There are two strikingly different but captivating new exhibits up at the Jewish Museum (1109 5th Ave., enter on 92nd St.) for you to enjoy. The more serious one exhibits three iconic poststructuralists’ works rarely seen outside the space for which they were commissioned, the Congregation B’nai Israel Synagogue in Millburn, New Jersey. In 1951, Robert Motherwell, Herbert Ferber and Adolph Gottlieb were called on to deliver A) a rather striking, symbolically-charged wall-size painting, B) a vividly optimistic, ur-1950s lead-on-copper sculpture that foreshadows Frank Stella and C) a floor-to-ceiling quilt designed by Gottlieb, woven with respect to tradition by the women of the congregation. These were all cutting-edge then and it’s fascinating to see them here today, out of context.
Now for the fun, family-friendly part. For those of us who grew up with Curious George and retain happy memories of his misadventures, the exhibit on H.A. Rey and his wife Margaret is pure nirvana – and it’ll resonate with curious kids a little older than Curious George age who haven’t come to the point where they consider those books babyish. And it wasn’t Hector Aquiles Rey from Mexico or the Dominican who wrote them – it was the former Hans Augusto Reyersbach, a German Jewish emigrant who narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Paris with his wife, making the thousand-mile trek to Lisbon via bicycle before embarking for Brazil and then New York. As it turns out, he’s the model for the Man in the Yellow Hat (Reyersbach hispanicized his name while working in Brazil); Margaret was the inspiration for Fifi, later renamed Curious George by an American editor. Very interestingly, she was the mastermind behind the stories. There are sketches, original illustrations and rare photos by Margaret along with an especially poignant exchange of correspondence between H.A. Rey and his editor in London, carried on from stops along the way (the Reys never stopped writing and working on stories, and evidence of this actually saved them from suspicion by the authorities on several occasions).It’s truly an exhibit for the H.A. Rey completist – the museum has their passports, their visas, their address books, everything but their luggage (much of that, sadly, was lost somewhere between Paris and Lisbon). There’s also a cozy nook for little ones to play, with copies of the books in question. The whole thing adds an entirely new dimension to a Curious George style “narrow escape.”
The exhibits run concurrently through August 1. Museum hours are Saturday-Tuesday 11 AM-5:45 PM, Thursday 11 AM-8 PM and Friday 11 AM-4 PM. Free day is Saturday.