McMullen Museum of Art Boston College



The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons
August 22 - December 4, 2005

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (8-05) — Beginning this month, the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College and the New Center for Arts and Culture, Boston will present The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons. The exhibition was organized by The Jewish Museum in New York, where it debuted in March and was on display until July 10.

The McMullen Museum is the exclusive other venue for this critically-acclaimed exhibition, which highlights the role played by the salons of Jewish women in the development of art, literature, music, theater, philosophy and politics in Europe and America from the late 18th century through the Second World War. The exhibition will be on display from August 22 through December 4, 2005. [See below for more on the exhibition.]

“This compelling exploration of the emergence of modernisms viewed through the lens of Jewish salonières takes on added meanings within the context of a Jesuit Catholic University,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “The McMullen is grateful to the New Center for Arts and Culture, and especially its director Shoshana Pakciarz, for proposing a collaboration, which enhances possibilities for rewarding and productive dialogue surrounding this inspired exhibition.”

[MEDIA EVENT: August 29: An opening event for media, with an exhibition tour by Shira Brisman—former curatorial assistant at The Jewish Museum and project coordinator—will be held on Monday, August 29 at 11 a.m. For more information, or to arrange attendance, please call the McMullen Museum at (617) 552-8587. Exhibition images available upon request from the McMullen Museum: call Naomi Blumberg at (617) 552-4676.]

The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons

An important and radical vehicle for the "democratization of the public sphere," the salon provided a context in which nobility, artists and intellectuals exchanged ideas across barriers of class, gender, nationality and religion. Salons enabled women and Jews—whose participation in official public life was restricted—to play a prominent role.

The exhibition probes the role private conversations had in fostering the careers of celebrities such as Felix Mendelssohn, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp and Greta Garbo.

The Power of Conversation, which was organized for The Jewish Museum by guest curators Emily Bilski and Emily Braun, focuses on the most powerful women who hosted these salons. According to exhibition organizers, the exhibition reveals these salonières as exceptional women who became major players in the society, arts and politics of their times, despite their minority status, and examines the salon as a seat of power for women and a means of social ascent for traditional outsiders.

Among the engaging women examined are: Henriette Herz, one of the first Jewish women to host a salon; Amalie Beer and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (the sister of composer Felix Mendelssohn), who convened music salons in Berlin; Gertrude Stein, who assembled a group of avant-garde writers and artists in Paris; Ada Leverson, who welcomed Oscar Wilde to her London salon; Margherita Sarfatti and Anna Kulisicoff, who established salons in Italy in the early twentieth century; and Florine Stettheimer and Salka Viertel, who hosted their guests in salons in New York and Los Angeles, respectively.

Organizers note that, through a detailed documentation of the celebrities and geniuses who attended their salons (and wrote about them), of the works that hung on the walls or debuted in their homes, and of careers and relationships made and broken, The Power of Conversation demonstrates the uniquely public domain of the private salonière.

The exhibition comprises more than 150 objects, including portraits of the salonières and their guests, manuscripts, musical scores, sculpture, paintings, drawings, books, photographs, furniture and films. Exhibition highlights include nine oil paintings by the New York-based American artist and salonière Florine Stettheimer; 14 drawings by Wilhelm Hensel which include Michael Beer, Niccolò Paganini, Goethe, Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Rahel Varnhagen (née Levin); and works by Gustav Klimt, Auguste Rodin, Achille Funi, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Max Beerbohm, Aubrey Beardsley and Josef Hoffmann.

According to organizers, by the mid-20th century, movies, television and radio had largely replaced the role salons had played in facilitating cultural exchange and dialogue. In addition, the need for salons by women and Jews disappeared with political and social emancipation.

Visitors to the exhibition may hear conversations, music, memoirs and letters of the hostesses and their salon guests on an audio guide available free of charge. A fully illustrated catalogue, published by Yale University Press for The Jewish Museum, with essays by scholars—including the two co-curators, Emily D. Bilski and Emily Braun—accompanies the exhibition and is available through the Boston College Bookstore (

Opening Events

To celebrate the exhibition, an event for invited guests will be held on Sunday, September 25. The evening will include a reception and exhibition viewing; a lecture by Emily Braun, exhibition co-curator and professor of Art History, Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; and a performance by Annette Miller from "A Salon of One's Own," a specially-commissioned short play by Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro.

On Tuesday, September 20, the public is invited to join members of the Boston College community at a celebration from 7-9 p.m. It will feature a dessert reception and exhibition viewing, music by BC’s popular jazz band, BC bOp!, and remarks at 8 p.m. at the McMullen Museum. [Those interested in attending are requested to RSVP by calling (617) 552-8587 or by emailing the Museum at]

Accompanying Public Programs

The following—all free and open to the public—are among the programs which will accompany the exhibition:

Tuesday, October 11 at 7 p.m.: BC Professor Dwayne Carpenter, Romance Languages and Literatures Department (Funny They Don’t Look Jewish: Confusing Converts in Medieval Spain)

Tuesday, November 1 at 7 p.m. (extended Museum hours: 6-10 p.m.): Lowell Humanities Lecture series: Catharine R. Stimpson, Dean and University Professor, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, New York University (Gertrude Stein: Woman of Faith?)

Devlin Hall, room 026, 7 p.m.

Transforming Lives: Women in Focus – a two-part film series
“The Nasty Girl”
Tuesday, September 27
Discussion following screening with director Anna Rosmus

“Thunder in Guyana”
Thursday, November 17
Discussion following screening with director, Suzanne Wasserman


Two concerts—one by the Hawthorne String Quartet, BC Artists-in-Residence—will be held in conjunction with the exhibition. One—“A Single Bright Beam,” which will be held on Sunday, September 25 at 3 p.m. in Gasson Hall room 100—will be devoted to the music of Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn.


Jewish Civilization and its Place in the World
Sunday, October 2, 2005, 3-6 p.m.
Gasson Hall room 100 (refreshments)
Conducted in the style of a Salon, this event brings together Boston College faculty and students and the Boston community for a moderated conversation about the nature of “Jewish civilization” and its place in history and contemporary culture. The Boston College faculty moderators include: Prof. Dwayne Carpenter (Romance Language and Literatures Department); Prof. Maxim D. Shrayer (Slavic & Eastern Languages and English Departments); Boston College faculty participants Prof. Donald Dietrich (Theology Department), Prof. Donald Fishman (Communication Department), Prof. Ruth Langer (Theology Department), Prof. John Michalczyk (Fine Arts Department) and Prof. Nancy Netzer (Fine Arts Department).

Irish American Women
Sunday, October 30, 2005, 7-9 p.m.
Devlin Hall room 101
Panelists include: Ruth-Ann Harris, Boston College Irish Studies Program; Hasia Diner, professor, Hebrew & Judaic Studies Department, NYU; Joyce Antler, professor, American Studies Department, Brandeis University.
The New Center for Arts and Culture, Boston has also organized “salon visits” to the exhibitions for school groups and a series of public programs to accompany the exhibition to be held at various locations throughout greater Boston. For more information, see or contact Harron Ellenson, Harron & Associates, at (617)-267-7366.


Affirmation, Indifference, Assimilation: Identity Choices of Jewish Salonières--and of Jews Today
Thursday, October 27, 7:30-10 p.m. (extended Museum hours until 7:30 p.m.)
Devlin Hall room 101
Participants: Moderator, Gail Reimer, Founding Director, Jewish Women’s Archive; Emily Braun, Exhibition co-curator; Deborah Hertz, Herman Wouk Chair in Modern Jewish Studies, University of California, San Diego.

Exhibition Organizer and Boston Presenters

This exhibition has been organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, and was made possible in part by the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and the Dorot Foundation. It is presented at the McMullen Museum of Art by Boston College and by New Center for Arts and Culture, Boston with support from the Dorot Foundation.

Founded in 2001, The New Center for Arts and Culture is a groundbreaking multi-disciplinary center for the visual and performing arts and the humanities. Its purpose is to build community using the arts to foster dialogue and exploration, creating a cultural commons that becomes a vital force in building “One Boston Through Arts and Culture.” Sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, it is an organization committed to creating common ground for all. In the fall of 2004, The New Center was awarded a site on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, one of the most desirable locations in downtown Boston. Designed by the world-renowned architect, Daniel Libeskind, its building will be a unique Boston landmark. Until its permanent home is completed, the New Center is operating as a “cultural center without walls,” partnering with other area institutions to present important public programs consistent with its “One Boston” mission. For more information on NCAC, and its sponsorship of this exhibition, see or contact Harron Ellenson, Harron & Associates, at (617)-267-7366.

McMullen Museum of Art

The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and the international community. The Museum displays its notable permanent collection and mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art.

The Charles S. and Isabella V. McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 in honor of the late parents of Boston College benefactor, trustee and art collector John J. McMullen. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The 10th anniversary of the formal reopening of the Museum was marked in 2003-04.McMullen Museum Hours and Tours Admission to the McMullen Museum is free; it is handicapped accessible and open to the public. The Museum is located in Devlin Hall on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, at 140 Commonwealth Avenue.

Hours from August 22 through September 4: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Hours from September 6 through December 4: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Closed on the following dates: September 5, October 10, November 24-25. No parking on the following Saturdays: September 10 and 17, October 1, 8 and 15, November 12.
Group tours will be given on Sundays at 12:30 p.m., and may be arranged upon request; call (617) 552-8587. For directions, parking and program information, visit or call (617) 552-8100.