Reading List: Jewish American Heritage Month

Stack of nine books on a black cart in front of a window

Throughout May, we celebrate the histories and achievements of Jewish Americans, recognizing their contribution to the culture and communities of North America. In conjunction with Jewish American Heritage Month, the Frick Art Reference Library has compiled a list of recommended books that highlight prominent Jewish American artists, collectors, and scholars. This selection is a survey of the numerous holdings of the library on the subject, including multilingual exhibition catalogs, biographies relaying the diasporic experience, and encyclopedic collections documenting both the sacred and the secular. To explore further, browse our online catalog.

The books on this list—as well as the full selection of titles on Jewish American art and culture found in the library’s collections—can be consulted in person in the reading room at Frick Madison, which is open by free appointment.

  1. Encyclopedia of Jewish American Artists

    By Samantha Baskind (2007)

    Bookmark this index as an indispensable resource for information about eighty-five Jewish American artists, including biographies, scholarship on their influences from Jewish culture, public collections, and rich bibliographies. Author Samantha Baskind selected the group of artists for their noteworthy participation in American visual culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (This title is also available as a free e-book via Open Library.)

    Book on a white shelf whose cover features a figure surrounded by baskets of fruit and a book with Hebrew writing
  1. The Rothko Chapel: An Act of Faith

    By Susan J. Barnes (1996)

    Seek a sense of universal spirituality in the large-scale series of fourteen plum-colored paintings by Mark Rothko. The panels were installed via skylight in the octagonal Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, a nondenominational “sacred place open to all, every day.” Rothko, a Color Field painter of Latvian Jewish descent, was commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil in 1964 to create this site-specific work and shaped the chapel’s monumental legacy as a site of broadly ecumenical meditation and exchange. In this text, art historian and Episcopalian reverend Susan J. Barnes narrates the chapel’s arc from concept to completion, including unrealized architectural blueprints and notes on the accompanying outdoor sculpture Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman, another Jewish American artist who was based in New York.

    Book on a white shelf whose covers features a man standing near giant monochromatic canvases
  1. Masterworks of The Jewish Museum

    By Maurice Berger (2004)

    Browse a selection of more than 120 full-color masterworks from the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum, New York, chosen to present a visual cross-section of influential acquisitions on the occasion of the museum’s centenary. Building on a gift of ceremonial objects to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1904, the Jewish Museum has since expanded its collection from 26 to over 28,000 works and continues to hold space for global Jewish culture and visual arts. Featured on the cover is a detail of Andy Warhol’s Sarah Bernhardt, a silk-screened Pop art portrait from his 1980 series Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century.

    Book on a white shelf whose cover features a Pop art portrait of a woman's face with her hand at her chin
  1. Jewish Identities in American Feminist Art: Ghosts of Ethnicity

    By Lisa E. Bloom (2006)

    Originating as a series of oral interviews conducted between the author, Lisa E. Bloom, and living Jewish American feminist artists, this collection of six chapters plus black-and-white illustrations posits that, in a postwar culture of assimilation, unacknowledged Jewish ethnicity manifests as a specter. The project of unveiling the “ghosts of ethnicity” opens the artworks discussed to further levels of interpretation. Among the artists whose works are examined are Judy Chicago, Deborah Kass, Rhonda Lieberman, and Martha Rosler. Also of note, the second chapter highlights the self-proclaimed “maintenance art” of undersung Orthodox artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, known for her ongoing residency at the New York City Department of Sanitation.

  1. One Hundred American Jewish Artists
    (הונדערט אמעריקאנער יידישע קינסטלער)

    By the Yidisher Kultur Farband (1947)

    Compiled by the Yidisher Kultur Farband (Association for Jewish Culture) and edited by printmaker Louis Lozowick in 1947, this list of one hundred contemporaneous Jewish American painters and sculptors was published with the intent of introducing primarily Jewish American audiences to Jewish artists. The publication addresses displacement—both geographic and cultural—in the aftermath of the Holocaust and aimed to reach a wide readership with bilingual texts in English and Yiddish, the native language of many Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Through publications as well as community engagement, the Yidisher Kultur Farband was committed to preserving and developing Yiddish culture and literacy. Each entry includes biographical details, exhibition history, an artist’s statement and portrait, and an artwork sample. Many artists in this compilation voice an explicit and timely social concern that is intrinsic to their practice.

    Book on a white shelf whose spine features Yiddish writing
  1. Fixing the World: Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century

    By Ori Z. Soltes (2002)

    Titled after a modern rabbinical interpretation of the Judaic concept of tikkun olam (“repair of the world”), this publication offers a combination of biographic, interpretive, and contextual material in order to situate a selection of twentieth-century Jewish American painters (and one sculptor) in a defined tradition within and apart from Western Christian art. In three loosely chronological sections spanning from the early twentieth century up to the millennium, the author considers the aesthetic qualities and social contexts of artists such as Max Weber, Jack Levine, and Susan Rothenberg.

    Book on a white shelf whose cover features an artistic depiction of the storefront of a Jewish eatery
  1. Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico
    (Otra Tierra Prometida: El México de Anita Brenner)

    Edited by Karen Cordero Reiman (2017)

    Explore Jewish American cultural figures beyond the United States with the catalog for the Skirball Cultural Center’s 2017–18 exhibition Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico. This bilingual English-Spanish publication explores the life and work of Anita Brenner, the author of Idols Behind Altars (also available at the library) and The Wind That Swept Mexico. Brenner was born to Latvian Jewish parents in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and traveled between Mexico, the United States, and Europe throughout her life, steadfastly recording, interpreting, and advocating for Mexican arts, particularly for U.S. audiences. Brenner is best remembered for coining the term “Mexican Renaissance” to describe the arts scene in the 1920s following the Mexican Revolution and for her friendship with important figures in the muralism and indigenismo movements.

  1. Imagining Landscapes: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952–1976 (2021)

    Bask in fourteen paintings in lush hues in this vibrant exhibition catalog published in conjunction with Gagosian London’s 2021 exhibition of the same name. The show displayed a selection of Frankenthaler’s abstracted landscapes from the collection of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. The catalog offers a close look at the painter’s soak-stain technique, with detailed images and studio photographs. Of one artwork, Frankenthaler states: “I had the landscape in my arms when I painted it. I had the landscapes in my mind and shoulder and wrist.”

    Book on a white shelf whose cover features a detail of a lyrical, colorful abstract painting
  1. The Cone Sisters of Baltimore: Collecting at Full Tilt

    By Ellen B. Hirschland (2008)

    Meet the namesake sisters of the Cone Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Etta and Claribel Cone, daughters of German Jewish immigrants and beneficiaries of the profitable textile company founded by their brothers, acquired a trailblazing collection of more than 3,000 modernist works of art during their travels, much of which was mounted on walls in their eccentric Baltimore apartments until they willed the majority to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Collection highlights include paintings and drawings by Picasso, bronzes by Rodin, and works by many of their contemporaries. While gossipy and playful in tone and presentation, this book narrates the serious antics of the amateur collectors responsible for accruing a remarkable collection, notable for containing one of the most representative arrays of works by Matisse in the world.

    Book on a white shelf whose cover features a photo of two seated women in large dark coats and hats

All photos by Joseph Coscia Jr., The Frick Collection

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