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First Showing of the Rothfeld Collection at the AU Museum

By Mary Schellinger

Tal Shochat. Crazy Tree (Detail). 2005. Photograph

Tal Shochat. Crazy Tree (Detail). 2005. Photograph

There was an undercurrent of excitement running through the American University Museum in the Katzen Arts Center as museum staff prepared to show off the Rothfeld Collection of Contemporary Israeli Art to the public for the first time. 

The collection, a gift of Donald Rothfeld of New York City, NY, in 2011, includes 165 pieces of contemporary, mixed media Israeli art and chronicles Israel’s history. It includes the work of numerous prominent and emerging Israeli artists, including Moshe Kupferman, one of the most prominent Israeli painters as well as a Holocaust survivor and a founder of the Kibbutz Lohamei HaGetaot (a community in northern Israel that commemorates Jews who fought back against Nazism); Elad Lassry, whose work was shown at MOMA; Siglat Landau; and Yael Bartana. 

"The Rothfeld Collection is stunning,” says museum director and curator Jack Rasmussen, “Don Rothfeld pursued artists who were technically sophisticated (whether with video, photography, sculpture, or paint) and had something to say about Israel and the world we live in. Viewers are deeply engaged from the moment they look beneath the beautiful surfaces and find reality looking back." 

Peter Starr, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences added, "We are honored to provide a home for this outstanding collection. What Don Rothfeld has assembled, with great passion and aesthetic acumen, is a testament to the vitality of contemporary Israeli art, and of the culture in which it thrives." 

Rothfeld gave the collection to the American University Museum so that it can help inspire dialogue about the political issues involving Israel. The gift also honors Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, whom he respects and admires. 

American University is home to the Center for Israel Studies and offers an undergraduate minor in Israel studies. The center presents the creative and intellectual contributions of modern Israel in the arts, sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The Israel studies program, one of the premier programs of its kind in the United States, focuses on Israel's history, unique political democracy, multicultural society, economic development, immigrant absorption, and international contributions. 

“When I decided to gift the collection, I felt that the work should be gifted to a non-Jewish-Israeli affiliated institution. I wanted the artist’s work ‘out there’ to be seen, discussed, and compared with that of their peers across the globe,” Rothfeld said. “When I learned about AU’s Israel Studies Program and met the staff, I was convinced that this was the right venue for the work. The beauty of the Katzen Arts Center and the Washington, D.C., location made it a ‘slam dunk.’” 

“In its first eight years, the American University Museum has focused on international art, and particularly on contemporary art from the Middle East, already presenting major exhibitions from Syria, Lebanon, and Israel,” said Rasmussen. “The Rothfeld gift helps us build a collection that will encourage this free, continuing discussion of ideas, beliefs, and values in the region—exactly what is needed today.” 

Laura Katz Cutler, the center’s associate director, expressed her excitement about presenting such an exciting array of contemporary Israeli artists at American University. “The mission of the Center for Israel Studies is to educate about Israel in all its diversity. Artists are social commentators, and we expect this exhibition will provoke thousands of conversations about Israel amongst those who view the collection." 

Rothfeld is grateful to Cutler for having "made a great shidach" (Yiddish word for "match") by introducing him to the AU Museum. Rothfeld is thrilled. “I can't wait to see the works in a museum setting." 

The Rothfeld Collection of Contemporary Israeli Art opened September 3 and continues through October 20 in the American University Museum. Events cosponsored by the museum and the Center for Israel Studies include a Gallery Talk on September 8, a panel discussion on October 19 covering various aspects of the collection, and a concert by renowned Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein. A catalog will be available in the Museum Shop. Consult the museum website and the Center for Israel Studies for additional information. 

Parts of this article were adapted from “An Artful Gift” Connections, Fall, 2011.