I was devastated to learn yesterday that my mentor and friend, Maurice Berger, was tragically taken by the coronavirus on March 23rd. I wanted to take a moment to honor this great man, and what he meant to me.
I met Maurice when I was working at The Jewish Museum. Maurice was what you might generally call a “cultural critic:” his true specialty was civil rights (you may have read his posts for the New York Times lens blog from 2012-2019), and he was a professor and chief curator at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. But he also had a deep knowledge of and connection to the Jewish community; Maurice had been involved in The Jewish Museum over the decades in various, often unseen ways, consulting on projects or institutional strategy. I first got to know him more intimately when he wrote a catalogue essay for the show The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, on which I worked as a curatorial assistant.
In 2012, Maurice officially took the title of “consulting curator” with TJM, and selected me to be his assistant in the early planning stages of his show Revolution of the Eye, an exhibition about the influence of television on art, and the use of TV as a medium for artistic innovation in its own right. The exhibition, which opened in 2015, was beautiful and thought-provoking. Maurice was bright, enthusiastic, and patient as a supervisor as we worked on it in those early stages. But he would come to mean a lot more to me.
About a year later, I found myself in a very difficult situation, professionally; in the blink of an eye, I saw my promising career trajectory take a sudden detour, and I was feeling helpless, incredibly upset, and above all, alone. Of the several people I counted as professional mentors and friends, it was Maurice who stepped in to talk me off the ledge, so to speak. He patiently listened to me vent my confusion and anger through tearful phone calls over the next few weeks, and provided compassionate wisdom and comfort. He reminded me of all my great strengths and gifts, and while my final year at TJM was a tough one, I never would have gotten through it without Maurice.
Maurice was a truly special man, brilliant scholar, and warm soul. The world is a little less bright without him in it. My deepest sympathies go out to his family.