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The online Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art preserves the rich artistic heritage of the Jewish people throughout time and across the globe.
Joel Silverstein is a comrade-in-arms. We share many ideas about the creation and nature of contemporary Jewish Art, as well as a commitment to the growing Jewish Art community, exemplified by the Jewish Art Salon of which we are both founding members and curators. This exhibition of his recent work at the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life at Columbia/Barnard gives us the crucial opportunity to examine the complex richness of his artwork.
Photographs seems like cruel slices from the past, frozen images of what will never be again. Since we assume the photographic image is, by and large, a factual view of some reality, it is inherently believed and trusted. But now be forewarned. It ain’t necessarily so. Bill Aron’s new images at the 92nd Street Y betray and beguile so as to force us to reassess the meaning of what we see.
Boris Schatz (1866 – 1932) had a revolutionary vision. He believed that the creation of a new modern Jewish visual culture would become a major force to both articulate a Jewish national identity and sustain the Zionist enterprise. In 1904 he approached Zionist leader Theodor Herzl with the proposal to establish a national arts and crafts school in Palestine and got his blessing. Tragically Herzl died later that year, but the Zionist leadership in Vienna assumed responsibility for the project and its funding.
The exhibitions that precede Judaic auctions are rather special events for anyone who has a feeling for the fabric of Jewish life as it has been lived for the last 500 years. Not only is one afforded the opportunity to see a wide variety of Judaica, books, manuscripts and Jewish art of considerable historic importance, but if something strikes your fancy; intellectually or acquisitively, you can actually handle the objects. For most artwork the thrill is in seeing it up close and judging the brushstrokes and details of a painting or watercolor. One stands in the exact proximity as the creator did.
The auction at Christie’s in Paris this May 11 of a Tuscan Mahzor, created and illuminated in the 1490’s, will be an extraordinary event. This rare example of illuminated Jewish art has not been seen publically in over 500 years and, aside from tantalizing internal suggestions, lacks conclusive identification of the scribe and illuminators. Because the gold-tooled goatskin binding was made about 50 years after the manuscript and has a different coat of arms than those found in the machzor, it is assumed that this prayerbook may have quickly changed hands.
One thing is certain about Robert Feinland - he has shuls on his mind. His career has spanned over 40 years, exploring landscape, cityscape, sculpture and abstraction. For many of those years he has focused on the relentlessly changing urban landscape of New York, feeling the necessity to document and, in some way preserve, the physical fabric of the city he loves. A selection of recent paintings, most concentrating on the Crown Heights community, is currently at the Chassidic Art Institute. Many of the images are of shuls.
The Golden Haggadah was created in Catalonia, Spain sometime around 1320. So named because all the illustrations are placed against a patterned gold-leaf background, it is a ritual object of incredible luxury and expense. In light of Marc Michael Epstein’s analysis found in his recent book The Medieval Haggadah, this tiny masterpiece of Jewish art easily ranks among other towering works of complex narration including Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling in Rome.
Bird’s Head Haggadah Revealed The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination By Marc Michael Epstein, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2011
The midrashic world is a dangerous place to inhabit. It delves into our sacred texts to fathom their deeper meanings, solve vexing textual and conceptual problems and, finally, make sense of the holy words in contemporary terms. Midrash is passionate and deeply creative, like the current midrashic paintings of Brian Shapiro.
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.
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.
The world is complicated. Surely it seems that Divine justice is elusive. God's role is frequently masked and our human situation is terribly fragile. Yet according to artist Batya F. Kuncman our condition is "most promising." Her optimistic artwork is designed to illuminate this shadowy nature of our existence and strives for clarity and ultimate closeness to God. In "Landscapes for Humanity," currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, images of infants are the tools she uses to explicate her belief.
Monkeys and apes are generally symbols of base passion, particularly lust, in Western art. Giovanni Battista Foggini's 17th century bronze sculpture "The Fall of Man" shows not only the serpent dangling from the Tree of Knowledge tempting Adam and Eve, but also a monkey seated behind the tree eating an apple. Foggini may have gotten the idea from Jan Brueghel the Elder, whose 1612 painting "Garden of Eden" features a monkey prominently, or from a c. 1410 "The Garden of Eden" by an unknown artist in Frankfurt. A century earlier, Martin Luther had famously referred to Satan as "God's ape," building upon the then-popular view of monkeys as unintelligent animals that simply mimicked primitive human behavior.
Jewish Art is a grass-roots movement whose time has come. It has evolved precisely because there are those who are moved by their Jewish heritage and wish to share this experience with the art world, the general public and the Jewish community. There has never been such an exciting time.
While the heart of Israel's democracy is to be found in the Knesset in Jerusalem, just across the road is a quiet but persuasive work of art that sums up the awesome narrative of Jewish history that finally brought us to the Land of Israel.
Much like the Jewish people themselves, the legacy of Jewish Art has miraculously survived seemingly endless assaults over the past two centuries.
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