Art historian Abigail Rapoport has been named curator of Judaica at The Jewish Museum, moving down the block from her position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Jewish Museum’s director, Claudia Gould, says, “Abigail’s knowledge of Judaica is matched by her eagerness to engage today’s audiences with exciting content that will make connections between past and present contexts of Jewish culture.”
Rapoport, 29, is charged with overseeing the museum’s extensive Judaica collection, creating original exhibitions and programs, and managing Judaica acquisitions.
In an interview with The Jewish Week, Rapoport says, “I am so thrilled and excited to step into this role. The Jewish Museum has one of the best Judaica collections in the entire world. … And it is a multimedia collection, which I love — including silver, textile, books and more. It is also comprehensive, covering an incredible range of ritual typologies with breadth and depth.”
When asked about the roots of her interest in Judaica, Rapoport says that the easy and perhaps obvious answer is that she grew up in a Modern Orthodox Jewish home, where pieces of Judaica were part of her family’s life. These items were symbolic and familiar but it was only when she got to graduate school, in a seminar on medieval reliquaries, that she had one of those moments that changed the course of her career.
“I found myself fascinated by the striking familiarity of a Christian reliquary,” Rapoport says. “The object I was studying was persuasively similar to a customary Jewish spice box used for the Havdalah ceremony. That simple comparison served as a springboard for the expansion of my evolving views on art, culture and religion.
“Much of my work since has included an exploration of the motifs shared among different cultures and how these visual tropes are infused with new meanings in each context,” she continues. My doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania has covered the depiction and reception of art across different religious and historical communities.”
At the Met, Rapoport was research associate for Judaica. Her major project was curating a display of a 19th-century monumental British architectural model of Solomon’s Temple, which opened last month.
She says that she has followed and greatly admired the groundbreaking work of her predecessors, Susan L. Braunstein and the late Vivian B. Mann, who have been mentors. “I feel incredibly honored to be stepping into their shoes.”
Asked about what it takes to be a good curator, Rapoport says, “I believe that a curator should be a storyteller, unraveling the multi-dimensional layers in an object and encouraging the beholder to see connections among different objects.”