The Jewish museum (Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme) in Paris greets its visitors with massive tombstones dating back to 11th century. There are also frail parchments, medieval megillot, newspaper clips of the Dreyfus trial, and dim brass ritual objects. Imagine then, the shock and delight inspired by the exhibit that landed there this spring, alien as a spaceship: Radical Jewish Culture (RJC), a show focusing largely on avant-garde musicians, many of whose works appear on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Though these artists are diverse in style, they have one common denominator: an intense interest in redefined, subverted, and indeed radical Jewish identity.
Raphaël Sigal, scholar and music aficionado, worked for the past four years along with his two friends Mathias Dreyfuss and Gabriel Siancas to bring the history and life of the movement to French audiences. Sigal studied comparative and Yiddish literature at the Sorbonne, taught French in Israeli universities, and is currently pursing his doctorate in French literature at New York University. The Arty Semite contributor Jake Marmer asked him about how you can have a musical exhibit in a museum, what it means to display a still-living culture, and the differences between French and American Jewry.
Jake Marmer: What was the impetus of putting together the Radical Jewish Culture exhibit in Paris?