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Posted on: October 14th, 2011

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Just look at the expression on Yonah’s face. It combines fear and incomprehension at his terrible punishment of floating in the belly of the great fish.

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Posted on: October 5th, 2011

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The blast of the shofar ends one of the most dramatic scenes in "The Dybbuk," directed by Sidney Lumet, in which a rabbinical court excommunicates a dybbuk, while the same sound of the shofar opens the "Sholom Aleichem" story of Bontche Schweig, announcing the Job-like character's arrival in heaven.

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Posted on: September 21st, 2011

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It's easy to understand why artists have painted the navi Yonah early and often. There is no character more interesting than the man who, though blessed with the gift of prophecy, failed to grasp the responsibility he was charged with, literally turned his back on his divine mission and ran away, only to be devoured alive by a fish. After what must have seemed an eternity to the son of Amitai-in reality just three days and three nights-the fish, obeying a Divine commandment, vomited Yonah onto dry land.

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Posted on: August 31st, 2011

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There is a short list of things that really matter: family, friends, country and faith the most. For many Jews, our people and Israel occupy an almost sacred place in the order of commitment and passion. Therefore, when either the Jewish people or the legitimacy of the State of Israel are attacked and slandered, we react passionately. In a visceral way these things are crucial to the very core of our identity. How do contemporary Jewish artists respond?

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Posted on: August 24th, 2011

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By the Bible's own admission, the laws and procedures pertaining to the red heifer constitute some of the greatest chukot, or mysteries, of the entire scriptures. Per Numbers 19, an unblemished, never-been-harnessed red heifer, if slaughtered by a priest outside of the camp in the proper way - which includes the following ingredients: a piece of cedar wood, hyssop and crimson wool - can purify someone who has touched something unholy. The great mystery of the red heifer, the para adumah, though, is that the very object that purifies the ritually unclean also makes all the priests who come in contact with it unclean. It is the original double-edged sword.

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Posted on: August 17th, 2011

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Two of Alan Falk's biblical paintings immediately assault us aesthetically and thematically. Isaac Blessing Jacob (2009) and The Cry of Esau (2010) document the famous stolen blessing of Beraishis 27 and its consequences. The ancient Isaac is clad in a white nightshirt, raising his bony hands in blessing over his two sons. In one, Jacob has donned a curly-haired brown Afro deceitfully offering his blind father food, while in the other, Isaac's trembling hands attempt to bless the hysterical Esau at his feet. The cartoonish figures are caught in a melodrama of high-keyed color and exaggerated gesture that casts the biblical tale into an unfamiliar and strange realm.

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Posted on: August 17th, 2011

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Two of Alan Falk's biblical paintings immediately assault us aesthetically and thematically. Isaac Blessing Jacob (2009) and The Cry of Esau (2010) document the famous stolen blessing of Beraishis 27 and its consequences. The ancient Isaac is clad in a white nightshirt, raising his bony hands in blessing over his two sons. In one, Jacob has donned a curly-haired brown Afro deceitfully offering his blind father food, while in the other, Isaac's trembling hands attempt to bless the hysterical Esau at his feet. The cartoonish figures are caught in a melodrama of high-keyed color and exaggerated gesture that casts the biblical tale into an unfamiliar and strange realm.

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Posted on: August 10th, 2011

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Although jokes abound about how punctual German Jews (Yekes) are, the concept of "Jewish Standard Time," presumably mocking the non-Germanic segments of the Jewish population, has earned an entry in Urban Dictionary for "15 minutes late to everything" or "being late to an important event."

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Posted on: August 3rd, 2011

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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.

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Posted on: July 13th, 2011

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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.

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Posted on: July 7th, 2011

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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.

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Posted on: June 22nd, 2011

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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.

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Posted on: June 7th, 2011

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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.

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Posted on: June 1st, 2011

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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.

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Posted on: April 28th, 2011

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

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Posted on: March 23rd, 2011

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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.

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Posted on: March 16th, 2011

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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."

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Posted on: March 2nd, 2011

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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.

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Posted on: February 2nd, 2011

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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."

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Posted on: January 26th, 2011

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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.

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