Laura Kruger at the Hebrew Union College Museum
Hebrew Union Collage – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum
One West 4th Street, New York, NY 10012; 212 824 2205
Mon. – Thurs. 9am – 5pm; Friday, 9am – 3pm.
Free Admission (Photo ID required
The Joseph Gallery at Hebrew Union College was first opened in 1983 under the direction of Reva Kirschberg, historian of Jewish Art and Judaica and founder of the Bernard Museum of Judaica at Temple Emanu-El. Over the years the HUC Museum has expanded and since 1991 has been curated by Laura Kruger under the sound directorship of Jean Bloch Rosensaft. Kruger’s assistants Phyllis Freedman, Nancy Mantell and, recently, Rose Starr along with Lizzi Bolger have all been invaluable in executing her curatorial vision.
Over the last 31 years the museum has created and/or hosted over 80 exhibitions and with the exception of the Steinhardt Judaica collection, all exhibitions have exclusively presented contemporary Jewish Art. Organized as thematic group shows or as surveys of individual Jewish artists, a color catalogue with essays frequently accompanied each exhibition. From this impressive array of contemporary Jewish Art representing the work of well over one hundred Jewish artists, there has been created 25 traveling exhibitions that have visited 110 separate venues in the United States in the last 7 years. No other Jewish museum has even remotely concentrated and promoted contemporary Jewish Art to this extent. It is hard to understand why the American Jewish cultural establishment has not similarly championed contemporary Jewish visual art.
Broadly speaking, the group exhibitions at HUC Museum focus on either the issues of the day appropriated by Jewish eyes; such as: women, race, aging, sexuality, film, war and America; or explicitly Jewish concepts such as Shabbos, Israel, Jewish Communities, Biblical women, Holocaust and Jewish holidays. Some of these have been enormously significant; such as “Waldsee” (2005), in which contemporary artists confront the Nazi attempt to lure Hungarian Jews to their deaths in Auschwitz; “Sexuality Spectrum” (2013), that examined how Judaism copes with the range of sexual orientation and “Envisioning Maps” (2008), that was a radical examination of borders, space, limits, history and halacha. One group exhibition, “The L.A. Story” (2007) presented ten West Coast Jewish artists who were part of the Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California founded by Ruth Weisberg in 2003. This exhibition, the subsequent panels and discussions were the impetus for the creation of the Jewish Art Salon in 2008, now a major international forum of contemporary Jewish Art.
Providing a forum for individual artists is fundamental to nurture a visual culture. This is exactly what I have attempted to do in a decade of Jewish Press columns. But without an actual place to show their work, engage an audience and a larger culture, artists will soon abandon their creative struggles. Within the constraints of her hosting institution, Laura Kruger has been a sympathetic eye to legions of Jewish artists in the two decades that have witnessed an explosion of Jewish visual creativity. This role is crucial to nurture contemporary Jewish Art.
This of course begs the question as to why a Jewish visual culture has any value at all. Therefore I posit that that Jewish Art is another aspect of a beis midrash as the place of Torah study. Artists who base their works on Jewish concerns, the Jewish people, history and textual traditions are engaged in an essential aspect of Torah study. They need to test their ideas, new or old, against both aesthetic and religious traditions. Additionally, they need to reflect and/or pushback against biblical text, Talmudic and midrashic opinion as another aspect of their own creativity. To engage the viewer with Jewish thought they need to visually entertain and keep them looking at things Jewish. Finally, to enlarge and add more people to the ongoing conversation about the vitality of the Jewish people today those who create Jewish Art are vital in strengthening us with a modern cultural identity to better defend us against the many who wish to harm and destroy us. As far as I am concerned, Jewish visual culture is fundamental to Jewish survival.
Chazak chazak, v’vischazeik!
- Posted in: Contemporary Jewish Art