Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Debuts Gallery Dedicated to Judaica

by Jessica Fuentes December 11, 2023

Last week, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) debuted The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Gallery for Judaica, which will be a permanent gallery space for works of art made by and for Jewish communities throughout the world.

The Herzstein Gallery has been endowed by the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, an organization dedicated to education and the preservation of heritage. The inaugural installation includes more than two dozen objects from a group of recent acquisitions, as well as loans from the Jewish Museum in New York. These loans are a result of a partnership between the two museums that was developed in 2022 with the exhibition Beauty and Ritual: Judaica from the Jewish Museum, New York

A photograph of a silver-gilt torah shield from 1825.

Georg Zeiller, “Torah Shield,” 1825, silver-gilt. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the Susie and David Askanase, Alexander Dell, and Carol and David Neuberger families.

In a press release Gary Tinterow, the Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH, commented, “With the opening of the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Gallery for Judaica, we will complete the suite of galleries in the Caroline Wiess Law Building that have been developed over the past 15 years to reflect the diversity of Houston’s communities. The galleries adjacent to the Herzstein Gallery are devoted to the arts of Korea, Japan, India, China, and the Islamic worlds.”

He continued, “With the Judaica gallery, our goal is to provide our visitors an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of ritual objects made for Jewish homes and synagogues, and to marvel at both the continuity and the variety of these essential objects created over millennia for communities dispersed across the globe.”

A photograph of a 19th century velvet and gilt-metal thread torah mantle.

Turkish, “Torah Mantle,” 19th century, velvet and gilt-metal thread. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the Joan and Stanford Alexander Family.

Though the MFAH has presented temporary exhibitions of Judaica in the past, until now there has not been a permanent exhibition space dedicated to these works. Notably, the opening Herzstein Gallery places the MFAH alongside a small group of North American encyclopedic art museums that have committed to collecting, displaying, and studying Judaica, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The opening of the gallery is part of a series of renovations that have happened in the museum’s Caroline Wiess Law Building since addition of the Kinder Building to the museum’s campus. Another major project in the Law Building, which opened in March 2023, was the creation of a permanent, expanded gallery for art of the Islamic worlds.

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