July 17 − September 1, 2008
J Klaynberg Gallery
121 West 19th Street, New York
Viewers who read Daniel Weinstein’s list of artistic influences on his website will get the impression they are dealing with an unusual sort of Judaica, even before they see the art. The “menagerie of sights and sounds” in Weinstein’s work draws upon the sacred and the secular: Hallel, Tehillim (Psalms), Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), the Israeli city Tsfat (Safed), South Beach, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the Breslov singer Yosef Karduner, Rastafarian reggae musician Bob Marley, American rock band Alice in Chains, Chassidut, Dr. Seuss, Israel-based Lubavitcher painter Baruch Nachshon, the 1998 comedy “The Big Lebowski,” and Weinstein’s wife Leah Malka and son Aron.
On his site, Weinstein explains his seemingly incongruous inspirations with a quote from Psalm 100: “Serve Hashem with gladness, come before him with joyous song.” In an interview, he elaborated. “The concept of living daily life from a Torah perspective means that you don’t need to separate from society,” Weinstein wrote in an e-mail. “On the contrary, we need to bring a piece of G-d down here to our everyday lives. We are all influenced by many different things. The key is to channel it all into a worthwhile direction.”
Weinstein points to British writer Aldous Huxley, author of the Utopian novel and psychedelic drugs-influenced Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, to respond to the charge that his works are contradictory. “The Torah has so many twists and turns and can be understood on myriad levels,” he said. “Each door you open opens another door.”
Scavenging the text for visual elements to appropriate, a classical artist might show the prophet with a white beard, dressed in a biblical tunic, screaming at a chaotic mass of irreverent bystanders who turn their backs on him, mock him, and maybe even throw things at him. Perhaps a few believers in the crowd cover their faces in fear, or fall to the ground weeping.
But Daniel Weinstein’s “Yirmiah 5:22” shows a very different scene, which does not even include Jeremiah. In the print, three bearded Chassidim, wearing big white kippot over their flowing side curls, run not to synagogue but along the beach. They wear sunglasses and carry surfboards decorated with logos that evoke “Hot Wheels”.
Daniel Weinstein’s prints are certainly an acquired taste, and some viewers will no doubt examine them quickly and decide that they are too mesmerizing and hypnotizing, too colorful and too funky. But the form and the content come together in “Seventh Hakafa,” wherein hundreds of Chassidim (who appear somewhat abstracted and inhuman) dance around in circles in a spiral that descends to the center of the painting. “‘On Simchat Torah,’ goes the Chassidic saying, ‘we rejoice in the Torah, and the Torah rejoices in us; the Torah, too, wants to dance, so we become the Torah’s dancing feet,'” writes Weinstein in the accompanying poem. “The choreographic style of traditional Hakafot − Revolutions − reminds us there is no beginning and no end.”
Indeed there is an eternal and dizzying aspect to the Jewish tradition and its holidays. Perhaps classical paintings, with their muted colors and naturalistic treatment, cannot arrive at the sort of Jewish experience Weinstein captures. If Hakafot are supposed to be passionate circular dances, why shouldn’t they be depicted as psychedelic?
MENACHEM WECKER welcomes comments at email@example.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.
For more information on Daniel Weinstein’s art, see his site: http://www.danweinsteinsart.com/.
About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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