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3 Kislev 5778 -
? Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Meer Akselrod: Painting His People

Empathy and memory meet in the work of Meer Akselrod (1902-1970), the Jewish Russian artist who defied aesthetic convention and totalitarian dictates to relentlessly pursue his personal artistic vision of painting the Jewish people. His quiet courage in the face of epochal changes that convulsed his Russian homeland cannot be overestimated. They are amply attested to by his artwork, not the least of which are two pen and ink drawings, Pogrom, from 1927 - 1928, currently at the Chassidic Art Institute.

Lilith by Siona Benjamin

Siona Benjamin's exhibition "Finding Home: The Art of Siona Benjamin" is simply beautiful. Set in the spacious lobby gallery of the JCC Manhattan, it allows for a peaceful (when the kids, nannies and crowds subside) contemplation of this complex artist's meditations on biblical women, war, exoticism and contemporary society.

Philadelphia Museum Exhibit Showcases Chagall’s Jewish Circle

Although the subject matter of Marc Chagall's 1910 painting Resurrection of Lazarus clearly comes from Christian scripture, the artist put his decidedly Jewish mark on the image twice over. Chagall depicted both a Star of David and two hands - signifying the priestly blessing - on the tomb from which the haloed Lazarus has emerged. Although Jewish burial traditions tended to represent the priestly hands with the index and middle fingers touching and the ring and small fingers touching and a gap in between, Chagall, perhaps forgetting the convention, elected to spread all the fingers out evenly.

Echoing Vishniak: Ahron Weiner’s Photographic Pilgrimages to Uman

At first glance, the chassid in Ahron Weiner's "In Memorial" looks like he may be wearing an earring on his right ear, which is framed by his dark brown side curl. Further inspection reveals the ear is in silhouette, and the "earring" is indeed white light cast by one of the many memorial candles he contemplates - tributes to the tens of thousands of Jews of Uman murdered in the 18th century and nearly two centuries later by the Nazis.

What We Can Glean From Ruth’s Posture

Until one examines the Book of Ruth - which is read on the holiday of Shavuot - artistically and mines the text for visual fodder that would lend itself to dynamic subjects to paint, one is unlikely to realize how passive the book actually is. The overwhelming majority of action verbs have to do with speech, and there is virtually no violence or conflict. Save a spitting in a shoe here or uncovering an ankle there, the book is much more about states of mind and identity than it is about action.

Chagall’s Bible Images

Ironically the same quote by art critic Robert Hughes cited in my May 20th review "Chagall and the Cross" namely that Marc Chagall was the "quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century," is applicable in our consideration of Chagall's images for his graphic masterpiece, The Bible. Except here it illuminates the truth: his greatness as a Jewish artist is founded on his lifelong obsession with the Torah. No matter how far he strayed from his Jewish roots, even his late-in-life dalliance with Judeo-Christian universalism as surveyed in that review, nothing could compromise his amazing insights and comprehension of the Torah narratives.

In the Dog House: Gabriel Metsu’s Dismissal of Hagar

Hagar and Ishmael, as imagined by the 17th century Dutch Catholic painter Gabriel Metsu, are literally in the doghouse.

Siona Benjamin’s Megillas Esther

There is nothing funny about Siona Benjamin's Megillas Esther (2010). Unlike some contemporary illuminated megillas that emphasize the absurd and outlandish nature of the corrupt Persian court and the buffoonish character of the king, Benjamin takes the Book of Esther quite seriously. She is obviously deeply sensitive to the terrible consequences of God's hester panim (hidden face) in our own time.

Landscapes That Devour Their Inhabitants: Ludwig Blum’s Jerusalem Works At Ben Uri Gallery

When the spies Moshe sent to scout the land of Canaan returned with their report, they testified (Numbers 13:32) that the land "eats its denizens," many of whom happen to be giants. In fact the spies, to the extent that their propaganda can be trusted, felt so dwarfed by the Israeli landscape that they claimed they must have resembled grasshoppers to the giants, and even felt like locusts themselves. The description of Canaan in Leviticus 18:28 is no rosier; the land has an allergic reaction to disobedient citizens and literally "spits them out."

A Jewish Lip: New book On Lipman Emanuel Pike Explores Baseball Player’s Career, Religious...

Early in Ernest Thayer's poem Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, a "sickly silence" has fallen on the patrons of the game. But when "mighty Casey," with his "sneer curled" lip and defiance gleaming in his eye, comes to the plate, 5,000 throats and tongues cheer for him and 10,000 eyes focus on his every move.

Doll (Haunted) House: Two ‘Naïve’ Holocaust Artists at GW’s Brady Gallery

In an interview for an article published in these pages (Aug. 25, 2004), Jewish Bombay-born painter Siona Benjamin discussed her technique of hiding troubling imagery in the seemingly inviting floral and decorative borders of Indian and Persian miniature-influenced paintings. "Under the beauty of miniatures you can hide danger," she told me of her "Finding Home" series. "The beauty of miniatures draws you in-veiling and revealing."

Moriah’s Illuminated Torah

Avner Moriah, the well-known Israeli artist, has illuminated the Book of Genesis. No small feat, he has conjured images for all the major narratives as well as alluding to other analogous stories throughout the Torah. He sees the first book of Torah as nothing less than "a poem," a minimalist text that yields an unending series of explorations of the mysteries and conundrums of the human condition. While this is hardly the first nor largest of his explorations of biblical and Jewish narrative, it is easily the most ambitious.

In Loco Templum: Amsterdam’s Esnoga/Portuguese Synagogue

One of the aspects of the biblical construction narratives - both those about the Tabernacle in the wilderness in Exodus, and in 1 Kings about Solomon's Temple in the Holy Land - that most troubled and confused me when I was young was the aesthetic status of the structures.

A Tale of Four Synagogues: Amsterdam’s Jewish Historical Museum

Even a poor, unfortunate Jew stranded on an otherwise deserted island, the joke goes, builds two synagogues - one that he attends semi-regularly and the other he wouldn't set foot in if you tried to make him.

Sotheby’s Jewish Vision

Every year in the early winter the world-renowned auction house, Sotheby's, presents an auction of Israeli and International (Jewish) Art and Judaica. It is always a delight and Sunday, December 12 was no exception. Since it is an international affair, the foremost experts assemble the finest artworks available. The efforts of specialists Rivka Saker, Sigal Mordechai, Daria Gluck, Esta Kilstein and Jennifer Roth of Sotheby's Israel and Jennifer Roth, Sharon Liberman Mintz, David Wachtel, Elizabeth Muller, John Ward, Jill Waddell, Kevin Tierney here in New York were well rewarded. It was a truly exciting exhibition that frequently surprised one with new insights into many familiar artists.

Hidden In Plain Sight: The (Jewish) Hague

Beneath Baruch Spinoza's smiling bust on his tombstone on the grounds of the Nieuwe Kerk in the Hague is an inscription of his famous motto, "caute" (written cavte on the stone, see image one), or "cautiously" in Latin. Between that admonition and the dates of his life - 1632 to 1677, cut short by an illness whose identity is hotly debated - is the Hebrew word "amcha" or "amach", Hebrew for "your people" or "your nation."

The Portuguese-Jewish Cemetery In Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

There is something profound and soothing in the ancient Jewish practice of using the euphemism beit chaim, "house of life," to refer to a cemetery. It is as if the rabbis did not even want to coin the phrase beit mavet, "house of death," for fear of inviting the evil eye.

Interbellum Art

"By breaking statues one risks turning into one oneself," says a caption in Jean Cocteau's 1930 film, "The Blood of a Poet." The statement could be a postmodern take on Psalm 115, which declares that those who make idols (which have mouths but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, noses but cannot smell, hands but cannot feel and feet but cannot walk), "shall become like them, all that place their faith in them."

A Jewish Art Salon Exhibit

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.

Landscapes for Humanity: Paintings by Batya F. Kuncman

The world is complicated. Surely it seems that Divine justice is elusive. God's role is frequently masked and our human situation is terribly fragile. Yet according to artist Batya F. Kuncman our condition is "most promising." Her optimistic artwork is designed to illuminate this shadowy nature of our existence and strives for clarity and ultimate closeness to God. In "Landscapes for Humanity," currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, images of infants are the tools she uses to explicate her belief.

The Jewish Art Enthusiast’s Guide To WNET/Channel Thirteen’s ‘Art Through Time: A Global View’

Jewish art buffs might be disappointed by channel Thirteen's new 13-part series, Art Through Time: A Global View. It takes two entire episodes (one half an hour each) and part of the third episode for a reference to Jewish art to surface. This comes in the person of Shimon Attie (born in Los Angeles, 1957), whose The Writing on the Wall (1991-3) projected pre-Holocaust photographs onto the walls of buildings in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, the Scheunenviertel. Attie's projections, which were effectively before-and-after photos of particular buildings, are particularly haunting because they reveal how much the neighborhood has changed. Another work of Attie's that is discussed in the episode is Portrait of Exile (1995), which involved submerging light boxes with portraits of Danish refugees (who fled to Sweden during the Holocaust) in a canal in Copenhagen.

The Jewish Art Enthusiast’s Guide To WNET/Channel Thirteen’s ‘Art Through Time: A Global View’

Jewish art buffs might be disappointed by channel Thirteen's new 13-part series, Art Through Time: A Global View. It takes two entire episodes (one half an hour each) and part of the third episode for a reference to Jewish art to surface. This comes in the person of Shimon Attie (born in Los Angeles, 1957), whose The Writing on the Wall (1991-3) projected pre-Holocaust photographs onto the walls of buildings in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, the Scheunenviertel. Attie's projections, which were effectively before-and-after photos of particular buildings, are particularly haunting because they reveal how much the neighborhood has changed. Another work of Attie's that is discussed in the episode is Portrait of Exile (1995), which involved submerging light boxes with portraits of Danish refugees (who fled to Sweden during the Holocaust) in a canal in Copenhagen.

The Adventure of a Jewish Photographer: Miriam Mörsel Nathan’s Photo-Paintings

In Italo Calvino's short story "The Adventure of a Photographer," part of his collection Difficult Loves (1985), the "non-photographer" and bachelor Antonino Paraggi, finds himself increasingly alienated from his married friends who go out with their families and cameras each Sunday and "come back as happy as hunters with bulging game bags," their photographic catch of the day.

The Adventure of a Jewish Photographer: Miriam M?rsel Nathan’s Photo-Paintings

In Italo Calvino's short story "The Adventure of a Photographer," part of his collection Difficult Loves (1985), the "non-photographer" and bachelor Antonino Paraggi, finds himself increasingly alienated from his married friends who go out with their families and cameras each Sunday and "come back as happy as hunters with bulging game bags," their photographic catch of the day.

Would the Real (And Kosher) Sukkah Installation Please Stand Up?

out half a year ago, my friend Miriam asked if I knew of any artists or architects whose repertoires included sukkahs. My thoughts immediately turned to the gorgeous sukkah my grandfather designed and built every year and to the retractable roof in the dining room at the Bostoner Rebbe's synagogue, Congregation Beth Pinchas. But for the life of me, I couldn't think of any artist who had developed an interesting aesthetic approach to the sukkah, which is the only Jewish experience (save mikvah perhaps) that completely surrounds us.

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