Yiskor (For the Jews of Rome)

Mel Bochner

Magazzino Italian Art

Magazzino Italian Art
Cold Spring, United States

Jewishness has played a significant role in Bochner’s work, in both subtle and explicit ways. The artist’s interest in Jewish thought and, in particular, the importance it gives to the written word and language play, has manifested in works from Blah, Blah, Blah, to many of his “Thesaurus” paintings that feature Yiddish words and phrases
in their exploration of synonyms. Yiskor (For the Jews of Rome) is one of the artist’s more somber works involving Jewishness. “Yiskor”—the Hebrew word for “remember” —is the opening word of memorial prayers for the departed that are recited four times a year, including during Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Passover. It, therefore, contains a powerful and even political signification within the context of Jewish history more broadly. This work is composed of a pile of extinguished matchsticks, gathered in the shape of a Jewish star, that rest on top of a U.S. Army blanket—a nod to the U.S. Fifth Army that liberated Rome in June 1944. Together, these powerful visual components serve as an abstract evocation of the Yiskor prayer, with each burnt matchstick representing a word or phrase and asking us to remember all those who have been lost in the Jewish community. The matchsticks additionally recall the lighting of a 24 hour Yiskor candle, which some choose to burn the day before the memorial service. Furthermore, they call to mind the use of “impoverished” materials by Arte Povera artists. While Bochner sees this work as political, he does not wish for it to be categorized as “political art.” As he says, “It’s best when the politics slip into the stream unannounced, increasing the work’s chances of reframing the discourse and altering the status quo.”


  • Title: Yiskor (For the Jews of Rome)
  • Creator: Mel Bochner
  • Creator Lifespan: b. 1940
  • Creator Nationality: American
  • Date Created: 1993
  • Physical Dimensions: h 152.4, w 128.3 cm
  • Rights: Courtesy the artist
  • Medium: Burnt matchsticks on army blanket on floor

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