In Israel, a new five month scholarship program being offered to young aspiring athletes – one of them could be you.
Seduced by the Sacred: Forging a New Jewish Art
Oct. 3 – Nov. 22, 2010
Mandell JCC (West Hartford) and Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, Conn.
Curated by Richard McBee and Joel Silverstein
In many ways, it should be a no-brainer for readers of The Jewish Press to make the decision to visit the latest Jewish Art Salon exhibit, Seduced by the Sacred, or, if the trek to Hartford is prohibitive, to immerse themselves in the works online. After all, most readers of this publication are surely already seduced by the sacred – however problematic the definition of both terms may be – and, particularly if they are regular readers of this column, they will be intrigued by the question of new Jewish art.
In other ways, however, readers of The Jewish Press might be overqualified for Seduced by the Sacred, and the target (or at least ideal) audience for the show may be people who are less engaged with the usual suspects of Jewish art. Jewish art aficionados will already be aware of many of the show’s participants – Archie Rand, Tobi Kahn, Mark Podwal, Richard McBee, John Bradford, Siona Benjamin and others – and the notion of this art being new is perhaps a bit outdated.
But the show, which the curators say covers a “new generation of Jewish artists [who] came of age after the 1970s and craved more authentic religious and cultural experiences,” is vital for those who are not as familiar with Jewish art. One just wishes the catalog provided slightly more guidance for this audience in how to interpret the unique terminology and set of themes and symbols inherent in contemporary Jewish art.
“The very nature of the sacred; [sic] beyond proof and rationality, immutable, intractable, once again became desirable and easily connected to the entire history of Judaism,” write the curators, singling out Christian, Buddhist and Hindu artists as creators of religious art that is ritual-based. “Christian art had fixed iconography and history; Jewish art reveled in its own indeterminability. An invisible God and the space of encounter invite radical re-understandings of texts and images.”
There have been radical re-readings of Jewish texts and Jewish artists have had to grapple with a semi-visible God (the artists of Dura Europos, and the creators of many Haggadot, have managed to envision God’s hands), but the comparison between Jewish and Christian art is a bit simplistic. Surely some of the iconography Christian artists had “fixed” was based on prior works of art fixed by Jewish artists, and the early visual history of both religious traditions was typified as much by its connectedness and mutual borrowing as it was by its differences.
One also wonders why the curators’ statement entirely neglects Islamic visual traditions, though there is certainly a strong element of Islamic architecture in one work in the show, Mark Podwal’s etching, “Jerusalem as the Crown of the Torah” (1984).
Mark Podwal. “Jerusalem as the Crown of the Torah.” 1984.
Etching on paper. 8 1/4 x 5 3/8 inches
Podwal takes the term keter Torah (crown of the Torah) literally, and portrays Jerusalem as the ornament on the top of a Torah scroll (of the Ashkenazi variety). On the top of the crown (which also mirrors the primary position of keter on the Kabbalistic model of the Sephirot) is the Dome of the Rock. Where some Jewish artists try to mask the dome and to emphasize the Western Wall, Podwal gives the Islamic shrine a central position, and the minaret and some trees framing the mosque mirror the pillars flanking the Ten Commandments on the Torah ornament and the handles underneath the Torah. Podwal has formally created a double spine that props the work up, which combines Jewish and Islamic visual elements.
Natan Nuchi’s 2005 ink on cotton drawing, “Untitled,” gives new meaning to the expression giving the finger. Thousands of fingers of different sizes and shapes are arranged throughout the 104 inch squared drawing. Some are arranged in rows like battalions of soldier, while others overlap each other in poses that could be aggressive, erotic, comforting or friendly. Richard McBee has written often in these pages on the connection between Nuchi’s fingers and his Holocaust subject matter, and there is certainly something eerie about the amputated fingers.
Natan Nuchi. “Untitled.” 2005. Ink on cotton. 104 x 104 inches
The forms in Nuchi’s drawing echoe those of Renata Stein’s “Gateway to Heaven” (1994). But the rest of the works in the show mostly seem unconnected to each other. Though the curators explain that the show uses the song Lecha Dodi (“Go my beloved”) as a “paradigm for Jewish artists who are willing to encounter experiences greater than themselves,” the only work that seems to respond to the paradigm is David Wander’s 2010 acrylic on paper painting, “Come My Beloved” (the usual translation of Lecha is “come,” though I argue “go” is more appropriate).
One work (which doesn’t address the Shabbat service introductory song) is Janet Shafner’s “The Daughters of Zelophehad” (2006). Machla, Noa, Hagla, Milka and Tirtza, the five sisters who appear in Numbers 26, 27 and 36, as well as Joshua 17 and 1 Chronicles 7, made names for themselves by requesting to inherit their father’s portion of land in Israel after his death because he had no sons. Shafner depicts the five in classical attire in a landscape worthy of Dali. A circle of boulders sits at their feet, and a field of red (evoking lava) in the background sets four of the sisters forward in space.
“The Daughters of Zelophehad.” 2006. Oil on canvas. 48 x 84 inches
According to the artist’s website, the daughters are depicted as “sentinel figures” and are “set against a panorama of walls – ancient and modern, including the politically charged contemporary wall between Israel and her Arab neighbors.” Written upon the red field is the text from the biblical narrative.
After reading the biblical texts about the five sisters, one is left with a number of questions about the women. When they approached Moses, did they all pose the question together, or was there a ringleader and four shyer sisters? Were they the epitome of politeness, or were they combative? Did they feel entitled or were they pessimistic about their chances?
In Shafner’s vision of the episode, the sisters are animated and they assume active poses. Although the artist calls her own figures sentinels, they appear to me to assume offensive, rather than defensive postures. As they stand on a controversial boundary between Israeli and Palestinian territories, these women reach out to each other and stretch their hands out over the land. Most confidently stand up straight, and the one who crouches seems ready to pounce. If the show is mostly about the passive Shabbat queen of Lecha Dodi, these are enterprising and entrepreneurial women. At a contemporary political crossroads, they cannot help but exude possibility and potential.
Shafner’s figures work so well, because they are strong as individuals and as a team. Seduced by the Sacred is perhaps not as powerful a cohesive group of pieces, but it certainly has some individual stars that deserve recognition.
About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Leah Katz, a TeenZone camper at Oorah’s TheZone summer camp and an 11th grader at Midwood High School, read her winning essay about how TheZone changed her views on Judaism at the Jewish Heritage Awards Ceremony held at Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office in April. The purpose of the Jewish Heritage Essay Contest is to acquaint public school students with Jewish history and customs and to help foster a deeper understanding of Jewish culture. The contest is open to students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Leah’s essay is reproduced in full below.
Moshe Sharett, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, visited Egypt in 1945. In Cairo he met a most remarkable young woman, a beautiful journalist who was the darling of Egyptian high society – from high-ranking military brass, to culture icons and Muslim sheikhs, to the court of King Faruk.
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The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Jewish Press columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder and president of Hineni, the international Torah outreach organization, recently addressed an overflowing audience at the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine in southern California. Rebbetzin Jungreis’s address theme, “Making a Good Relationship Magical,” was apropos for the evening’s main mission: raising funds for the Irvine community’s mikveh.
You have probably been planning your marriage since you were about three. Let’s fast-forward to a big milestone– your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. (Don’t worry, you don’t look a day over twenty one!) Now, would you appreciate your husband buying you a dozen roses that some florist recommended?
As I mentioned in my earlier articles about our family trip to Israel, our night flight went pretty smooth, thanks to my children’s willingness to sleep throughout the flight. I, on the other hand, didn’t sleep a wink and I wasn’t feeling too great by the time we landed. But we were finally in Israel, and just being in the beautifully renovated Ben Gurion airport and hearing all the Hebrew around us was exciting enough.
While all the flowers that grace your Shavuos table will surely be a delight to your eye, these will be a delight for your palette as well. Create them at any level, simple or sophisticated; any way you make them they’re sure to be a sensation.
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Speechless wonder is the reaction to the beautiful vision seen though the Arch of the Keshet Cave at the Adamit Park in the Galilee. One of the most amazing natural wonders in Eretz Yisrael, the Me’arat Hakeshet — also known as the Rainbow Cave or Arch Cave — can be found up against the Israel-Lebanon border just a few kilometers from Rosh Hanikra and the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. It is situated amid the wild scenery on the cliffs of Nachal Betzet and Nachal Namer, on the Adamit Ridge.
It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.
One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)
Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.
It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.
Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.
The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?
Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.
Red By John Logan; directed by Robert Falls; starring Edward Gero and Patrick Andrews Jan. 20 – March 11, 2012 Arena Stage, 1101 6th Street, SW, Washington, D.C. http://www.arenastage.org One morning, Ken, Mark Rothko’s studio assistant, comes into the studio to fulfill his daily duties of stretching and priming his employer’s canvases. When he [...]
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