museum takes up much of the lobby space of the college’s building on West 4th Street near NYU and Washington Square. While the seminary has a long history, its building is another of those fairly anonymous, fairly forgettable, modern brick academic structures from the late twentieth century.

The museum boasts a respectable 5,000 square feet of exhibition space in total. However, it feels more like the lobby it is than the museum it aspires to be. Even with interesting art on the walls, it’s still mainly a space connecting the front door to elsewhere in the building.Hebrew Union College Museum

There’s No Place Like HOME(less)

Hebrew Union College MuseumHUC-JIR’s current exhibition is called HOME(less), featuring different contemporary artists’ take on “home.” Superficially, it seems like a trite concept, but there are deep, rich directions to go in beyond just the obvious, Norman Rockwell one.  Some of the works in the show are indeed cozy and comforting.  However, others tackle homelessness, migrants, migrants, refugees, and immigrants.

The selections for the show focus mainly on painting and drawing, along with some sculpture and collage. It included no digital, interactive, or video art. I can’t say whether that results from a conservative approach to media on the part of the curators, or just the limited capabilities of the space; however, I suspect the latter.

Still, I liked the breadth of perspectives represented in the media, from a piece that defines home as the blue-green sphere we all live on, to “homes” as boxes, with varying degrees of openness or closed-ness.

Hebrew Union College Museum
Paul Weissman, “Home,” 2017, lithography/collage

Jewish history and tradition further extend and enrich the complexity of themes of home and by extension hospitality.  Several works on display are explicitly biblical in focus.  Others speak to diaspora and displacement, the promise and hope for a home and a homeland.

Hebrew Union College Museum

There’s No Place Like the Hebrew Union College Museum?

I foundHOME(less) well curated and interesting, definitely Jewish but universally relevant. If only the space were more congenial or charismatic. I feel I’ve been spoiled by the better college art spaces around the city, like the Shirley Fiterman Art Center at Borough of Manhattan Community College, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, or the Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx.

If you only have time for a single stop for Jewish history and culture in New York, HUC-JIR shouldn’t be it – the Center for Jewish History has much more to see and a deep collection from which to draw.  And of course there’s the Jewish Museum too.

However, if you have an interest in Jewish art and surplus museum leisure time, the Hebrew Union College Museum makes for a decent art stop. It’s practically around the corner from NYU’s terrific Grey Art Gallery, creating a natural pairing.

Hebrew Union College Museum

For Reference:

Address One West Fourth Street (between Broadway and Mercer), Manhattan
Website huc.edu
Cost  General Admission:  Free

One Reply to “Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum”

Comments are closed.