She pronounces it “Namaaajjh,” like a French perfume, but’s it’s really the National Museum of American Jewish History (initials NMAJH), and she is Martha Graham Cracker, local performance artist who, as artist in residence, created and performed a cabaret based on her encounters with the museum exhibits.
For a few nights this week, the fifth floor exhibit space of NMAJH was transformed into Martha’s cabaret. Scattered on table tops were items from her personal collection—rubber bands, a sausage, an oversized powder puff. Many are used or explained during the performance as Martha brings us into her skewed world in which she had encounters with famous Jewish composers through history, particularly Leonard Bernstein, with whom she had “a limited engagement.”
Starting last year the museum created an artist in residence program, OPEN for Interpretation, inviting local cutting-edge artists to, as Martha’s collaborator and Musical Director Andrew Nelson put it, “run amok in the museum.” The intention was to give visitors a new way of looking at the exhibits. After all, museum exhibits are static, it’s what the visitor brings to them that makes an impact.
“Our goal was to invite creative thinkers into the museum to produce creative work,” says Emily August, Director of Public Programs. “The artists’ job is to find something that resonates with them in the Museum and bring it to life for our visitors in new and perhaps unexpected ways through their unique artistic lens. The content is inherently Jewish, although the artists may not be.”