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From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art

Nov 25, 2016–Apr 2, 2017

There are many forms of memory: memories of events we have experienced, memories we have heard as family stories and from popular culture, even memories of an imagined future. The twenty-four artists in From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art work with memories that are not their own. They remember and recall stories that were never theirs and assemble them in a variety of media to be seen, heard, and experienced by others. At once intimate and shared, the memories they work with are second-hand experiences, culled from a photograph they saw, or a story they heard, or even a once subconscious memory. The artists are secondary witnesses to the past events they use in their works, and it is precisely this distance in time and space that allows them to offer powerful narratives open to a wide range of interpretation and expression.

about the exhibition

The exhibition, co-curated by CJM Assistant Curator Pierre-François Galpin and independent curator Lily Siegel, expands on the groundbreaking work by Dr. Marianne Hirsch on postmemory. Dr. Hirsch writes that postmemory is “the relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before—to experiences they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right.”[1] There is a tenuous line between postmemory and nostalgia. While postmemory explicitly deals with trauma and heritage, nostalgia is a recollection of the past that may be romanticized or turned into myth. Nostalgia is a longing to return home despite the possibility that the home no longer exists.[2] 

The exhibition is organized by themes suggested by the artworks themselves including personal narratives, social and cultural memory, and the (re)creation of memories based on fiction or dubious truths. A final category serving as a dénouement to the exhibition presents works that look at the near-present from an imagined distant future. Through their work, the artists in this exhibition search, question, and reflect on the representation of truths related to ancestral and collective memory—ultimately attempting to make sense of their own past.

Featured Artists

Christian Boltanski
Nao Bustamante
Binh Danh
Silvina Der-Meguerditchian
Bernice Eisenstein
Eric Finzi
Nicholas Galanin
Guy Goldstein
Fotini Gouseti
Ellen Harvey
Aram Jibilian
Loli Kantor
Mike Kelley
Lisa Kokin
Ralph Lemon
Rä di Martino
Yong Soon Min
Fabio Morais
Elizabeth Moran
Vandy Rattana
Anri Sala
Wael Shawky
Hank Willis Thomas
Chikako Yamashiro


[1] Hirsch, Marianne, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

[2] Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001).

What is inherited memory?

In this video interview, Merissa Nathan Gerson, inherited memory advisor to the TV Series Transparent, introduces the concept of inherited memory/trauma.

artist interviews

The accompanying catalog includes essays from Pierre-François Galpin, Assistant Curator, CJM; independent curator Lily Siegel; Dr. Marianne Hirsch, author of The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust; and historian Abby Smith Rumsey. The catalog is available for purchase in The CJM Store and online.


This exhibition guide, intended for educators or anyone interested in exploring the themes and ideas of From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art, provides ideas and resources for using works of art in From Generation to Generation as tools for teaching about history, memory, and empathy.  

gallery photos
teen installation

It started with a question: “What do we inherit, embody, and echo from previous generations?”

What emerged were more questions, conversations, and discoveries. The resulting audio stories share a layered quilt of myth and memory from the perspective of Bay Area teens in 2016. Exploring their own family narratives allowed these students to claim and understand how moments of the past transform, beyond memories, into relationships and outlooks in the present.

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary ArtWhat We Hold is the fourth in a series of installations highlighting the experiences and perspectives of The Museum’s Teen Art Connect interns.


From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Lead sponsorship is provided by the Koret Foundation and Gaia Fund. Major sponsorship is provided by Dorothy R. Saxe and Wendy and Richard Yanowitch. Patron sponsorship is provided by Shana Nelson Middler and David Middler and by Anita and Ronald Wornick. Supporting sponsorship is provided in honor of Ellen Kahn. Additional support is provided by Rosanne and Al Levitt and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibition program is supported by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Image Credits

Header image: Bernice Eisenstein, Genizot, 2014. Installation with paintings and objects in vitrine. Detail: collaged and folded edition of Felix Salten's Bambi: A Life in the Woods. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum © ROM. Photo by Brian Boyle. Gallery photos by Gary Sexton Photography.