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I Hate the Name Kenneth

Ken Aptekar (American, b. 1950)

I Hate the Name Kenneth, 1996

  • Oil on wood with sandblasted glass and bolts
  • 69 x 120 7/8 x 3 in. (175.3 x 307.1 x 7.6 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Barbara S. Horowitz, Howard E. Rachofsky, Ruth M. and Stephen Durschlag, Marcia May, J.W. Heller Foundation, Michael L. Rosenberg, Helga and Samuel Feldman, Caroline B. Michahelles and Robert G. Pollock gifts, and Fine Arts Acquisitions Committe, 1997-26a-h

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I Hate the Name Kenneth

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In this contemporary piece, artist Ken Aptekar juxtaposes text and images to explore aspects of his own family, identity, and personal beliefs. His complex work of art challenges viewers to do the same.

In I Hate the Name Kenneth, the artist has laid thick panes of glass over painted reproductions of four portraits by the Austrian Jewish artist Isidor Kaufmann (1853–1921). At the time of their creation, Kaufmann’s portraits of devout Jews hung in well-appointed parlors, enhancing the social status of the collectors who could afford to purchase them. Though idealized and nostalgic, they linked the world of cosmopolitan turn-of-the-century Vienna to a traditional lifestyle that was in decline in more distant regions of what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Aptekar uses these images to draw attention to the dichotomy between these two worlds in his own life.

Superimposed on the glass through a sandblasting technique is the story of Aptekar’s two grandfathers. Both were named Abraham, and both emigrated from Europe to the United States. The account describes how one changed his name to Albert and assimilated while the other maintained his European Jewish identity by preserving his customs and his name. Through this brief yet poignant narrative, Aptekar reveals why he dislikes the American name his parents gave him, using the story of his two very different grandfathers as a means of examining his own identity.

Aptekar has stated that he is conflicted about his Jewish heritage: “Jewish names… interest me. Perhaps because of pangs of guilt at my own willingness to pass as not Jewish, I have little tolerance for Jews who change their names to sound less Jewish.” On the one hand, he understands the impulse of his grandfather Abraham to assimilate and change his name. On the other, he resents his own and others’ desires to pursue this route, admiring the other grandfather Abraham who did not change his name.