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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘David Friedman’

The Amulet, The Temple, The Disfigured Book, and The Butterflies: The Art of Yona Verwer, Robert Kirschbaum, David Friedman, and Joel Silverstein

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Tzelem: Likeness and Presence in Jewish Art


Hung May 17, 2009


Curated by Joel Silverstein and Richard McBee


Stanton Street Synagogue


180 Stanton Street, New York



 

 


Throughout the ages, synagogues have housed some of the greatest examples of Jewish art, including the mosaic floors at Bet Alpha and the frescoes at Dura-Europos. Unfortunately, the fate of the works of art has been inextricably tied to their host, and much great Jewish art has perished along with the synagogues whose walls, floors, and ceilings it adorned. Not only have natural disasters and the decay process claimed many synagogues, but also many times, they have been targeted specifically by anti-Semites who sought to destroy Jewish culture and life. If the synagogues cannot help protect their art, perhaps Jewish art can save synagogues. At least that is the premise of Yona Verwer’s two protection amulets, which hung at the recent Jewish Art Salon show at the Stanton Street Synagogue.

 

Verwer, president of the salon, created the works to celebrate the religious freedoms of America and to serve as talismans, in the Kabbalistic tradition, to ward off evil. Protection Amulet Stanton Shul 1 contains a variety of symbols – a Hamsa, the Statue of Liberty, a menorah, two elephants, two lions, and a Star of David. The star derives from a stained glass window bearing the same motif at the Stanton Street Synagogue, which is particularly in need of salvation (whether by amulet or by human intervention), as the rare murals of the Zodiac signs in its sanctuary are fading quickly.

 


Yona Verwer. “Temple Talismans: Stanton Shul Amulet I.”

40″ x 40″. Acrylic on canvas. 2009.

 

 

Art has often destroyed New York, particularly the Statue of Liberty, perhaps most famously in Planet of the Apes. “If you’re planning to depict an attack on New York City in a disaster film, you need to bring your A game,” wrote Tad Friend in The New Yorker in 2004, adding that N.Y.-based disaster films “inevitably” target the Statue of Liberty. Verwer reverses this trend and instead shows Liberty lighting a menorah.

 

The series reminds me of a project by Argentinean artist Dina Bursztyn called Gargoyles to Scare Developers. Bursztyn, whom I assisted for three years in an art immersion program through the Yeshiva University Museum’s education wing, drew from traditions of mythology to protect Manhattan neighborhoods. “Amazingly ugly, and thus also pretty scary to nondevelopers like me, these gawky masks belong to a long tradition of totemic objects used to ward off intruders,” wrote Benjamin Genocchio in a New York Times review in 2004. “Redolent with magic and mystery, they appeal to higher powers.” Verwer’s amulets do not try to frighten through ugliness, but they also use a tradition of magic and mystery for their activism.

 

Robert Kirschbaum’s Akeida #54 also draws from a Kabbalistic tradition, but in a very different sort of way. Kirschbaum, a professor of fine arts at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., focuses on the Jewish sense of space – specifically sacred space – in his work on the binding of Isaac. Akeida is a black-and-white print, which shows ten tic-tac-toe-like motifs, arranged in the configuration of the Sephirot. “Aware of our dispersion, I have found a need to contain my sense of the sacred center, and to carry a sacred space within the precincts of my imagination,” he says, adding that his art seeks “to reconcile the existence of tangible sanctified architectural elements in the home and in the synagogue with the broader significance of the Temple, its destruction and its mythic re-creation.”

 


Robert Kirschbaum. “Akedah, #54.” 36″ x 32″. Inkjet print.

 

 

In Mount Moriah, Kirschbaum notes, Jewish commentators have identified not only the Temple mount, but also a “trans-historical” location of sacrifices by Adam, Noah, and Abraham. Akeida blends several elements together to explore this space with multiple historical significances – Kabbalistic symbols, study of tectonics (structure) of Hebrew letters, and grids (which have been central in modern art). The precision of the geometric elements in the foreground seems to dissolve at some points into a more foggy background, which simultaneously evokes a ram’s head (the sacrifice that replaced Isaac?) and an angel beating its wings. The overall feel of the work reminds me of some of the Kabbalistic works of German artist Anselm Kiefer, but where Kiefer’s brushstrokes tend to be violent Expressionist ones, Kirschbaum balances the chaos with the geometric order.

 

If there is a bit of Kiefer’s flavor in Akeida, there is an overwhelming reference in David Friedman’s The Self Interpreting Bible. The title of the work derives from 18th century Scottish writer John Brown, whose Self Interpreting Bible was designed to aid non-scholars.  Friedman has provided his own interpretation of the bible, which from the looks of it involves stapling (some crosses) and carving out a person-shaped blood-red gash. Visiting this kind of injury to the codex was one of Kiefer’s major projects, which involved constructing not just lead books, but entire shelves of lead books.

 


David Friedman. “Self Interpreting Bible.” Mixed Media. 14″ x 20″.

 

 

Where Kiefer’s manipulation of the book might carry Holocaust or book-burning references in its inaccessibility and illegibility, Friedman’s book is changed for postmodern reasons. “While traditional Jewish texts such as the Talmud are rarely illustrated, these manuscripts often open with a printed image of a gate on the title page,” he says. “Much of my work is about being inside and outside of those gates, exploring the divided self and the state of being in-between; aspects of identity, time, memory, belief – between G-d and the gutter. To curse and bless at once.” Like Mark Podwal’s Sefer, which also hung in the show and presents an M.C. Escher-like optical illusion in which people walk through gate on a title page of a book, Friedman portrays a vision of Jewish books that transcends the physicality of the spine and the pages.

 

This kind of topsy-turvy approach also surfaces in Joel Silverstein’s Hail (A Plague of Butterflies). Where Exodus speaks of terrifying hail, which had “fire circumscribed within the hail” (Ex. 9: 24), Silverstein shows a purple, yellow, and orange landscape with a plague not of hail but of Monarch butterflies. In composing the piece, Silverstein was drawn to a photograph of the butterflies that he saw in National Geographic. Richard McBee reminded me of references to magical yellow moths in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and in re-reading the book I found that the yellow moths indeed do present a plague of sorts. Either way, butterflies do not seem to be biblical (though there are several references to moths eating garments in Isaiah and Job), and they certainly did not rain down upon Egypt. Yet, Silverstein found a Midrash that says that the plague of Hail became a “flutter of colorful wings,” so why not butterflies? In this move, Silverstein is approaching the biblical text not just as a painter, but also as a biblical commentator.

 



Joel Silverstein. “Hail.” Acrylic on wood, 40″ x 40″.


 

 

In my previous column, I cited what I see as feminist trends in contemporary Jewish art, which surfaced in the Stanton Street Synagogue show. The four artists featured in this column have quite different approaches to very divergent subject material. But what seems to tie them together is their willingness to experiment with collage. Though a lot of deep thinking and careful techniques clearly informed the works, there is also a great playfulness in butterfly plagues and in amulets bearing American symbols to protect synagogues. 


 


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

The Stanton Street Shul and the Art of David Friedman

Wednesday, August 4th, 2004

Artists have a way of calling attention to the things we really need to see. Their sensitivity and funny way of thinking shake us up, and demand that we take notice. That’s what David Friedman has done with 16 paintings on paper currently on view at the Stanton Street Shul. The diminutive paintings, each 12 inches square, were created as a whimsical decoration for the downstairs Kiddush and weekday minyan hall as part of the community Shavuos celebration. But to call them simply “whimsical” is to miss the spirit and essence of this marvelous congregation undergoing a Renaissance, a long time a-coming.

“Borsch and Coffee: Floral Abstractions,” as the series is known, utilizes raw pigment,
acrylic, ink, spray paint, marker, gold powder and, yes, borsch juice and coffee grounds. The
last two ingredients are a lighthearted tribute to Abe Roth, the 93-year-old regular who sets
out the coffee and Kiddush on Shabbos mornings, affectionately known as the “Stanton Street
Maîdre D.” Therein lies the dynamic of a congregation that recognizes that “it takes two to
tango” and Stanton Street utilizes at least two or three generations of Jews to generate the
warmth and friendliness of a real community. The 30-something David Friedman, a
professional artist who is also showing at Artists and Fleas Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,
acknowledges this in his homage to the elder statesman Abe.

David’s paintings are flights of fancy on floral forms utilizing flowers, leaves, plants and
other fantastic flora in brightly inventive color and line. They exude a vibrancy of design,
emphasized by stenciled patterns, Hebrew letters and sensuous line that visually bring the
Shavuos holiday flowers gracing the upstairs sanctuary downstairs. It is especially the vibrating
purples and reds, some actually made of beet juice, that animate the paper paintings as they
seem to float on the whitewashed walls.

If you look carefully bits of coffee grounds enliven the surface in many of the paintings,
while others are dominated by not only the texture but the smell of java too. The quip “Ain
Torah bli kemach v’ain kemach bli Torah” quickly comes to mind reflecting on the
congregation’s Shavuos meals and learning held downstairs. The paintings are simply another
expression of the community spirit and determination that is found on Stanton Street.

The light and deft touch that characterize David’s paintings arises straight out of the
diverse and friendly congregation that is simultaneously a 90-year-old survivor of the Jewish
Lower East Side and evidence of the New Jewish revival that is transforming the surrounding
neighborhood. The community bounded by East Broadway and Grand Street, only four
blocks to the south is booming with an influx of young religious couples, while the area im-

mediately around the shul is filling with trendy restaurants, clubs, and upscale shops mixing in
with the existing Spanish businesses. It is increasingly becoming a mixed neighborhood of
artists, young professionals and working people. And in that typical New York mix there are
Jews looking for some old time religion. If they are willing to roll up their sleeves and join in,
Stanton Street Shul may be just right for them.

Originally and officially known as Congregation Bnai Jacob Anschei Brzezan, the kehilla
from Brzezen in Galicia, Poland built the current building in 1913 from two existing
structures that dated from the 1840′s. A typical “tenement style” synagogue conforming to
the standard 20′ X 100′ tenement lot size, the handsome façade graced with two round
stained glass windows leads to the well worn downstairs hall and the modest main sanctuary
above. The building, now maintained as best as they can, is badly in need of basic repairs. A
new fire escape and roof are urgently needed, as are new windows and an upgrade of the
antiquated gas fired radiator heating system. Architecturally, the Stanton Street Shul is a taste
of the modest Eastern European shuls, poor in capital but extremely rich in cultural heritage.

The main sanctuary is decorated with wall paintings of the Zodiac reflecting a motif that
was once common on the Lower East Side. Long time synagogue member and docent at the
Lower East Side Conservancy, Elissa Sampson, quips that it is ironic that now, only the richest
synagogue in the neighborhood, the Bialystoker and the poorest, Stanton Street, sport Zodiac
paintings. Folk paintings of the Tower of David and Rachel’s Tomb flank the simple but
elegant hand painted wooden Ark. Both sides of the men’s section are lined with large-scale
depictions of the Zodiac, most badly in need of restoration. Most importantly, the paintings
pose a burning question for most visitors. What is a lobster doing in an Orthodox synagogue?

Lobsters, at least the painted kind, are not unheard of in American shuls that have
Zodiac decorations. Bialystoker’s lobster oversees the davening of the main sanctuary, as does
its painted brother at Stanton Street depicting the mazel of Tamuz. It may be that one artist
copied the other in a misguided attempt to depict Cancer the Crab, the equivalent Zodiac
sign. In any event, while the origin of both sets of paintings are shrouded in mystery, their
charm is clear for all to see.

The Stanton Street Shul community is equally charming, outgoing and friendly in what amounts to an uncommon partnership between the young and old, to build a growing congregation. The elders of the congregation are respected; some say venerated, and they respond with a warmth that brings alive the legacy of Polish Jewry. The congregation’s president, Benny Sauerhaft, recently had his 89th birthday celebration at a shul Kiddush. David Friedman sculpted his portrait for the occasion. It looked exactly like the 40-year veteran of the shul and tasted good too! Yes, it was sculpted out of chopped liver and vegetables and the congregation enjoyed the masterpiece up to the last morsel. That’s just the kind of creative and nourishing partnership these Jews, young and old, singles and families have down on the new and improved Jewish Lower East Side.

“Borsch and Coffee: Floral Abstractions,” by David Friedman. The Stanton Street Shul
(Congregation Bnai Jacob Anschei Brzezan), 180 Stanton Street, between Clinton and
Attorney Streets, NY, NY 212-533-4122; www.stantonstreetshul.com . David Freidman,
fryfryfry@hotmail.com


Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

The Stanton Street Shul And The Art Of David Friedman

Wednesday, July 14th, 2004

Artists have a way of calling attention to the things we really need to see. Their sensitivity and funny way of thinking shake us up, and demand that we take notice. That’s what David Friedman has done with 16 paintings on paper currently on view at the Stanton Street Shul. The diminutive paintings, each 12 inches square, were created as a whimsical decoration for the downstairs Kiddush and weekday minyan hall as part of the community Shavuos celebration. But to call them simply “whimsical” is to miss the spirit and essence of this marvelous congregation undergoing a Renaissance, a long time a-coming.

“Borsch and Coffee: Floral Abstractions,” as the series is known, utilizes raw pigment, acrylic, ink, spray paint, marker, gold powder and, yes, borsch juice and coffee grounds. The last two ingredients are a lighthearted tribute to Abe Roth, the 93-year-old regular who sets out the coffee and Kiddush on Shabbos mornings, affectionately known as the “Stanton Street Maîdre D.” Therein lies the dynamic of a congregation that recognizes that “it takes two to tango” and Stanton Street utilizes at least two or three generations of Jews to generate the warmth and friendliness of a real community. The 30-something David Friedman, a professional artist who is also showing at Artists and Fleas Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, acknowledges this in his homage to the elder statesman Abe.

David’s paintings are flights of fancy on floral forms utilizing flowers, leaves, plants and other fantastic flora in brightly inventive color and line. They exude a vibrancy of design, emphasized by stenciled patterns, Hebrew letters and sensuous line that visually bring the Shavuos holiday flowers gracing the upstairs sanctuary downstairs. It is especially the vibrating purples and reds, some actually made of beet juice, that animate the paper paintings as they seem to float on the whitewashed walls.

If you look carefully bits of coffee grounds enliven the surface in many of the paintings, while others are dominated by not only the texture but the smell of java too. The quip “Ain Torah bli kemach v’ain kemach bli Torah” quickly comes to mind reflecting on the congregation’s Shavuos meals and learning held downstairs. The paintings are simply another expression of the community spirit and determination that is found on Stanton Street.

The light and deft touch that characterize David’s paintings arises straight out of the diverse and friendly congregation that is simultaneously a 90-year-old survivor of the Jewish Lower East Side and evidence of the New Jewish revival that is transforming the surrounding neighborhood. The community bounded by East Broadway and Grand Street, only four
blocks to the south is booming with an influx of young religious couples, while the area immediately around the shul is filling with trendy restaurants, clubs, and upscale shops mixing in
with the existing Spanish businesses. It is increasingly becoming a mixed neighborhood of
artists, young professionals and working people. And in that typical New York mix there are
Jews looking for some old time religion. If they are willing to roll up their sleeves and join in,
Stanton Street Shul may be just right for them.

Originally and officially known as Congregation Bnai Jacob Anschei Brzezan, the kehilla
from Brzezen in Galicia, Poland built the current building in 1913 from two existing
structures that dated from the 1840′s. A typical “tenement style” synagogue conforming to
the standard 20′ X 100′ tenement lot size, the handsome façade graced with two round
stained glass windows leads to the well worn downstairs hall and the modest main sanctuary
above. The building, now maintained as best as they can, is badly in need of basic repairs. A
new fire escape and roof are urgently needed, as are new windows and an upgrade of the
antiquated gas fired radiator heating system. Architecturally, the Stanton Street Shul is a taste
of the modest Eastern European shuls, poor in capital but extremely rich in cultural heritage.

The main sanctuary is decorated with wall paintings of the Zodiac reflecting a motif that
was once common on the Lower East Side. Long time synagogue member and docent at the
Lower East Side Conservancy, Elissa Sampson, quips that it is ironic that now, only the richest
synagogue in the neighborhood, the Bialystoker and the poorest, Stanton Street, sport Zodiac
paintings. Folk paintings of the Tower of David and Rachel’s Tomb flank the simple but
elegant hand painted wooden Ark. Both sides of the men’s section are lined with large-scale
depictions of the Zodiac, most badly in need of restoration. Most importantly, the paintings
pose a burning question for most visitors. What is a lobster doing in an Orthodox synagogue?

Lobsters, at least the painted kind, are not unheard of in American shuls that have Zodiac decorations. Bialystoker’s lobster oversees the davening of the main sanctuary, as does its painted brother at Stanton Street depicting the mazel of Tamuz. It may be that one artist copied the other in a misguided attempt to depict Cancer the Crab, the equivalent Zodiac sign. In any event, while the origin of both sets of paintings are shrouded in mystery, their charm is clear for all to see.

The Stanton Street Shul community is equally charming, outgoing and friendly in what amounts to an uncommon partnership between the young and old, to build a growing congregation. The elders of the congregation are respected; some say venerated, and they respond with a warmth that brings alive the legacy of Polish Jewry. The congregation’s president, Benny Sauerhaft, recently had his 89th birthday celebration at a shul Kiddush. David Friedman sculpted his portrait for the occasion. It looked exactly like the 40-year veteran of the shul and tasted good too! Yes, it was sculpted out of chopped liver and vegetables and the congregation enjoyed the masterpiece up to the last morsel. That’s just the kind of creative and nourishing partnership these Jews, young and old, singles and families have down on the new and improved Jewish Lower East Side.

“Borsch and Coffee: Floral Abstractions,” by David Friedman. The Stanton Street Shul
(Congregation Bnai Jacob Anschei Brzezan), 180 Stanton Street, between Clinton and
Attorney Streets, NY, NY 212-533-4122; www.stantonstreetshul.com. David Freidman,
fryfryfry@hotmail.com.

  
Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-stanton-street-shul-and-the-art-of-david-friedman/2004/07/14/

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