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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Yona Verwer’

Artists 4 Israel: Response Art Series & Terror: Artists Respond

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Artists 4 Israel: Response Art Series
September 1 – 14, 2011 – Opening September 1; 7:00 p.m.


Terror: Artists Respond

September 18 – October 2, 2011 – Opening September 18; 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Shofar Project Flash Mob – 1:15pm see http://web.me.com/yvf/Terror/Images.html

 

Dershowitz Center Gallery: Industry City – 220 36th Street, Brooklyn, NY

1:00 p.m. – 6:00 pm.

 


There is a short list of things that really matter: family, friends, country and faith the most.  For many Jews, our people and Israel occupy an almost sacred place in the order of commitment and passion.  Therefore, when either the Jewish people or the legitimacy of the State of Israel are attacked and slandered, we react passionately.  In a visceral way these things are crucial to the very core of our identity. How do contemporary Jewish artists respond?


The answer is emphatically provided by two exhibitions in September at the Dershowitz Center Gallery at Industry City (Bush Terminal) in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn.  The Response Art Series created by Sheryl Intrator and Artists 4 Israel has challenged New York area artists to create works that support Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.  All of the works are newly created and are in response to a recent series of pro-Israel lectures, panel discussions and the Fogel family memorial service at Congregation Kehillat Jeshurun in Manhattan. 


Terror: Artists Respond curated by Chava Evans and Yona Verwer (in collaboration with Jewish Art Salon, Art Kibbutz NY and Mima’amakim) solicited an international group of artists to submit works that reflect their reaction to terror attacks in the ten years since 9/11.  Both shows demonstrate the passionate response of Jewish artists to these dual threats: accusations of illegitimacy and random violence and murder.  The result is moving, creative and devastating.


Dan Keinan’s riveting and ironic image of five religious girls running and playing on the concrete base of the security wall introduces us to a seldom explored side of the consequences of terror.  While the barrier’s deleterious effect on Palestinians has been endlessly used in anti-Israel propaganda, the effect on Israeli youth has been seldom explored as effectively as this image, Growing under Concrete.



Growing Under Concrete, photograph (28 x 42), by Dan Keinan
Courtesy: Terror: Artists Respond

 

 

In the Response Art series Dorene Schwartz-Weitz’s plaster relief Hanging by a Thread is an elegant commentary on one aspect of Israeli existence. While generally life in Israel is overwhelmingly normal, there is the nagging realization that in an instant tragedy could explode – by a suicide bomber, missile strike or vicious personal attack. A hand of God mysteriously emerging from the sky is frequently shown in ancient Jewish mosaics (Beit Alpha) and paintings (Dura Europos) and here Schwartz-Weitz’s image utilizes the same motif to interrogate the role of God in terror attacks.

 

 


Hanging by a Thread, plaster relief by Dorene Schwartz-Weitz
Courtesy: Response Art Series


 

Jewish artistic responses to attacks against Jews have a particularly rich history, especially in the 20th century.  Holocaust art is of course a prime example with one of the earliest examples, Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion (1938), being the artist’s challenge to Judaize this iconic Christian image into a scathing examination of European Jewish suffering.  Noteworthy among many other examples is Arthur Szyk’s Haggadah (1934 – 1936) that reconceives Egyptian cruelty as a direct predecessor to German oppression and anti-Semitism. 


Ksenja Pesaric’s response utilizes the ancient symbol of the Burning Bush in a unique metaphor.  Her painting shows the bush disintegrating even as it remains resolutely whole, effectively a questioning comment on the seemingly endless attacks on Israel.  While the biblical burning bush represented the mystery of God’s fidelity to the Children of Israel, in the extended metaphor surely it is too much to ask the Jewish people to endure constant flames of hate.  And yet we have no choice.

 

 


Burning Bush, painting by Ksenija Pecaric
Courtesy: Response Art Series

 

 

The visceral reality of terror is disturbingly explored in Eden Morris’s Sacrificed. Starting with a blood-red target Morris presents us with the broken image of a woman literally sliced apart by an angry triangle of glass painted with a Renaissance image of a martyr.  We see the young woman’s shocked face, eyes wide-open locked in a lifeless stare.  Terror has become personal, violent and unbearable.

 

 


Sacrificed, detail; painting by Eden Morris
Courtesy: Terror: Artists Respond

 

It is the unbearable nature of baseless hate that causes Jewish artists to react with such originality and passion.  In the last 20 years two artists have notoriously created responses in the postmodern form of the graphic novel.  Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986-1991) casts mice as the Jews and cats as the Nazis to retell his father’s survival of the Holocaust and post-war travails.  It simultaneously creates distance and intimacy in the search for understanding and closure in a Holocaust survivor’s offspring, the author and artist himself.  In a radically different approach to dissecting exactly where anti-Semitic hate come from, Will Eisner’s last graphic novel, The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (2005) traces the history of the Protocols first fabricated by Tsarist secret police and then promoted by Henry Ford, Adolf Hitler, the Ku Klux Klan and Islamic fundamentalists among countless others.  This is the “father of the graphic novel’s” (NY Times) heroic attempt to set the record straight for his people and help turn back the tide of hate. 


Both exhibitions at the Dershowitz Center Gallery have a plentitude of outstanding works of art supporting Israel and uncovering the dangerous face of terror.  The Response Art Series will show close to 70 works by over 27 artists.  The Terror: Artists Respond is also showing approximately 27 artists, including many who have worked with significant Jewish content before; including Barry Frydlender, Tamar Hershl, Robert Kirschbaum, Batya Kuncman, Yona Verwer, Julian Voloj, Ahron Weiner and Adi Nes. In a way the Response Art Series presents a greater challenge to the artists since notions of national legitimacy and rights are broad concepts with few narrative clues for visual translation.  Terror, on the other hand, is by its very nature concrete and narrative and thereby more directly translatable into images.  That observation aside, both shows deal with complex and terribly important issues courageously and forthrightly.

 

 


Kaddish, painting by Shoshannah Brombacher
Courtesy: Terror: Artists Respond

 

When all is said and done it is Jewish faith that drives love of Israel and the Jewish people.  Shoshannah Brombacher’s hallucinatory Kaddish seemed to sum up the locus of that faith, much as the kaddish itself, said countless times each day.  The kaddish is unique in Jewish prayer, never mentioning God directly and, as a form of praise and celebration of God, only refers to “the Name” as the object of our adoration and blessing. It is the abstract nature of the kaddish, both in mourning and in praise, that allows us to focus on the actual substance of what we believe.  Brombacher’s image mysteriously mixes the Aramaic text with fleeting images, snippets of figures dashing off the page, smudges of explosions interspersed with blotches of black that summon violence and blood.  And yet in this chaos we insist on our faith in our God.  This is why these artists effectively had no choice but to respond to the threat in our time to that which we hold dear.
 
 
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com.

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

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

web.me.com/yvf/JewishArtSalon

 

 

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 Garc?a M?rquez’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 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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-amulet-the-temple-the-disfigured-book-and-the-butterflies-the-art-of-yona-verwer-robert-kirschbaum-david-friedman-and-joel-silverstein/2009/05/27/

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