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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Explore The Sacred


Menachem Wecker

Menachem Wecker

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The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

The non-Jewish works in the show include references to the Kaaba in Mecca, to the crucifixion, and to Adam and Eve, and although they deserve attention in their own right, this column will, of course, focus on the Jewish works. Two works of Igal Fedida’s cleverly address the Genesis story. “The Marvelous Story of Life,” a mixed media work on metal, starts with the waste and void (tohu and vohu of Genesis 1:2) in the center of the work, caked on in a manner that somewhat evokes Jules Olitski’s later works. Around the void, Fedida writes the Hebrew text of Genesis. (Careful readers will notice that the divine names aren’t spelled out in full, i.e. “Elokim.”) Instead of having the text start on the outside of the work and spiral inward, Fedida has the biblical words emanate from the void and flow outward. Rather than descending into the void, biblical meaning emerges from the chaos.

The same can be said of Fedida’s “Metallic Void,” which includes the first verse of Genesis (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth”) sandwiched between abstract black and white forms. In the “heaven” portion of the work, deep shadows appear to descend, storm like, upon the horizon. In the “ground” portion, white cloud-like forms, which suggest foam beneath a waterfall, seem to rise up. The biblical text hovers (like the spirit of God in Genesis 1:2) in the chasm between the heavenly and earthly domains.

Shalev, bronze with patina by Tobi Kahn. Courtesy Canton Museum of Art.

Shalev, bronze with patina by Tobi Kahn.
Courtesy Canton Museum of Art.

Tobi Kahn’s sculpture “Shalev,” whose title indicates the Hebrew word for “quiet” but also suggests shalhevet, or “flame,” depicts a smaller figurative form beneath a large structure, which evokes Stonehenge. (The work is a smaller, bronze with patina version of the larger granite and bronze sculpture in New Harmony, Ind. See also, Richard McBee’s column “Tobi Kahn’s New Harmony” in these pages on June 17, 2009.) The smaller golden form could be a flame, or a person praying or weeping, while the larger structure has a monumental or temple feel. And the work is surely cast in a unique light installed near Faraz Khan’s “In the Name of God, Beneficent, Merciful.” A yellow arrow in the latter Khan’s painting beckons toward, and then away from, the former Khan’s sculpture.

Lastly, but certainly not least, a word on the two works in the show by the regular author of this column. McBee’s “Moses at the Jordan” could refer to several biblical episodes, but one assumes it shows the bible’s greatest prophet delivering his final talk to the Jewish people before he dies and they carry on into the Holy Land. Where many artists struggle with crowds – to try to depict each person, or not to? – McBee has a special talent (which recalls George Bellows) for teasing out just the right amount of detail while abstracting the rest of the crowd. To McBee, Moses’ audience is at once shocked (second figure from the left), in need of restraint (second from right, front row), and an amorphous and dehumanizing mass.

If the self-declared speaker with “uncircumcised lips” is intimidated by the public speaking challenge of projecting to not only the Israelites clad in ochres, blues, whites, and blacks, but also the dark shadowy forms (erev rav?) lurking between a couple of mountains (Gerizim and Ebal?), he doesn’t show it. Moses, whom McBee intentionally dresses in anachronistic Chassidic garb, spreads his arms wide, and throws his head back. Israel’s greatest prophet, to McBee, may have discovered that his people’s stiff necks are contagious.

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About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


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The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

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.

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