Articles in Category: Contemporary Jewish Art

Contemporary Jewish Art

A Mohel’s Siddur
by Aryeh ben Judah Leib

Written on July 19, 2010

Tobias (detail) copied and illuminated by Aryeh ben Judah Leib of Trebitsch Courtesy The Braginsky Collection

Imagine you are a mohel and, thank God, business is booming.  It’s a good living and you even have time to sit and learn in between the jobs that seem to crop up at least once a week.  Also you do a bit of doctoring and tutoring a few children in heder.  You think, “perhaps I should have a siddur to replace my father’s worn-out printed volume that he got from his father and then from his father…oh so many years ago.

Bloom’s Bittersweet Vision
Paintings by Lloyd Bloom

Written on May 26, 2010

Lot and his Daughters, acrylic on paper by Lloyd Bloom Courtesy the Chassidic Art Institute

Upon entering Lloyd Bloom’s exhibition at the Chassidic Art Institute one is confronted by a sweet beautiful image of a lamb skipping through the air in a puffy cloud landscape.  Right next to it is an image of a goat kid cuddled up in the lap of a young shepherd.  Further down the wall we see paintings depicting a young man leining from the Torah, then women lighting Shabbos candles and finally a father and son at the seder table, all candidates to be the most emblematic scene of Jewish life imaginable.  So too an emotional scene showing a crowd of traditional Jews embracing each other sweeps us away in a wave of familiar emotions.  All true until one picks up the gallery list of paintings with each work’s title.  Little by little the façade falls away and a much more serious and tragic patina adjusts the meaning of these intriguing artworks.

Howard Lerner’s Universe
Sculpture and the Bible

Written on May 12, 2010

Ezekiel’s Vision (2006) detail; oil on wood, found objects by Howard Lerner Courtesy the artist

Walking into Howard Lerner’s studio is like falling headfirst into a Tanach made of sculpture.  Right near the door is a 10 foot high Tower of Babel.  Partially hidden behind this behemoth is a thoroughly idiosyncratic Vision of Ezekiel.  Further along into the somewhat cluttered, but not chaotic, studio is a vista of massive sculptures; The Ark of the Covenant looms ahead while Elijah’s Ascension is on the left, just past a 10 foot depiction of Enoch.  To be totally honest, it’s all a bit frightening.   Every piece is a diverse assemblage of found objects hammering home a specific passage with a literal determination.  It is as if one is inhabiting a Biblical Hall of Mirrors, each holy book or personage examined scrupulously, exaggerated and then lovingly depicted.

The Enigma of the Name
The 42 Letter Name by Robert Kirschbaum

Written on March 25, 2010

Nine Square Cube (2009)

God’s Names.  What an odd notion.  And yet they provide us with a means of knowing Him better and, simultaneously, distancing us from the unfathomable enormity of His essence. The Bible ascribes approximately nine appellations, including ‘Lord,’ ‘The Tetragrammaton’ and other variants of the name ‘God.’  Later the Rabbis evolved another nine names, all of which are references to His attributes such as Master of the Universe or the All-Merciful.  Curiously two names are only references to the number of letters that make up the otherwise mysterious and unpronounceable name; the 12 letter Name of God and the 42 letter Name of God (Kiddushin 71a). 

Szyk Haggadah
To Serve My People: Part II

Written on March 04, 2010

Haman at the Gallows; Book of Esther (1950) by Arthur Szyk

Arthur Szyk saw the face of Haman. It was Hitler. And he knew what had to be done. His only tools were his art and he labored mightily against the terrible enemy.  In the early 1930’s Szyk took up the Haggadah as his weapon. 

Ma’ayan: Zalman’s Suite

Written on January 31, 2010

And Here I Am (2009) oil on canvas, 66 x 58 by Ma’ayan Courtesy JKlaynberg Gallery

Yisgadal v’yisgadash sh’mai rabba b’alma dee v’ra chir’usay.

For many Jews a time will come when we will say these words in minyan every day, many times a day, for 11 months as part of mourning a parent.  We bravely declare, “May His great name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed.” Over and over we repeat this plea, this affirmation of the greatness of God who took away our loved one.  Our loss becomes the occasion for us to proclaim the glory of God’s name found in His creation, the very world around us.

Majzner’s Illuminated Torah

Written on January 19, 2010

Vayishlach – illumination by Victor Majzner Painting the Torah (2008), Melbourne, Australia

Auschwitz: A Graphic Novel by Pascal Croci

Pascal Croci's graphic novel, Auschwitz, begins with a question to a witness from Auschwitz-Birkenau; “How long have you been keeping all this to yourself?” The answer, “Fifty-two years,” is shocking. The novel that follows provides a glimpse into the reason why these experiences are almost impossible to speak about. And in doing so Croci uncovers more than a terrible history, he points to an intolerable present.

Kupferminc’s Wanderings

Written on October 07, 2009

Four Who Entered the Garden (2006), 15” X 24”; etching-aquatint by Mirta Kupferminc Courtesy Hebrew Union College Museum

Mirta Kupferminc is an artist who has made her artistic mission a search for meaning in a world profoundly unstable, problematic and filled with the terrors of memory not entirely her own.  As the child of Holocaust survivors, uprooted from Europe and planted in Argentina, one prevailing motif for her is that of a witness to the Holocaust one generation removed.  A prominent text panel quotes Saul Sosnowski: “…to be a witness who loves unconditionally; daring to judge God over Auschwitz and find him guilty; and pray to him still, even there, even in Auschwitz.”

Rosh Hashanah Love Letters: Illuminations of David Moss

Written on September 13, 2009

Goldberg Ketubah (1974) Acrylics and ink on paper by David Moss Courtesy “Letters of Love” by David Moss (2004)

How should we approach Hashem at this time of teshuvah? Surely with fear because we understand that our lives hang in the balance.  But another element needs to be incorporated.  Love.  Yes, love must define our relationship with the Merciful One as we declare on Yom Kippur: “For we are Your people and You are our God…we are Your friend and You are our Beloved.”

Joel Silverstein
Brighton Beach Bible

Written on July 27, 2009

Babel, 1998 (acrylic on wood, 5’ X 6’) by Joel Silverstein Courtesy the artist

“We are in effect changing the rules as to what is aesthetically acceptable….It is exciting precisely because we are changing the discourse [about Jewish visual expression and contemporary art].”  Joel Silverstein made this startling proclamation in these pages three months ago in his exhibition essay Tzelem: Presence and Likeness in Jewish Art (May 6, 2009).

Kupferstein’s Collection

Written on July 10, 2009

This is My Job, oil on canvas by N. Bingham Courtesy the Kupferstein Collection

Mr. Tibor Kupferstein has a dream.  He would like to create the first Jewish Art Museum in Brooklyn.  It doesn’t seem too farfetched considering that the borough hosts the largest concentration of Jews in the New York metropolitan area.  And yet making his personal collection of Jewish art accessible to the public has been fraught with all kinds of bureaucratic roadblocks and technical snafus that seem determined to turn a beautiful gift into a sad unfulfilled saga.  It doesn’t seem fair.

Dialogues with the Unknown
Anette Pier and Michael Hafftka at YUM

Written on June 22, 2009

Honi ha Magil, oil on canvas by Michael Hafftka Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Two deeply idiosyncratic exhibitions at Yeshiva University Museum warrant close inspection if only to show how the diverse richness of biblical and Judaic subject matter can inspire contemporary artists.  The very eclectic nature of both artist’s works speaks volumes about the possibilities available when artists take Jewish subjects seriously and subsequently embrace them with their own demons.

A Light Unto the Nation
Knesset Menorah by Benno Elkan

Written on January 05, 2009

Knesset Menorah (1956) cast bronze by Benno Elkan Jerusalem, Israel

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.  War and strife are the undeniable subjects of this 15’ foot high bronze menorah by the British artist Benno Elkan.

Shmuel der Mahler
Memory Paintings

Written on December 05, 2008

Self Portrait, (37 x 32) oil on board by Samuel Rothbort Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

Shmuel the artist is what they called him back in the Old Country.  At home and in cheder he was always drawing or modeling something.  Born in 1882 in Wolkovisk, Russia he grew up in poverty, his father a Torah scholar and mother a peddler of grain and flour.  Early on he was orphaned and with his soprano voice was apprenticed to a cantor to give performances from shtetl to shtetl in the Polesie swampy woodlands of Byelorussia.

Rabbinic Drawing in Space
Ben Schachter’s Eruv Maps

Written on November 07, 2008

Squirrel Hill Eruv (2007), 20 x 30, by Ben Schachter Courtesy Hebrew Union College Museum

In the world of art and culture the rabbis generally get a bad rap.  From time immemorial they have often been thought of as the prototypical zealous guardians, seen as prohibiting all sorts of imagery with righteous abandon, constantly erecting walls to guard against anything that might be tainted with idolatry.  Many might even argue that the pursuit of the visual arts, whether representational or abstract, to be no more that “bittle Torah,” a waste of precious time.