In the latest iteration of our Masterpieces & Curiosities exhibition series, a colorful, geometric sculpture sits encased in the middle of a gallery, surrounded by other neon and pastel objects that come alive against a laminate surface of bright patterns. The work is artist and designer Peter Shire’s Menorah #7 in the Jewish Museum collection, the subject of Memphis Does Hanukkah organized by Associate Curator Kelly Taxter.
In our podcast interview, Taxter describes the process of organizing the exhibition and her long relationship with Peter Shire: “He is someone that I have known as a designer for a very long time… when I spoke with Peter about [Menorah #7], he mentioned that friends of his, Marvin and Judy Zeidler, invited him to tour a collection of Judaica, and that was the first time he realized Jewish ceremonial objects can capture the aesthetics of their time.”
Born and raised in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Shire’s creative practice has spanned pottery, sculpture, painting, drawing, and furniture — all of which deliberately blur distinctions between fine art and design. In the late 1970s, Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass invited Shire to join the Memphis group, a Milan-based international collective of designers (active between 1981 and 1987). Intrinsic to the work of both Shire and Memphis is a disregard for the status quo and an enthusiastic embrace for its radical furniture, textiles, lighting, and objects inspired by Art Deco, Pop art, cartoons, toys, and 1950s kitsch, among other influences.
“When I was looking at Peter Shire’s lamp, which was made while he was member of the Memphis group, I was thinking about the idea that Hanukkah lamps could embody a particular vernacular,” said Taxter, who also brought together Hanukkah lamps by Karim Rashid, Yaacov Agam, Donald Kooker, and others from the Museum collection as part of the exhibition. The Jewish Museum has the largest collection of Hanukkah lamps in the world, reflecting the multitude of places where Jews have settled and flourished.
Masterpieces & Curiosities: Memphis Does Hanukkah is on view through February 12, 2017. Join Taxter on a behind the scenes tour of the exhibition on Tuesday, December 13 at 2 pm, free with admission. RSVP here.