web analytics
September 24, 2014 / 29 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Post-Jewish Painting And Its Discontents

The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation


Through April 13, 2008


The Spertus Museum, 610 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago



 

 


         Ludwig Schwarz’s 2000 assemblage of seven altered thrift store-bought paintings, “Untitled (Born to Be Mild),” can be said to evoke Piet Mondrian’s abstract works, which rely heavily upon a simple palette and the grid. But one canvas, which depicts a camouflaged fighter jet slicing through billowing clouds and a gorgeous blue sky above a burnt-orange mountain range, is far more bizarre than anything Mondrian created.

 

         Bold black letters on the canvas declare, “Elie Wiesel vs. The Dallas Cowboys.” At publication time, the Texas-based football team (the artist is also based in Dallas) is competing in the national playoffs after posting a 13-3 record during the regular season. But however great a season the team has, what could it possibly share in common with the renowned Holocaust survivor, educator and human rights activist, and why is it competing against Wiesel?

 

 



Lilah Freedland. “dream as though you’ll live forever, live as though you’ll die today” (2003).


 

 

         The work’s lack of a title offers little interpretive guidance from the artist, but art critic and historian Lori Waxman’s essay in the catalog to the Spertus Museum’s exhibit, “The New Authentics: Artists of the Post-Jewish Generation,” which includes Schwarz’s piece, provides a little help. “Unexpected and somewhat perverse, these various high-low juxtapositions – whether of tacky furniture and serious paintings, or of bad amateur pictures and clashing cultural references – question elitist presumptions about painting while also succeeding in being quite funny,” Waxman writes of the seven pieces. “Not funny ha-ha, of course, but funny strange.”

 

         In fact, “Born to Be Mild” is in good company at the Spertus show, and the very term “post-Jewish” is a bit strange. What can post-Jewish mean in light of God’s many promises to the prophets in the Bible that no matter how much assimilation, anti-Semitism and idolatry plague the Jewish people, a remnant will always remain intact? Is the term “post-Jewish” anti-Semitic and assimilationist? Or is it simply realistic?

 

         According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, “post-” is a prefix, the etymology of which derives from the Latin, which means “after, subsequent, later.” A quick search through a few online dictionaries and encyclopedias yields no entries for “post-Jewish” or “post-Muslim/Islam,” but Wikipedia does have an entry for “post-Christian.” According to the Wiki entry, the term refers to an ideology “that is no longer rooted in the language and assumptions of Christianity, though it had previously been in an environment of ubiquitous Christianity.” If Judaism is factored into that definition, a post-Jewish era would be one of movement away from a Jewish theological-based rhetoric and lifestyle toward one of Jewish peoplehood – kosher-style instead of kosher.

 

 



Ludwig Schwarz. “Untitled (Wiggles #2)” (2003)


 

 

         According to the Spertus curatorial staff, post-Jewish is a far more complicated term. According to the exhibit’s press release, “Post-Jewish, as used here, does not imply ‘after Jewish,’ but emphasizes hybridity and challenges assumed cultural categories and fixed definitions.” As the first temporary exhibit at the Spertus’ new $55 million building on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, the “New Authentics” is perfectly aligned for offering a fresh perspective on Jewish culture.

 

         In the beginning of her catalog essay, Staci Boris, senior curator at the Spertus Museum, writes, “The ‘knowledge of not knowing,’ as Freud posited early in the last century and as the postmodern age appears to affirm, lies at the core of what it means to be a Jew.”

 

         “New Authentics” features 16 American Jewish artists (including Schwarz), who, according to the press release, are “of a certain generation” (most born in the 1960s and 1970s) and “who have varying degrees of Jewish education and affiliation and are culturally diverse, yet all of them have been shaped in some way by their Jewish backgrounds.” According to the release, the artists are typical of their generation, insofar as “most do not define themselves as Jews first and foremost, and many do not prominently assert their Jewish identity in all of their work, yet some of their concerns and fixations can be understood through their art.”

 

 



Cheselyn Amato. “Fabric Collage (Placemats, Napkins, & Deathcamps)” (2004/2007).


 


  


         New York-based Lilah Freedland’s print “dream as though you’ll live forever, live as though you’ll die today” (2003) illustrates this diversity, and also some of the dangers in such definitions. In the photo, a young man dressed as a Hassid leans against a stone wall covered with graffiti, holding a cigarette in his right hand. According to Waxman’s analysis in the catalog, the title derives from a James Dean song, so the photographic print “anticipates the current hip factor of all things Jewish,” while it also “fetishizes the young men of a certain religious sect, turning forelocks and fringes into something tall, dark, and handsome.”

 

         Clearly, to Freedland’s camera (she lived in Williamsburg at the time), the Hassid ought not to be “tall, dark, and handsome” under normal circumstances, but the cigarette lends him a cavalier, attractive aura. The same holds for Freedland’s ink and acrylic drawing, “God bless video” (2002), which shows two men wearing tallitot and tefillin. While one holds a Siddur and prays, the other carries a hand-held video camera, aimed at the viewer.

 

 



Shoshana Dentz. “home lands #13″ (2004).


 

 

         Granted, holding the camera with an arm wrapped in tefillin isn’t exactly kosher, but how better to record a holy experience in the digital age? At least the fellow’s having a holy experience.”

 

         In the context of “The New Authentics,” Hassidim with cigarettes and Jews carrying cameras in the synagogue might be postmodern symbols of the “post-Jewish” generation, but in fact many Jews smoke, and plenty of people record special occasions in the synagogue even while wearing tefillin. Some of the post-Jewish symbols are quite old hat.

 

         Other works in the show are quite provocative. Shoshana Dentz, who grew up Orthodox, addresses fences’ capacity to keep in and out in her painting “home lands #13,” which evokes concentration camp fences. Collier Schorr’s photographs of Germany reveal a swastika on a basketball hoop’s backboard in “Spielplatz (Lindenfeld)” (1997). Cheselyn Amato’s “Fabric Collage (Placemats, Napkins, & Deathcamps)” combines bright-colored patterns with an aerial image of a concentration camp.

 

         The artists of “The New Authentics” ought not to be dismissed as lesser Jews who have turned their backs on the tradition. They should not be criticized for not painting in a sufficiently Jewish manner. They should perhaps even be congratulated for their courage in introducing so much Jewish content and as many ideas as they have, for that is often aesthetic suicide in the gallery and museum world.

 

         But where the lot should be taken to task is where they turn their eyes on the Orthodox community. If they were truly postmodern Jewish artists, they would not fetishize and misrepresent the Orthodox community and seek out examples they see as breaking the Orthodox stereotype. When these artists resist being stereotyped, they should extend the same favor to their Jewish subjects, even if they do wear tzitzit and side curls.

 

         Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.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 mwecker@gmail.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Post-Jewish Painting And Its Discontents”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
NY rally against Met Opera's 'Death of Klinghoffer' opera. Sept. 22, 2014.
New York City Site of Huge Rally Against Met’s Klinghoffer Opera
Latest Sections Stories
book-diversity-divine

For each weekly reading, Rabbi Grysman begins with a synopsis of the Torah portion, followed by a focus on a major issue.

South-Florida-logo

It’s Rosh Hashanah. A new year. Time for a fresh start. Time for a new slate. Time for change.

South-Florida-logo

Governor Rick Scott visited North Miami Beach/Aventura on the morning of Wednesday, September 17.

South-Florida-logo

While the cost per student is higher than mainstream schools, Metzuyan Academy ESE is a priceless educational opportunity for children with special needs in South Florida.

Challah-pa-looza helped get the community ready and excited about the upcoming Jewish New Year.

Miami businessman and philanthropist Eli Nash had many in tears as he shared his story of the horrific abuse he suffered from age 8 to 11.

As optimistic as Menachem Rosenberg is – and he said he is going to Uman – he’s sure that this year, most of the travelers will not tour other religious sites or places in Ukraine.

Three sets of three-day Yomim Tovim can seem overwhelming – especially when we are trying to stay healthy.

Is a missed opportunity to do a mitzvah considered a sin?

The sounds and scents of the kitchen are cozy, familiar, but loud in the silence.

Everyone has a weakness. For some people it is the inability to walk past a sales rack without dropping a few hundred dollars. For others, it’s the inability to keep their house organized.

Not enjoying saying no, I often succumbed to requests viewing them as demands I couldn’t refuse.

His entire life was dedicated to Torah and he became a pivotal figure in the transmittal of the Oral Torah to the next generation.

When you don’t have anyone else to turn to… that’s when you’re tied to Hashem the closest.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/post-jewish-painting-and-its-discontents/2008/01/23/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: