I am seven years old

(After Isidor Kaufmann, The Son of the Miracle-Working Rabbi of Belz) Artist Ken Aptekar overlays paintings from the past with auto-biographical text from the present to help contemporary viewers think about history in relation to their own lives.

Ken Aptekar

2nd Floor Landing - Currently On View

A common theme woven into contemporary work in the Spertus Institute collection is the artist's struggle to understand his Jewish identity and its impact on him as an artist and world citizen.

American artist Ken Aptekar (born 1950) reimagines paintings from Western art history by painting them on wood panels and covering them with autobiographical narration. Here, Aptekar was interested in exploring the immigration and assimilation of his Eastern European grandparents into American culture. He found that fin-de-siècle artist Isidor Kaufmann’s work suited the theme and chose to work with his painting, The Son of the Miracle Working Rabbi of Belz. Kaufmann, who painted traditional Galician Jews during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, marketed his paintings to newly affluent Viennese Jews who were anxious about losing their connection to what they considered to be more authentic Jewish culture. On enlarging the young boy’s face, Aptekar said:

“I hoped to suggest the monumental task so many of our ancestors in America faced trying to make it in the new world. I chose to fracture the image both into panels and various color tints to echo the fragmentation of the hybrid identity of a Jewish immigrant in the new land.”

The text overlaying the painting reads as follows:

“I am seven years old and they won’t let me see him. Of my two Russian grandfathers named Abraham he was the one who didn’t change his name. Abraham Molodofsky, my mother’s father. Everything about him was thick: the hands, the hair, the accent. His lap was the safest place in the world; he’d smile and scoop me up and hold me there. One time, when we stopped by his bicycle store on Vernor Highway, he said, Pick out any one you want. I never thought about what he wanted, eighteen years old and leaving his hometown of Motol forever. Recently, I learned he never got over his son quitting rabbinical school and that when he had to face a small claims judge in Detroit he collapsed from a heart attack on the floor of the courthouse. They think a seven-year-old is too young to go to a funeral. I didn’t known enough to ask.”

Ken Aptekar "I hate the name "Kenneth"

I Hate the Name Kenneth

Artist Ken Aptekar discusses I Hate the Name Kenneth, a related painting in the collection of the Jewish Museum, New York.

From The Jewish Museum, New York.

2nd Floor Landing
Name: I am seven years old
Artist: Ken Aptekar
Location: 2nd Floor Landing
Origin: United States, 1996
Medium: Bolts, Oil on wood panels, Painting, Sandblasted Glass
Dimensions: 120 1/6 x 120 1/6 in.
Credit: Gift of Ruth Mayer
Catalog Number: 2018.2.1-.16
External ResourceKen Aptekar’s artist website

—Artist's website