New York exhibits. Masterpieces & Curiosities: Diane Arbus’s Jewish Giant continues a new series of exhibitions focused on individual works in The Jewish Museum’s world-renowned collection. On view from April 11 to August 3, 2014, this exhibition focuses on Diane Arbus’s A Jewish giant at home with his parents, in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970, using ephemera, sound recordings, and family photos to provide an intimate look into one of Arbus’s most recognized yet least understood subjects.
In 1959 the photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) visited Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus, a Times Square basement phantasmagoria. One of its main attractions was Eddie Carmel, a man who supposedly stood over nine feet tall, billed as “The World’s Tallest Man.” In April 1970, a year before her death, Arbus visited him at the home he shared with his parents, and shot her iconic portrait. Carmel was the son of immigrants from Tel Aviv. He had lived a normal life in mid-century New York until age fifteen, when he began to suffer from acromegaly, a hormonal condition causing extreme growth. He soon needed custom-made clothing, and was unable to finish college or pursue a typical career because he realized that people could not look beyond his physical appearance. Feeling like a social outcast, he embraced a life in show business, celebrating and even exaggerating the feature that made him unique. A Jewish giant at home with his parents, in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970 shows an ailing Eddie, age 34, struggling to stand upright just two years before his death.
Photographs and ephemera on view chronicling Eddie Carmel’s life and career include family snapshots from the 1940s, a pair of his custom-made size 24 shoes, an example of the oversized rings sold at his sideshow performances, and a novelty album Carmel recorded as part of his efforts to find greater fame. The exhibition also features works from The Jewish Museum’s collection depicting the biblical giant Goliath and the Jewish legendary figure of the Golem; a selection of memorabilia of two famous giants from popular culture, the Incredible Hulk and the wrestler Andre the Giant; as well as a photograph by Lisette Model – one of Arbus’s influences and teachers – depicting the gender-bending performer Albert-Alberta, who appeared alongside Eddie Carmel at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus.
Diane Arbus’s photographs often explore the tension between normalcy and aberrance. In A Jewish giant at home with his parents, in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970, she touches on the popular obsession with superhuman height – a recurrent theme in folklore and popular culture. Her image and its mesmerizing subject may be seen in both historical and metaphorical terms. Artists and audiences have long marveled at any deviation from a supposed norm, but the allure of the extraordinary is deeply intertwined with unease about the human body, its unpredictable abnormalities, and their attendant difficulties. In this way, gigantism and its mythology offer lessons about the infinite range of human experience, poignantly emphasized by Arbus’s photograph.
Over the course of the seven exhibitions in the Masterpieces & Curiosities series, which runs from 2013 to 2017, The Jewish Museum’s curators are exploring objects that highlight the breadth and diversity of the collection, ranging from an iconic Alfred Stieglitz photograph, to a Moroccan wedding costume, and a painting of a Passover seder by Carnegie Prize-winner Nicole Eisenman. These intimate exhibitions provide new insights into works from the Museum’s collection – contextualizing, examining, and rethinking the piece on view by surrounding it with other artworks, documents, and source materials.
The Masterpieces & Curiosities series was organized by Jens Hoffmann, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs. Masterpieces & Curiosities: Diane Arbus’s Jewish Giant is curated by Daniel S. Palmer, Leon Levy Assistant Curator.
About the Jewish Museum:
Widely admired for its exhibitions and collections that inspire people of all backgrounds, The Jewish Museum is one of the world’s preeminent institutions devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary. Located at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, The Jewish Museum organizes a diverse schedule of internationally acclaimed and award-winning temporary exhibitions as well as dynamic and engaging programs for families, adults, and school groups. The Museum was established in 1904, when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial art objects to The Jewish Theological Seminary of America as the core of a museum collection. Today, the Museum maintains a collection of 25,000 objects – paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, video, archaeological artifacts, ritual objects, and broadcast media.
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