Proposal for a museum exhibition about The Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin

In the Weissensee section of (East) Berlin is the largest Jewish cemetery in Western Europe (with over 110,000 graves). Founded in 1880, it is the principal surviving representation of the great age of Berlin Jewry and, by extension, of the time when Berlin was one of the world's great cities with the largest Jewish population of any city between Warsaw and New York (other than Vienna), when Berlin's Jews, though never more than five percent of the total population, had a disproportionate influence. Looking at the gravestones of the pre-Hitler period, one can imaginatively reconstruct from visual, verbal and numerical detail not only individual lives but images of a community wealthy and confident, constructing stylish mausoleums that they expected would be visited and honored by their children and grandchildren. By contrast, the stones of husbands and wives who committed suicide on the same day in 1942 tell of the end of this dream. In other words, the Cemetery is a window on Berlin history.

During an extended residency in Berlin (West) as a guest of the DAAD Kunstlerprogramm, I took a large number of color slides that were initially intended to accompany concert performances of an audiotape Kaddish (1990). However, once the slides were developed, it became vividly clear that they could become a museum exhibition wholly on their own. Since my interpretation of the significance of this Cemetery depends upon the abundant accumulation of evocative details, my own vision of this exhibition of visual history has at least two, perhaps three or four, simultaneous carousel slide projectors, each with 240 slides, which are automatically changed every fifteen seconds. Thus, with the projection-switching staggered, the complete cycle of 480 (or 720 or 960) slides would take one hour. The images could appear on screens along a single wall, or on three walls of a single space. What completes the installation is a continuous sound track, likewise 60 minutes long (and drawing upon recordings made for the soundtrack of my film about the Cemetery), of ex-Berliners, ranging in age from 50 to 90, talking, in either English, German, French, Spanish, Swedish, and/or Hebrew, about the Cemetery and the Berlin represented there. Other exhibition formats are no doubt possible. From the slides, which have negatives, we could make color prints not only for display but for a memorable catalog. Interested sponsors are invited to contact me soon.