Women’s Work, Women’s Art
Ita Aber at Yeshiva University Museum

Written on June 26, 2007

Celestial Sphere

Could there be such a thing as Women’s Art?  From my liberal modernist perspective such a notion is foreign, threatening and, indeed, heretical.  I have long clung to the belief that art is a universal value, a vast spectrum of aesthetic experience that, with the tools of modernist form and patient understanding, can be understood despite its national origin and gender orientation.  Ita Aber’s work has taught me otherwise and a good selection of it is on view now at the Yeshiva University Museum until October 14, 2007.   Women’s art, at least as I perceive it in her work, operates with a different aesthetic, one rooted in objects and sensibilities that seem to be unique to women.

Dateline: Israel at the Jewish Museum

Written on June 12, 2007

Wanderland, 2002-4, Gelatin-silver prints (18x24) by Leora Laor Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York

Photography is a tantalizingly young medium that burst upon the visual scene with the spectacular daguerreotype invented in France in 1839.  Its use and popularity quickly spread from Europe to the Middle East so much so that an early commentator on photography, Francis Wey, called pictures that document the Orient (Palestine) “peaceful conquests.”

The Jewish Gallery

Written on May 28, 2007

Rabbi in Prayer with Torah, oil on canvas, by Jankel Adler  Courtesy of The Jewish Gallery

Something is blooming in Brooklyn that promises a dramatic revitalization of Jewish visual culture.  While it has been a long time a coming, nonetheless it is cause for heartfelt celebration, and, most importantly, your support.  On May 9th Aryeh L. Wuensch and Isaac Gross opened The Jewish Gallery, an art gallery in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) totally devoted to Jewish Art.

A Jewish Art Primer | Part 1

Written on June 20, 2006

Miscellany Aaron Lighting

Jewish Art: Any cultural production that utilizes Jewish subject matter and content drawn from; 1) all material found in Jewish sacred texts and those secular texts that explore Jewish social life and history, 2) Jewish history, from Antiquity to the present, as well as Jewish ritual, music and synagogue architecture.  And it begins with Dura Europos.  Mosaics and Murals in Antiquity. 

A Jewish Art Primer | Part 2

Written on June 20, 2006

Pour Out Your Wrath

Books to Papercuts

Seldom has a people’s cultural expression changed in so short a period of time as the revolution that overtook the Jews with the invention of moveable type and the printed book. Johannes Guttenberg’s invention in the 1450’s quickly swept south and the first Hebrew book, the Aruch, a lexicon for Talmudic study, was printed in Italy in 1470. The illuminated Hebrew manuscript was obsolete within a generation and was replaced by the printed book. The hand had been supplanted by the press.

A Jewish Art Primer | Part 3

Written on June 20, 2006


The Past and Future Collide

As the Enlightenment marched across Europe in the form of the Napoleonic conquests the effects on Jewish Art were unmistakable. Ghetto walls were breached and torn down exposing the Jewish population and its artists to a myriad of Christian and secular influences. While traditional Judaica continued to be fashioned by artisans, synagogues ornamented and books and Haggadahs illustrated, many Jewish artists now became aware of another kind of artistic expression; the art object itself. Painting became a legitimate mode of Jewish cultural expression. In this outburst of artistic freedom Moritz Oppenheim (1800-1882) is the undisputed father of Jewish painting in the nineteenth century.

A Jewish Art Primer | Part 4

Written on June 20, 2006


The New Age of Individuals

Contemporary Jewish life has been dominated by the crisis of the Modern, shaping more than anything else the profiles of Jewish Art. Traditional society is challenged, pre-modern peoples are forced into colonial empires and nationalist aspirations spout across the globe. And nowhere else has the turmoil been more apparent than in the rebirth of Palestine. Jewish Art as a national cultural expression was reborn in the Land of Israel in the early years of the 20th century. The goal of many of these immigrant artists was to create a visual expression of the Jewish people finally ensconced in their land.

A Jewish Art Primer | Part 5

Written on June 20, 2006

Shahn B

After the Catastrophe

The Holocaust, dominating Jewish Art for much of the late 20th century, is arguably the first form of Jewish Art to penetrate the mainstream cultural dialogue. The division between Jew and non-Jew in the arts begins to be erased. This unique event aimed at the destruction of the Jews quickly became the universal symbol of intolerance, hatred and racism for modern culture.

A Jewish Art Primer | Part 6

Written on June 20, 2006

Kitaj Jewish Rider

Contemporary Jewish Art

We have documented eighteen hundred years of Jewish Art production in the preceding five sections of the Jewish Art Primer. These artworks are rich and varied creative expressions of Jewish life found in mosaics, murals, manuscripts, illustrated Haggadahs, micrography, papercuts, graphic arts and paintings. Contemporary Jewish Art, easily as vital, may be the most prolific in all of Jewish history. It is characterized by a number of different modes of Jewish artistic production: Traditional Judaica; Biblical art, Diaspora / Postmodern art and Holocaust art (which we examined in Part V).

The Passion of Leah Ashkenazy

Written on February 12, 2006

Remember and Rebuild WTC Leah Ashkenazy

“…there is just something about that little girl that I can’t get out of my mind. How does she face those fire-breathing beasts?”  Four and a half years ago (September 7, 2001) I wrote about Leah Ashkenazy’s painting, “The End of Childhood” as a “complex commentary on the Shoah and how it affected the children who lived through it.”  That review came out the week before the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11th.  As a survivor of the Holocaust and now a witness to 9/11 Ashkenazy finds herself caught  between two epochal events that changed our world.  Nonetheless her artistic vision is uncomfortable with these simple parameters, rather she is inexorably drawn to the many other tragedies that have blossomed between the war against the Jews and the war against the West.   Her passionate nature finds the violent death of any child, the needless suffocation of any life, the fruits of any terror equally inimical to God’s image in which we are all created.  Her passion is not limited.

Terna's Touch

Written on January 30, 2006

Tablets for Time, acrylic on canvas (48 x 30) by Frederick Terna

Frederick Terna has a soft touch.  His images are neither strident nor angry.  The horror behind many of them is paradoxically softened by symbols and metaphors.  He is not an illustrator; indeed much of his work over the last sixty years is abstract.  Yet there is nothing abstract about the journey Frederick Terna has taken from April 1945 to today. He has lived through one of the defining events of the 20th century, managed to survive and make art.

Chava Roth's Meanings

Written on January 15, 2006

I'm Here

Pleasure and Meaning.  In the visual arts they are equally essential.  The pleasure of looking at an object, its contours, colors, texture and subsequent visual excitement is fundamental to engaging the viewer.  Lacking visual enjoyment and complexity a painting, drawing or print will quickly lose the interest of the viewer and they will move on to a more rewarding visual experience.  And a rewarding visual experience is the foundation of ascertaining the meaning of a work of visual art.

Ozeri's Bukharan Conversation

Written on January 02, 2006

Look someone in the eye and you immediately begin a narrative. Photograph them while they are looking at the camera and a cascade of narratives are launched. That is the nature of our visual selves, one of the strongest desires of the human being, the passion to connect. Zion Ozeri's photography is responsible for a flood of narration arriving from the four corners of the Jewish universe. His camera and his vision reach out to our brethren, isolated and impoverished in more ways than one, and begins a conversation. One wonders if we, his audience, will be able to respond.

Eisenberg’s Space

Written on December 18, 2005

Five on a Plate (1989), oil painting by Raphael Eisenberg Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

Space is created in the visual arts in a multitude of ways.  Illusionistic space was invented in the Renaissance and continues to be depicted in contemporary realism. This method creates the impression of looking through a window and seeing an ordered progression of objects, those closest the largest and diminishing in size as distance increases, all converging on one or more points on the horizon.

Lynn Russell: A Growing Unease

Written on November 15, 2005

Tashlich, oil on canvas (20 x 24) by Lynn Russell Courtesy Langer Gallery

Lynn Russell's work presents a vexing aesthetic problem. She insists on treading the murky line between photography and painting; between mechanical reproduction and handmade creation. Hardly alone, her quest is in fact one of the major discourses of Modern Art. The early 20th century saw the utilization of commercial typefaces, printed patterns and newspaper clippings in groundbreaking Cubist collages while at the end of the century Pop Art celebrated multimedia and Postmodernism erased the cultural distinction between art and popular culture. All aspects of aesthetic experience, from the banal to the sublime, are now legitimate material for the creation of art. The uniqueness of Russell's work rests in the fact that she operates in the arena of Jewish meaning, building a legitimate third realm that supersedes the limitations of both photography and painting.