Writings

Max Miller’s Kaddish
A Year’s Journey in 50 Shuls

Written on March 24, 2008

Temple Judea, Coral Gables, Florida (2005), watercolor on paper by Max Miller Courtesy the artist

To make a pilgrimage is to travel far and participate in something holy, singular and transformative.  On the death of a parent Jews make a pilgrimage thrice daily to a synagogue to participate in the same ritual, the kaddish said over and over.   It doesn’t have to be far or near.  It simply must be a place that Jews have decided is holy.  And if we open our hearts, it is always transformative.  That is what Max Miller discovered and documented in the year he said kaddish for his father.

Warhol’s Jews
Ten Portraits Reconsidered

Written on March 24, 2008

Gertrude Stein (1980) acrylic and ink on canvas by Andy Warhol “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” Jewish Museum, New York

When an artist creates, intention, elementary to the creative process, is paradoxically secondary to the finished work.  Once the art work is on view in the larger world it must stand on its own, engaging the audience on its aesthetic merits and creating a meaningful dialogue by means of its content and subject matter.

Esther in Venice
In Search of Images of Esther

Written on March 01, 2008

Banishment of Vashti (1556), (Detail), oil on canvas by Paolo Veronese Courtesy Church of San Sebastiano, Venice [wga.hu]

I was thinking about Esther the other day when I realized that there are almost no Jewish representations of our most favorite heroine and her story.  Now of course the tradition of illuminated megillas, many produced in the 17th century, is an exception.

Megillat Esther
The Graphic Novel by JT Waldman

Written on February 10, 2008

Megillat Esther by JT Waldman (2005) The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia

JT Waldman’s Megillat Esther is brash, loud and groundbreaking.  Created as a graphic novel it is the first time the megillah has been illustrated in this radical late 20th century art form.  Nonetheless, the question remains; can a comic book express the complexity of the Book of Esther?

One Family
Photographs of Vardi Kahana

Written on January 23, 2008

Three Sisters, 1992 by Vardi Kahana Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

The Holocaust was “Ground Zero of the Greenwald-Kahana family.”  In the midst of the murderous fury of 1944 three sisters were tattooed with consecutive numbers in Auschwitz.  They were lucky; they survived while so many of their family perished.  The sisters found their way to Israel where they met men, married, had children who had children who will have children.

The Name
Feinsmith Quartet at Merkin Concert Hall

Written on January 04, 2008

Daniel David Feinsmith

To encounter God is an elemental quest of mankind.  And yet for Jews it is paradoxically impossible and immediate.  In any physical sense we know that “…no human can see My face and live” (Exodus 33:20) even as we stand before our God three times daily in our prayers. Arnold Schoenberg’s three-act unfinished 1932 opera, Moses and Aron, grapples with the central paradox that the Jewish artist must inevitably confront, namely the ineffable presence of God.

Baruch HaShem: Other Views
Paintings and Objects by Lynn Russell

Written on December 30, 2007

One Way (2006), 27 x 21, painted photograph by Lynn Russell

Lynn Russell’s current exhibition at the Chassidic Art Institute challenges us with a piety that resists all easy answers.  First there are the Baruch HaShem pieces, highly unusual collaged texts combining letters, images and objects that somehow lead us to the painted and altered photographs of Jewish life, finally guiding us to her signature image, “One Way.”  Exactly where is the artist taking us?

Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses
Woodcarving from the Synagogue to the Carousel

Written on November 18, 2007

Standing Horse with Raised Head by Charles Carmel, Coney Island, c.1910 The Charlotte Dinger Collection Photo by August Bandal, New York

Much like the Jewish people themselves the legacy of Jewish Art has miraculously survived seemingly endless assaults of the past two centuries.  In Eastern Europe the forces of assimilation, cultural denial and holocaust have worked tirelessly to abandon, reject and destroy a vast portion of our cultural birthright.

Davidson, Singer and the Jews

Written on October 19, 2007

Storekeepers from a candy store on Avenue B (1973) gelatin silver print by Bruce Davidson Collection of the artist, courtesy of the Howard Greenberg Gallery.   © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos.

Sometime in 1967 Bruce Davidson, the photographer, met Isaac Bashevis Singer, the writer and they went down to the Lower East Side to the Garden Cafeteria to chat, have coffee and rice pudding.  It began a creative friendship that lasted more than twenty years until Singer passed away in 1991.

Bible Scenes

Written on October 02, 2007

Akeida  (1989), oil on canvas (60 x 38) by David Wander

“And the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”  Rabbi Tarphon said: That fish was specially appointed from the six days of creation to swallow up Jonah…He entered its mouth just as a man enters the great synagogue, and he stood.  The two eyes of the fish were like windows of glass giving light to Jonah.”  (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer; 10)

Zabari’s Figures

Written on September 20, 2007

Moshe Zabari has accomplished a remarkable feat…he has put the Matriarchs literally on top of the Torah.  What a triumph for religious feminism, what a triumph for Jewish Art! His recent series of sterling silver Torah Finials (Rimonim) feature Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah as the honored subjects to effectively crown our holy scrolls.

Ritual and Repetition

Written on September 06, 2007

Tzedakah (1999), by Harriete Estel Berman; pre-printed steel Courtesy The Jewish Museum

The bedrock of all religion is repetition.  Tradition as a religious concept is nothing less than the repetition of rituals, dress, thought and behavior of preceding generations.  For Jews the amount of repetition that is found in one’s life naturally expresses the degree of one’s piety.

Sarah’s Miscalculation

Written on August 24, 2007

Abraham Entertaining the Angels (1656) detail of Sarah and her angel Photo courtesy Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum

Rembrandt’s etching, “Abraham Entertaining the Angels is a pristine jewel of Biblical narrative.  The artist depicts the exact moment the story reveals its true meaning.  The guests have been comfortably seated and served refreshments by Abraham himself, shown humbly waiting on them in the lower right corner.

Frydlender’s Constructions

Written on August 09, 2007

Raid. 2003, Chromogenic color print by Barry Frydlender Collection of Miriam and David Landau, NY

What is Frydlender up to?

Barry Frydlender, the prominent Israeli photographer, is currently privileged with simultaneous exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  His New York exhibition consists of a mere 10 works that examine various aspects of Israeli life today.

Caravaggio and Evil

Written on July 26, 2007

David with the Head of Goliath (1606), oil on canvas (48” X 39”) by Caravaggio Galleria Borghese, Rome

Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio (1571-1610) was well acquainted with evil.  His short violent life careened wildly between prestigious painting commissions from the most powerful men in Rome and drunken street brawls with the lowest of the low.