Chillul Tefila Bifarhesia, as well as halachicly challenged verbiage and dress, are external manifestations of a critical lack of personal yiras shomayim which has lethal consequences.
Toby Cohen: Cherubim & Angels
Through July 8, 2010
26 Gordon St., Tel Aviv, Israel
One of my favorite characters in all of literature is the senile patriarch Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, of Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, who, before getting tied to a tree for his own protection, decides he would like to capture God in a daguerreotype. Jos?’s ultimately unsuccessful design solution is to jump out from around a corner hoping to catch the deity unawares. This association of the divine and the photographic image is perhaps why some Chassidic rebbes opposed photography in its early days and certain practicing Muslims today, who espouse an aniconistic interpretation of Islam, scowl for their passport or license portraits to show their disapproval of the medium.
The chassidim in Toby Cohen’s photographs, though arguably unaware of the presence of the camera, seem to have no objections to the voyeuristic artist. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post’s Carl Hoffman (“Trying to shoot God,” May 7, 2010), Cohen, British-born, Tel Aviv- and London-based, said his art has a bit of the hunt for the divine in it. As Cohen tells it, a man he met in Israel asked him why he did not try to take God’s portrait if he was such a good photographer.
Evidently, the question made an impact. “[A]fter this encounter, I began to think about trying to find a way to capture people connecting to God,” Cohen told the Jerusalem Post. “So, through Breslav hassidism and hassidic meditation, I found people who were at the closest point to God that I had ever seen. They were meditating in nature. And that was the connection between the people, the land and God.”
Toby Cohen. “Flying Sukkah.” All images courtesy of Engel Gallery.
When I first saw digital images of Cohen’s work, I was sure there was some photoshopping involved. Take “Flying Sukkah,” a panoramic crepuscular view of a suspended sukkah hovering over a mountain. Yellow flowers, rocks, brush and grass populate the foreground, while rolling hills and mountains are visible on the horizon, softened by the purple and ochre rays of the setting (or rising) sun. A stepladder leads up to the sukkah, which is occupied by three figures, two wearing prayer shawls. One figure wearing a coat and a black hat stands at the bottom of the ladder and points up at a figure crouching in the sukkah, holding one end of a string with which he engages in a tug-of-war with another figure on the ground.
Is the one figure trying to pull the other heavenward? Is the grounded figure trying to drag the other earthward? Both? Perhaps the gesture, half-prayer half-shrug, of the other figure, clad in a prayer shawl that makes him look like an angel beating its wings, best captures the ambiguity of the image.
Toby Cohen. “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Anyone who studies religious art for years, as I have, learns early on to be suspicious of contemporary iterations of surrealism or magic realism. It’s all too easy for an artist to create kitsch with melting Kiddush cups or hovering, cartoony angels and billowing Israeli flags. Tallitot and sukkot and a variety of other Jewish ritual objects are so iconic that I have seen many a Jewish artist succeed despite (and perhaps precisely due to) using recognizable Jewish symbols to obscure poor underlying visual structure.
I’m not entirely convinced Cohen avoids this pitfall (though to be fair I’m reviewing his art from 6,000 miles away), but I was very interested to learn that Photoshop is less of his process than I had originally anticipated. Cohen told the Jerusalem Post he conceived of the flying sukkah one Sukkot at his friend, David Cohen’s (no relation) sukkah. The two were discussing the laws of the sukkah (Can it be on a camel? A boat? Etc.), and Cohen decided he wanted to photograph a flying sukkah. As David Cohen tells it, every artist Cohen discussed the project with asked him why he didn’t just Photoshop the suspended structure. (The police even got involved in a bad way). But Cohen insisted he wanted the image to look authentic, so a scaffolding company was commissioned. Cohen took many images and used Photoshop to piece them together – only partially cheating in my book.
Toby Cohen. “Sunrise in Mezada.”
One can only hope the figures leaping (dancing on air?) in “Sunrise in Mezada” took safety precautions, because they look like they are dangerously close to plummeting off the side of the Masada fortress and dashing themselves across the floor of the Judean dessert. The leftmost figure, who wears a prayer shawl, stands in a position mid-way between the flamingo-orientation popularized in “Karate Kid” and a Cruciform position. The other two figures – one leaping, one lunging – reach their arms out toward the heavens. There is something cartoony about the image, but it also evokes the scale and proportion of the hyperrealism of the Hudson River School, in which 19th century American artists like Thomas Cole and Frederic Church showed small figures dwarfed by expansive, mystical and beautiful landscapes.
I find other photographs of Cohen’s less effective, like “Sunrise over the Borders of Romania,” which shows a hovering figure which reminds me of the police officers (with their primitive jetpacks) in Fran?ois Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”
“Mincha,” which depicts a praying man clad in all white standing in the woods with his hands clasped, is a greater success. Though the man assumes a central position in the composition, the landscape is so compelling and powerful that it rivals him for prominence and must be considered a character rather than just an environment. The same cannot be said of “Gedalia and the Cows,” perhaps Cohen’s take on “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” in which a colorful man, apparently named Gedalia, lifts his hands heavenward amongst a herd of mostly uninterested and unimpressed cows.
At least on my computer, there is obvious Photoshopping around the figure in “Fiddler on the Roof,” but the composition is really interesting, and the fiddler seems believable, like Chagall’s suspended kissers. “Ariel” will remind some Facebook users of the all-too-popular photographs people take of friends or family members jumping, captured mid-air. This sort of image was perhaps most famously undertaken by photographer Philippe Haussman, subject of the Smithsonian Magazine October 2006 story, “When He Said ‘Jump…,’” by Owen Edwards. Cohen’s contribution is the addition of the jumping chassid.
Toby Cohen. “Yum Kippur Project, 2009.”
But the image the gallery makes the biggest deal about is “Yum Kippur Project, 2009″ – Cohen’s take on a famous 1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb called “Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur.” Cohen set the scene on a stage with family members and other people who have played an important part in his life (an ex-girlfriend was one of them), and he represented himself as the figure who was Gottlieb’s self-portrait.
In a YouTube clip linked on Cohen’s site, he explains that he has learned that the set-up and a variety of elements leading up to pushing the button on the camera are more important than the mechanical act of taking the picture (which explains how he justifies being a photographer and including himself in the work). With the exception of some typos in the Hebrew inscription on the right side of the photograph, I agree with Cohen that the work is more interesting for its production than its execution per se. If we have Gottlieb, we don’t necessarily need Cohen’s interpretation, and it has its work cut out for itself to compete with the original.
But it is the blending of painting and photography, like Cohen’s experimentation with reality and Photoshop, which is most noteworthy in this body of work. Time will tell how important the works truly are, but they definitely deserve a close look.
About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at email@example.com.
Comments are closed.
Nearly half a million of them fought in Red Army uniforms, under communist slogans but with a personal vengeance that was solely the result of Jewish experience. More than the “Greatest Generation,” they were the living superheroes hidden in plain sight.
It’s all over.
The orchestra is still, the lights are dimmed. Your simcha outfits hang in your closet, silent witnesses to a time you will treasure in your mind and heart forever.
After noticing that you can’t log into your computer, your pulse quickens as you are called into your supervisor’s office. S/he has some bad news. You are being laid off. You have 15 minutes to clean out your desk and surrender your cell phone before security escorts you out of the building. Job termination, especially in the corporate world, can be heartless.
I have always had a problem with the Omer. Doing the mitzvah of counting the Omer was of course pretty easy. Remembering to start the second evening of Passover and remembering to stop the day before Shavous took a little concentration but somehow I always managed. No, for me the nagging problem was always why was I doing this in the first place, other than the fact it was a biblical (according to the Rambam) commandment.
With the semi-mourning period of Sefira behind us, and the festival of Shavuot as well (as evidenced by the tightness of our clothing due to over-indulging in irresistible versions of cheesecake that is an integral component of celebrating our receipt of the Torah), our community can look forward to participating in joyous engagement parties and weddings.
Dear Dr. Yael:
Do you really believe that the Internet is the reason why the divorce rate is so high among young couples? This may be so in some cases, but what about the fact that many singles are pressured to get married at a young age despite not having any idea what they are looking for in a mate? And add to that the fact that many are pressured to make a decision about marriage after dating for a very short period of time.
From the moment they stand under the chuppah, newlyweds have two years to enjoy the special bliss that new love brings. This new finding, reported by the New York Times, is based on a study undertaken by American and European researchers. 1,761 people who got married and stayed married over 15 years were followed. The research shows that after two years the couples moved into a more companionable state in their relationships.
Shel Silverstein’s 1974 poem “Where The Sidewalk Ends” is intended to paint a magical picture of a world of peace and serenity far away from the “black and dark streets.” At the time, perhaps the end of the sidewalk was a place that was “measured and slow.” Today, however, for many parents, where the sidewalk ends can feel like a scary place.
The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Florida is famous for sparkling water. We have the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico surrounding our coast. We have bays, lakes, canals and, of course, an incredible abundance of swimming pools in homes, resorts, apartment complexes and city parks.
The buzz is back as Camp Gan Israel Florida Overnight gears up for another fantastic summer, CGI Florida style. What makes CGI Florida so different from all the other overnight camps? It’s all in the details.
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.
The two proceeded to talk about everyday things and surprisingly her mother-in-law did not find anything else to criticize. This occurred a few more times, with my client changing the topic every time by complimenting her mother-in-law or mentioning something positive about her.
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 [...]
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/toby-cohens-hovering-hassidim/2010/05/17/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: