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
Encourage students to examine this artwork carefully. Have them read the text that is sandblasted onto the glass:
Text from I Hate the Name Kenneth:
Abraham from Odessa
changed his name.
He had to if he wanted
to get ahead at Ford
where he got a job
painting stripes on
Model Ts. Fifty years
later Albert retired, a
vice-president in the
Abraham from a
shtetl near Minsk
never changed his name.
He lived in an
apartment near the
in Detroit, ran a
bicycle shop with
his whole life.
Kenneth was what my
parents named me.
They said it was the
closest they could
come to my Jewish
Hebrew for “life.”
Abraham from the
shtetl called me
I was seven when I
lost Grandpa Abe.
When he had to face
a small claims judge,
he collapsed from a heart
attack on the floor of
Grandpa Al died much
later. I hate the name
- Describe the different characters mentioned in this verbal narrative.
- Who is telling the story?
[Encourage your students to consider the use of third-person, first-person, and passive voice. Does the use of these different voices change the tone of different passages? If so, how?]
- Does anything about the story surprise you?
Have students examine the images in relation to the text:
- Describe the figures in this work of art. When do you think they have lived? How can you tell?
- What are some connections between the images and the text? How do the images and text work in tandem to develop the narrative?
- What does including white space in the painting and cropping the images in different ways add to the work compositionally? How does it relate to the text?
[The placement of the portraits and white space create a varied rhythm as you look at and read the work.]
- The images Aptekar appropriated were originally in color. Why do you think the artist chose to paint them in greyscale?
FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION:
After giving students an opportunity to examine this work of art, lead them in a discussion of related topics and themes:
- Have you ever had to make a choice between being yourself and trying to fit in? If so, how did it feel? What decision did you ultimately make? Were you happy with your decision?
- Aptekar considers his use of these paintings “talmudic” (refer to the quotation in the About the Work section). What connections do you see between his work and the Talmud’s function?
- Read the following quotation to your students:
- Is my work Jewish because I insist on combining text—the Word—with images? Is it Jewish because in my heart I think images can mislead, words you can trust more? Is it the importance I attach to interpretation, or my sometimes insufferable judgmentalism? Is it my mistrust of authority, seen here as Old Master painting, gentile, and male? Or my interest in a physical sense of the body as pleasurable, and as ethnic sign?
Or is it simply the question I ask? (Ken Aptekar, 1996, The Jewish Museum, New York, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, February 3, 1999–present)
If it’s relevant to your current studies, ask students to break into small groups and consider Aptekar’s artwork in light of the Jewish tradition of questioning.
RESEARCH TOPICS / CONTENT CONNECTIONS:
- Assimilation and Acculturation
- American Jewish History
- Image and Text