Ben Uri Archive
The Ben Uri Archive is a specialist archive accessible to the public held by the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, based in London. It holds the records of the Gallery and Museum.
Ben Uri is the UK’s oldest Jewish cultural organisation, founded in 1915 as an art society serving newly-arrived Yiddish speaking ostjuden in London’s East End,by Russian émigré artist-craftsman, Lazar Berson. The main function in its distinctive 100-year plus heritage is the exhibition of artworks by artists of mostly Jewish descent, within the broader context of Jewish migration, London’s Jewish community, and British and European modern art history. The archives provide important traces of the early careers of major Jewish artists in Britain, such as the Solomon dynasty, David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, and Gustav Metzger.
Numbering several thousand items, the archive consists primarily of exhibition catalogues, invitations and material concerning exhibition planning; council and committee minutes; correspondence; annual reports; press cuttings; photographs, and ephemera relating to cultural and social events, including concerts, lectures and fundraisers. The underlying narrative reflects the financial status and social and political interest of the London (British) Jewish community at the time, with particular reference to waves of immigration from Russia at the turn of the 20th century / pre-First World War, and then from central Europe, pre- and post-Second World War.
In 2014-16 funding from the Rothschild Foundation enabled two consecutive short-term archivists to catalogue the above items, creating an archive database, which is available online, while translation of Yiddish material (including Ben Uri’s earliest minutes, held in YIVO, New York) was undertaken by the Department of Jewish Studies, UCL, London. The archive also contains Ben Uri’s contemporary record ssince 2000, as yet not catalogued, relating to day-to-day administration, governance and finance, strategic shifts in width of focus, and mental health and school/family learning programmes.
The archives are open to the general public. Users are requested to provide two days advance notice for physical access, and up to a weeks notice if the items are located in the archive’s stores. Enquiries can be made online.
During 2019-20, Ben Uri undertook an ambitious programme, digitising a portion of their archive material, resulting in around 10,000 pages of scans which are available online via Ben Uri’s research portal.
The archive’s catalogue is also available online and is searchable by artist’s name and by a number of other criteria, including Jewish subject matter online.
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