The Jewish Museum New York is an art museum and repository of cultural artifacts, housed at 1109 Fifth Avenue, in the former Felix M. Warburg House, along the Museum Mile in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. The first Jewish museum in the United States, as well as the oldest existing Jewish museum in the world, it contains the largest collection of art and Jewish culture excluding Israeli museums, more than 30,000 objects.
Located on New York City’s Museum Mile, the Jewish Museum is a museum at the intersection of art and Jewish culture for people of all backgrounds. Founded in 1904, the Museum was the first institution of its kind in the United States and one of the oldest Jewish museums in the world.
The Museum maintains a unique collection of nearly 30,000 works of art, ceremonial objects, and media reflecting the global Jewish experience over more than 4,000 years. Our distinguished exhibition history reveals a deep and rich exploration of Jewish culture and identity, and includes some of the most seminal exhibitions of the 20th and 21st centuries. Our dynamic education programs – from talks and lectures, to performances, to hands-on art making and more – serve a wide range of audiences, including families, teens, students, educators, and visitors with disabilities.
While its collection was established in 1904 at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the museum did not open to the public until 1947 when Felix Warburg’s widow sold the property to the Seminary. It focuses both on artifacts of Jewish history and on modern and contemporary art. Its permanent exhibition, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, is supplemented by multiple temporary exhibitions each year.
Widely admired for inspiring people of all backgrounds, The Jewish Museum in New York City is one of the world’s preeminent institutions devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to modern times.
Founded in 1904 with just 26 donated objects, the Museum has grown a thousand-fold. Its collection now comprises 27,000 items, ranging from archaeological artifacts to works by today’s cutting-edge contemporary artists. Whether hundreds of years old or newly created, each object or work of art embodies an aspect of a truly universal story. Today, The Jewish Museum organizes a diverse schedule of internationally acclaimed and award-winning temporary exhibitions.
Felix M. Warburg and his brother Paul Warburg were international bankers in the early 20th Century who cultivated their fortunes at the New York banking firm Kuhn, Loeb, & Co. Felix and Paul moved to the United States in 1894 and Felix soon after married Freida Schiff, daughter of Jacob Schiff, a partner at the firm. Active in the Jewish community and philanthropy for most of his life, Felix organized the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies by combining 75 separate charities and organizations. He also served as the director of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America along with his father-in-law Jacob H. Schiff. By that time, the Warburg family had been living in the house since 1908 when construction that began two years prior was completed.
The collection that seeded the museum began with a gift of 26 Jewish ceremonial art objects from Judge Mayer Sulzberger to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America on January 20, 1904, where it was housed in the seminary’s library. The collection was moved in 1931, with the Seminary, to 122nd and Broadway. The Jewish Theological Seminary received over 400 Jewish ceremonial items and created, ‘The Museum of Jewish Ceremonial Objects’, previously the Jacob Schiff Library. The collection was subsequently expanded by major donations from Hadji Ephraim Benguiat and Harry G. Friedman. In 1939, in light of WWII, Poland sent about 350 objects to New York city from homes and synagogues in order to preserve them.
Following Felix Warburg’s death in 1937, in January 1944 his widow Frieda donated the family mansion to the seminary as a permanent home for the museum, and the site opened to the public as ‘The Jewish Museum’ in May 1947. Frieda Warburg said at the opening that the museum would not be a somber memorial, but rather a celebration of the Jewish faith and traditions. The first expansion of the museum was the addition of a sculpture garden in 1959 by Adam List. The building was expanded in 1963 and further by architect Kevin Roche in 1993.
In the 1960s, the museum took a more active role in the general world of contemporary art, with exhibitions such as Primary Structures, which helped to launch the Minimalist art movement. In the decades since, the museum has had a renewed focus on Jewish culture and Jewish artists. From 1990 through 1993, director Joan Rosenbaum led the project to renovate and expand the building and carry out the museum’s first major capital campaign, of $60 million. The project, designed by architect Kevin Roche, doubled the size of the museum, providing it with a seven-story addition. In 1992, the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center teamed up to create The New York Jewish Film Festival, which presents narrative features, short films and documentaries.
Today, the museum also provides educational programs for adults and families, sponsoring concerts, films, symposiums and lectures related to its exhibitions. Joan Rosenbaum was the museum’s director from 1981 until her retirement in 2010. In 2011 the museum named Claudia Gould as its new director. In 2012 Jens Hoffmann joined as Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs.
The Felix M. Warburg House was constructed in François I (or châteauesque) style, 1906-1908 for Felix and Frieda Warburg, designed by C.P.H. Gilbert. François I style was originally found in New York City in the late 19th century through the works of Richard Morris Hunt. Hunt was a renowned architect throughout the Northeast, particularly in New England and was one of the first American architects to study at the elite Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. C.P.H. Gilbert was an apprentice of Hunt and emulated Hunt’s classic Châteauesque style for the Warburg house while also adding some Gothic features. The original house is built in limestone with mansard roofs, dripping moldings, and gables. This architectural style was based on French revivalism and exuded wealth, a point which Felix Warburg wanted to make to his neighbors. It featured a green yard in front of the house, which was later converted into the museum’s entrance.
Once converted into a museum, the architect Kevin Roche, who also designed additions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was selected to design additions to the Jewish Museum. After $36 million, the development of 11,000 more square feet of exhibition space, and two and a half years, Roche finished his additions in June 1993. He intended his additions to be a continuation of the museum’s Gothic revival features. This is especially clear in the Fifth Avenue facade and the auditorium. The Fifth Avenue facade, made of Indiana limestone, is carved in Gothic revival style. The auditorium is set in a retrofitted Gothic revival style ballroom and finds uses for the mansion’s stained-glass dome and screen. The cafe in the basement has stained glass windows.
Although these additions that were intended as a continuation of the museum’s Gothic revival features, Roche also included additions that were meant to prevent the museum from appearing outdated and modernizing the facilities. For instance, Roche ensured that the education center and the auditorium would have the appropriate technology for their purposes, such as interactive visual displays.
The museum has over 26,000 objects including paintings, sculptures, archaeological artifacts, Jewish ceremonial art and many other pieces important to the preservation of Jewish history and culture. Artists included in the museum’s collection include James Tissot, Marc Chagall, George Segal, Eleanor Antin and Deborah Kass. This represents the largest collection of Jewish art, Judaica and broadcast media outside of museums in Israel. It has a permanent exhibition called Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, which explores the evolution of Jewish culture from antiquity to the present. The museum’s collection includes objects from ancient to modern eras, in all media, and originated in every area of the world where Jews have had a presence.