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Arts
 

Posted on: January 27th, 2010

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For the Jewish artist the desire to illuminate a Torah is an irresistible act of devotion, an offering to Hashem as precious as any sacrifice imaginable. Each parsha is etched into the Jewish consciousness as a calendar for the year, changing weekly, subject, tone and atmosphere. From the primal drama of Lech Lecha to the national transformation of Yisro, and beyond to Moshe's tragic death on the eve of our long sought homecoming, the weekly portion celebrates and delineates God's complex relationship to His beloved. Illuminating the Torah parsha by parsha is the artist's ultimate amidah.

 

Posted on: January 20th, 2010

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At a parent-teacher conference, one of my high school bible instructors told my mother I was well behaved and sat quietly in the back of the room. "If he is sitting quietly in class," my mother assured the rabbi, "he is either reading a book or drawing." She was right. My primary high school achievements were my ravenous readings of philosophy and literature and the few hundred copies I made of David Levine's brilliant pen-and-ink caricatures, which filled several sketchbooks. I was too young to get most of his political references, but when they were explained to me, I laughed genuinely and hysterically.

 

Posted on: January 20th, 2010

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At a parent-teacher conference, one of my high school bible instructors told my mother I was well behaved and sat quietly in the back of the room. "If he is sitting quietly in class," my mother assured the rabbi, "he is either reading a book or drawing." She was right. My primary high school achievements were my ravenous readings of philosophy and literature and the few hundred copies I made of David Levine's brilliant pen-and-ink caricatures, which filled several sketchbooks. I was too young to get most of his political references, but when they were explained to me, I laughed genuinely and hysterically.

 

Posted on: January 6th, 2010

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Per Deuteronomy 21, when a corpse is found in the wilderness, an elaborate ceremony ensues that is clearly intended to disrupt the regular routines of the townspeople living nearby. The judges and elders determine which city is closest to the crime scene, and the elders of that city take a young calf, which has never been yoked, to a dismal valley, which could never sustain agricultural life, where they break the calf's neck. The Levites then arrive to observe the elders washing their hands over the bloody calf and declaring, "Our hands did not spill this blood, nor did our eyes perceive it. Therefore, God, forgive your people Israel, whom You redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to flow amongst your nation, and let this blood atone for them."

 

Posted on: December 30th, 2009

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Sotheby's recent annual auction of Israeli art was given an extra dimension this year with a large selection from the Phoenix Insurance Company, Ltd.'s collection - one of the largest, most comprehensive collections of Israeli art in the world, spanning from the founding of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem in 1906 through to the present day. The selection at Sotheby's did not include this entire range. It was limited to smaller, more accessible works (there were no purely conceptual works, for example), and contained almost no sculpture, with the notable exception of Israel Prize-winner Danziger's brass Chariot.

 

Posted on: December 23rd, 2009

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A blue-skinned woman with at least one wing carries a caged dove in her right hand and has just released a golden bird from her other hand. Her hair is covered by a shawl that rests over a curved dagger (like the Yemenite jambiya) with a sheath decorated with the stars and stripes of the American flag. A corner of the shawl becomes a pair of tzitzit whose strings are wrapped around a lion's arms and midsection, perhaps restraining it. The woman, who represents a self-portrait of the artist Siona Benjamin, stands on a white ball, which unravels to reveal not string but floral patterns that border the painting. Beneath her yellow skirt, the woman wears striped pants that evoke either the uniform of a prisoner or a concentration camp inmate.

 

Posted on: December 16th, 2009

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More than half a century has passed since the Holocaust. As the number of survivors dwindles, even as the amount of documentation grows, there has been a shift in focus from recording the facts to working out how we can relate to these facts. As the generation of eyewitnesses passes, we are entering an era that must deal with the problem of memory without access to direct experience. Yad VaShem's recent refurbishment is a manifestation of this shift, and the new focus can be felt across the spectrum.

 

Posted on: December 9th, 2009

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Jews, and particularly Jewish kings of the biblical period, are not supposed to be too keen on horses. An unhealthy love for things equestrian, according to the admonition in Deuteronomy 17:16, will tempt the king to return the Jewish people to Egypt. That being said, it must be admitted upfront that it is quite a stretch to ask whether a biblical prohibition against amassing royal stables of Egyptian horses applies to Jewish artists today.

 

Posted on: December 2nd, 2009

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The illustrator stands in an oft-denigrated position, scorned by modernists and traditional purists alike. For both schools of thought the sublime of art cannot be rendered literal. On the other hand, illustrators are curiously accepted if not celebrated by those in a postmodern disposition. In the last twenty years or so a creative relationship to text, narrative or non-visual motifs has gained legitimacy if not primacy in the visual arts. Under the watchful guidance of director Jean Bloch Rosensaft and the curatorial skill of Laura Kruger, the Hebrew Union College Museum casts one of its current exhibitions into this ideational fray. "Isaac Bashevis Singer and his Artists"is in its curious way an exposition on the illustrational as a contemporary motif.

 

Posted on: November 25th, 2009

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In a 2008 photograph by Spencer Platt (Getty Images), a pedestrian wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and jeans and carrying a backpack walks down a rundown Detroit street. Behind him, graffiti covers the red and white brick buildings. Scrawled on one wall in enormous thick black letters, which are much larger than the figure, is the word "Help." In thinner lettering, partially obscured by the other graffiti inscription, someone has written: "It don't exist," presumably responding pessimistically to the call for help.

 

Posted on: November 4th, 2009

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Seven hundred years ago in a synagogue in southwest Germany near the Rhine River, the chazzan opened a new machzor on Yom Kippur as he began Kol Nidrei. The congregation glanced up and gasped as they saw the new prayer book he was davening from. A freshly written large-scale parchment book presented itself to them, specially made for the bimah, to be used on all the holidays, resplendent with brightly colored illuminations and richly adorned with gold-leaf and precious lapis lazuli decorations.

 

Posted on: October 28th, 2009

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It is only appropriate to begin a Hyman Bloom review with a Chassidic tale. A young man left his village to train as a menorah maker says Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and returned years later as a master designer. His father invited the local lamp makers to see his son's talents but grew angry when each guest found a different fault in his son's alleged masterpiece. The son then explained he had created the worst work imaginable. If the locals found just one fault each in his work, it was due to their blindness to their own aesthetic errors.

 

Posted on: October 21st, 2009

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Mirta Kupferminc is an artist who has made her artistic mission a search for meaning in a world profoundly unstable, problematic and filled with the terrors of memory not entirely her own. As the child of Holocaust survivors, uprooted from Europe and transplanted in Argentina, one prevailing motif for her is that of a witness to the Holocaust one generation removed. A prominent text panel quotes Saul Sosnowski: " to be a witness who loves unconditionally; daring to judge G-d over Auschwitz and find him guilty; and pray to him still, even there, even in Auschwitz."

 

Posted on: September 30th, 2009

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There is no denying that Dan Brown has become one of the most successful contemporary writers on religious art. The Lost Symbol recently sold a million copies on its first day of release, and it would only take 81 such days to surpass total sales of The Da Vinci Code. Perhaps because of his success, many are less than impressed with Brown's writings. "Usually we read the script, but in this case it wasn't necessary," a spokesman for the Roman archdiocese told The Telegraph (UK), explaining why a permit was denied for filming "Angels and Demons" at one of its churches. "Just the name Dan Brown was enough."

 

Posted on: September 16th, 2009

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Though the members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities had a copy of Lucille Ball's signed 1936 communist registration card, they accepted her excuse that she joined the party just to please her grandfather, because her name wasn't Jaffe, Chodorov, Berman or Phillip Loeb. So says Jim Brochu in his one-man show about Samuel Joel "Zero" Mostel, which argues that McCarthyism overlapped to a large extent with anti-Semitism. "She could have called her show I Love Lenin and they would have forgiven her. And they did forgive her," he adds.

 

Posted on: September 2nd, 2009

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When charged by the Prophetess Deborah, wife of Lapidoth, in Judges to free the Jews from the tyranny of Sisera, general of the Canaanite king Jacin's army, Barak the son of Abinoam famously responded with the biblical equivalent of "I'm right behind you." Deborah agreed to accompany Barak to Kedesh but told him Sisera would die by a woman's hand. Barak accepted the terms, and Sisera was eventually lured into Yael's tent, where she fed him milk to make him drowsy and drove a tent peg through his head.

 

Posted on: August 26th, 2009

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Earlier this summer I went up to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see the blockbuster exhibition, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice. While rarely have I seen as many masterpieces collected together in a traveling show, one painting stood out for both its Jewish subject and the surprising way it narrated the dramatic story of Esther appearing before Ahasuerus. The painting, Esther Before Ahasuerus by Tintoretto, (1518-1594) was painted just as the 29-year-old artist was making his mark in Venetian society.

 

Posted on: August 19th, 2009

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When the Cistercian abbot Stephen Harding commissioned an illuminated bible in 1109, he wanted to ensure its accuracy. So he did what any good scholar (but very few medieval Church leaders) would do; he sought rabbinic counsel so that he could have access to the original Hebrew. The so-called St. Stephen's Bible, which can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's current exhibit, Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages, represents a rare collaboration of rabbinic and Christian scholarship.

 

Posted on: August 19th, 2009

SectionsArts

When the Cistercian abbot Stephen Harding commissioned an illuminated bible in 1109, he wanted to ensure its accuracy. So he did what any good scholar (but very few medieval Church leaders) would do; he sought rabbinic counsel so that he could have access to the original Hebrew. The so-called St. Stephen's Bible, which can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's current exhibit, Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages, represents a rare collaboration of rabbinic and Christian scholarship.

 

Posted on: August 5th, 2009

SectionsArts

As a matter of principle, I must begin this column by stating bluntly that in my opinion the column's subject, Mayer Kirshenblatt, though he is a very talented storyteller, is not a very good painter by any means. Normally, that would present the end of the story. There are more than enough great artists who grapple with Jewish subject matter and themes that this column does not need to address work that is anything but first rate.

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