Chagall: Love, War and Exile

Written on November 07, 2013

Chagall - Christ in the Night
Groundbreaking and courageous.  The current exhibition at the Jewish Museum has tackled what is easily the most vexing subject in the career of the most beloved of Jewish artists; Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985). Namely: his persistent, indeed obsessive, use of the crucifixion as a symbol of Jewish suffering and persecution.  The exhibition; “Chagall: Love, War and Exile;” under the expert direction of Senior Curator Emerita Susan Tumarkin Goodman, has traced Chagall’s lifelong fascination with the emblem of Christianity, especially in his work created during the Holocaust.

Lynda Caspe: Biblical Reliefs and Cityscapes

Written on October 24, 2013

Caspe - Abraham - and - Isaac
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event.  In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique for this mature and well-established New York artist.  For the vast majority of visual artists this kind of later-life conceptual adventure is highly unusual and fraught with intellectual and artistic dangers that Caspe blithely casts aside.  

Milewicz Paintings
the soul exceeds its circumstances

Written on September 26, 2013

Milewicz - Inside-Out Overcoat
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949; “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”  This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse.  Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong.  Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.

The Art of Eli Frucht

Written on February 10, 2011

Frucht - Rabbi's Discourse
How and why does a person become an artist? The ways and means are many and yet each person finds their own unique path; sometimes straight and clear, other times complex and surprising. Eli Frucht's blos­soming as an artist in his middle age is simultaneously unexpected and yet curiously predictable.

Hyman Bloom's Studio

Written on September 11, 2013

Bloom - Jew with Torah
“Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings (1940 – 2005),” currently at White Box (the cutting edge international art space on Broome Street), is a rare opportunity to observe the creative process of one of the most important practitioners of 20th century Jewish Art in America.    It is as if the artist invited you into the most private recesses of his studio (which in reality he never would permit), put his arm around you and explained, “this is exactly how an artist makes paintings about being a modern Jew.”  Considering the subject of the paintings and the nature of the venue, this is a shocking and gusty show.

Defiance The Movie

Written on January 29, 2009

Defiance the Movie
When God hides His face, it seems Jews are on their own. "Defiance," the story of the Jewish partisan combat group headed by the Bielski brothers in the new movie by Edward Zwick, is the narrative of Jews on their own. During the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Nazis and their local collaborators mercilessly slaughtered Jews wherever they found them in the countryside. In the cities, they were ghettoized and then systematically deported to death camps.

Contemporary Book Art and Hebrew Texts: MOBIA

Written on July 28, 2013

The “book” is a mighty big place these days and the current exhibition at MOBIA, “As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts” is no exception.  Highly mobile eBooks compete with online publications and traditionally bound volumes, scrolls, accordion-style tomes and folios that present equally exciting options for contemporary artists to interact with image and text in one unifying medium.  The 14 artists shown here take advantage of many of these possibilities to consider distinctly traditional Hebrew texts.  

Old and New: Mark Podwal’s Textiles for the Altneuschul in Prague

Written on December 22, 2011

Mark Podwal is a busy, busy man.  When I wrote that in these pages in September, 2010 it is now clear I didn’t know the half of it…witness his current exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum.  In what is effectively a love song to his adopted city, Prague, Podwal has had the delicious opportunity to give her Jewish community a spanking new Chanukah gift; the new Torah curtain, shulhan covers and Torah mantles.  For a Jewish artist and lover of Prague like Podwal it doesn’t get any better than that.

Podwal’s Books

Written on September 09, 2010

Good and Evil
Mark Podwal is a busy, busy man.  He has spent the last 38 years making every conceivable kind of art: innumerable paintings, 28 illustrated books written by him and the likes of Elie Wiesel, Harold Bloom and Francine Prose, children’s books, Haggadot, ceramics and graphic works. Dubbed the “Master of the True Line” by author Cynthia Ozick he has been seen on the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times since 1972 with pro-Israel political cartoons and drawings. 

Lilith by Siona Benjamin

Written on July 14, 2011

Siona Benjamin’s exhibition “Finding Home: The Art of Siona Benjamin” is simply beautiful.  Set in the spacious lobby gallery of the JCC Manhattan, it allows for a peaceful (when the kids, nannies and crowds subside) contemplation of this complex artist’s meditations on biblical women, war, exoticism and contemporary society.  

Siona Benjamin’s Megillas Esther

Written on March 24, 2011

Hanging Haman's Sons
There is nothing funny about Siona Benjamin’s Megillas Esther (2010).  Unlike some contemporary illuminated megillas that emphasize the absurd and outlandish nature of the corrupt Persian court and the buffoonish character of the king, Benjamin takes the Book of Esther quite seriously.  She is obviously deeply sensitive to the terrible consequences of God’s hester panim (hidden face) in our own time.

Learning to Count: Omer Counter by Judith Margolis
Published by www.brightideabooks.com

Written on June 04, 2009

Margolis Omer Counter
I am still counting. But when you, dear reader, see this, you will have finished, having safely arrived at Matan Torah.  Nonetheless, even if you meditated deeply each and every day, the fact is that we still need to count, and ponder the myriad paths of spiritual elevation that Hashem continues to offer us.   If we could just become a bit more aware of them.  Judith Margolis’ Omer Counter, currently exhibited at Hebrew Union College Museum, offers a visual and textual guide into these riches.

Harry McCormick’s Paintings: A Unique Jewish Genre

Written on July 02, 2013

Friday Night Candles
At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life.  This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but within the major works he is showing, six works reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.

Fine Judaica Auction
June 20, 2013 Kestenbaum & Company

Written on June 15, 2013

German Silver & Enamel Kiddush Cup
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights.  The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition from June 16 through June 19th (Sunday – Noon – 6pm; Monday – Wednesday – 10am – 6pm) is no exception.  

Visions at an Exhibition
Paintings by Leah Raab and Shany Saar NY Studio School MFA Thesis Exhibition

Written on May 30, 2013

Mannequin at War - Raab
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt.  With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.  Leah Raab and Shany Saar recently showed their work at the prestigious New York Studio School (8th Street and Fifth Avenue) Master of Fine Art Thesis exhibition.  Both artists work, brimming with Jewish content, was eye-opening.