Answering the Call
C&G Partner’s exhibition for the American Museum of Jewish Heritage tells the compelling story of European Jews and their American rescuers. The project was a 2014 SEGD Global Design Awards winner.
From 1933 to 1941, European Jews in flight from Nazi persecution sought haven in the United States, reaching out to relatives, friends, and even strangers. Against the Odds, an exhibition designed by C&G Partners for the American Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, tells the dramatic story of American Jews who answered their call for help.
The 4,000-square-foot exhibition begins with two animated pieces that run in parallel, one providing the context of the period in the U.S., the other depicting conditions in Europe.
Working within the constraints of American laws that strictly limited immigration, a small group of generous individuals—many of whom were recent immigrants themselves—overcame tremendous obstacles to help many of the refugees reach safety. The barriers they encountered were often bureaucratic in nature, but seemingly as solid and unmoving as walls. The C&G team metaphorically represented these barriers via large “walls” made of suspended curls of off-white paper. Some of the papers carry the ghosted images of original archival documents—symbolizing the daunting amounts of immigration paperwork between the refugees and safety in the U.S.
C&G created a wide range of motion and audio/visual pieces, all of which involve unexpected form factors or novel visual approaches. The exhibit also has a haunting sound score that can be heard throughout the galleries.
The paper walls divide the exhibition into color-coded zones that tell the story in sequence, from the earliest days of warning to the desperate crush of regfugees as Nazi Germany overran the nations of Europe.
“The core of the story is always presented through artifacts, real documents on display throughout the exhibit,” says Jonathan Alger, C&G partner in charge. “Using interactive experiences, the ambient sound score, AV installations, and oral histories, the museum also introduces visitors to the personal stories of those trying to make it through Nazi-dominated Europe to freedom and a better life, the heroes and heroines who helped, and the many more who were hopelessly trapped.”
Interactive experiences are delivered through iPads in the space, programmed by C&G and integrated behind wooden covers and frequently featuring the voices of the people featured in the stories.
A centerpiece of the show is a set of case files carefully collected by one of the American rescuers, set under a six-pointed period chandelier. Visitors can browse some of the original documents from these files nearby.
Media projections occur throughout the exhibit in surprising ways. Remixed archival footage of passengers arriving in the U.S. is projected onto a screen fashioned from many smaller pieces of overlapping paper.
An intentionally narrow, monochromatic gallery near the end of the exhibit deals with the period during the War itself, when rescue through official international channels was cut off.
Throughout the exhibit, the paper walls slowly move at all times, emphasizing the sense of shifting context and lack of solidity that the protagonists of the story felt during the period.
Working closely with the museum’s in-house exhibition team, C&G Partners created all exhibition design and graphics, interactives, motion design, sound design, and branding.
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Design Firm: C&G Partners
Client: Museum of Jewish Heritage
Location: New York
Project Area: 4,140 sq. ft.
Open Date: May 2013
Project Budget: $300,000
Design Team: Jonathan Alger (partner in charge, creative director); Daniel Fouad, Monika Thorson (exhibit design); Kelsey Cohen (graphic design, content coordination); Zak Greene (interactives, media); Max Millermaier (media, sound, and hardware design); Eliza Fitzhugh, Samuel Sheniova, Jessica Griscti (graphic design)
Consultants: Anita Jorgenson Lighting (lighting)
Fabrication: Precision Plastics (fabrication), Bay Imagery (printing)