Shuls On My Mind
Robert Feinland’s Paintings

Written on April 01, 2012

Rebbe’s House (2002), oil on linen by Robert Feinland Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

One thing is certain about Robert Feinland.  He has shuls on his mind.  His career has spanned over 40 years, exploring landscape, cityscape, sculpture and abstraction.  For many of those years he has focused on the relentlessly changing urban landscape of New York, feeling the necessity to document and, in some way preserve, the physical fabric of the city he loves. A selection of recent paintings, most concentrating on the Crown Heights community, is currently at the Chassidic Art Institute.  Many of the images are of shuls.

Bird’s Head Haggadah Revealed
The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination By Marc Michael Epstein, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2011

Written on March 18, 2012

Therefore: the Seder fol 26v, (ca.1300) illuminated manuscript, Israel Museum Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein Yale University Press, 2011

The Dura Europos synagogue murals (245 CE) evidenced the first great flowering of Jewish visual creativity, quickly followed by the creation of at least 17 synagogue mosaic floors in Palestine. The next efflorescence of Jewish art was found in illuminated manuscript production in Spain and Germany over 600 years later. 

The Twelve Tribes
at the Bialystoker Home

Written on March 05, 2012

Bialystoker Center Doorway with 12 Tribes Roundels Henry Hurwit, architect

A quiet monument to the courage and determination of hundreds of thousands of Jews sits vulnerable on the Lower East Side at 228 East Broadway.  This location was the former of home of the Bialystoker Center, built in 1931.  For many years it was primarily operated as the Bialystoker Home for the Aged that finally closed in November, 2011.

Jews and Social Conscience
The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League; 1936 – 1951

Written on February 19, 2012

Boy Jumping into the Hudson River (1948) Gelatin silver print by Ruth Orkin Courtesy The Jewish Museum

“Boy Jumping into the Hudson River” (1948) by Ruth Orkin reflects a tragic moment in the history of the New York photographic group, the Photo League.  On the surface simply a carefree moment of urban youth, and yet dangerous.  That year was the beginning of the end of a brave experiment in modern photography started only 12 years earlier.

Making Torah Manifest: Nathan Hilu

Written on January 21, 2012

Serach Tells Jacob; oil patel on paper by Nathan Hilu Courtesy Herman Lowenhar

“Man must make the Torah manifest” in every action, speech and creative act.  That is clearly the credo of Nathan Hilu; master-artist of the Lower East Side, Torah, Tanach, midrash, Gemara and beyond.  There is seemingly nothing that doesn’t fall within the purview of his fertile, pious and creative visual imagination.  Literally everything in his creative world is seen through the lens of Torah and Jewish sensibility.  We get to peek into that world in the exhilarating exhibition “Nathan Hilu’s Journal: Word, Image, Memory” lovingly curated by Laura Kruger, director of the HUC Museum.

Zaslavsky’s Jews

Written on December 31, 2011

770 Wedding, (40 x 30) oil on canvas by Venyamin Zaslavsky Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

Jewish artists do the darndest things. The Chassidic Art Institute, expertly directed by Zev Markowitz, is currently showing Venyamin Zaslavsky, a Ukrainian Jewish artist who has devoted the last 20 years to depictions of pious Jewish life in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Ludwig Blum’s Israel

Written on December 18, 2011

Kibbutz Degania (1934) oil on canvas by Ludwig Blum Courtesy Museum of Biblical Art

Ludwig Blum (1891 – 1974) was a deeply complex artist who walked the fine line between pure aesthetics and a radical artistic view of the Zionist enterprise. He clearly loved to paint, make beautiful images and provide aesthetic pleasure.  As a committed Zionist and part of the Third Aliyah, he celebrated his newfound homeland with a visual passion exploring all of Palestine’s unique riches.

Shapiro’s Midrash
Paintings from Midrash by Brian Shapiro

Written on October 29, 2011

Jacob and the Angel (2011), oil on canvas, 22 x 22 by Brian Shapiro Courtesy the artist

The midrashic world is a dangerous place to inhabit.  It plays fast and loose with our sacred texts to fathom their deeper meanings, solve vexing textual and conceptual problems and, finally, make sense of the holy words in contemporary terms.  Midrash is passionate and deeply creative, just as the current midrashic paintings of Brian Shapiro currently on view at the Chassidic Art Institute until December 8, 2011.

Leonard Everett Fisher’s Challenge

Written on October 22, 2011

Job (detail) (1964), gelatin tempera on board by Leonard Everett Fisher Courtesy John Tucker Collection

Just look at the expression on Jonah’s face.  It combines not only fear but also incomprehension at his terrible punishment of floating in the belly of the great fish. So too Noah peering out of the ark, perched on the edge of understanding that there might be a future for mankind.  Both works point to the genius of Leonard Everett Fisher as an artist and interpreter of biblical narrative.

Divine Encounter and the Sacred Doorway
Robert Kirschbaum: Small Paintings from The Akedah Series

Written on October 15, 2011

Akedah #51 (2008-2009) Mixed media on paper 9” x 8” by Robert Kirschbaum Courtesy the artist

Our encounters with the Divine are precious moments of personal religiosity.  We believe that when we pray we are speaking directly to God and at that moment we are in the Divine presence.  And yet we are seldom conscious of the awe and fear we should also feel.

Hagar and Rosh Hashanah

Written on September 17, 2011

The Dismissal of Hagar (1653) oil on canvas by Nicolaes Maes  Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

“After these things, God tested Abraham… (Genesis 22:1).  What things? The midrash demands that the wording, “after these things” means something immediately after. We, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, mentally experience these words immediately after the first day’s reading.   That reading starts with the miraculous birth of Isaac, thirty-seven years earlier.

Artists 4 Israel
Response Art Series

Written on August 17, 2011

Sacrificed, detail; painting by Eden Morris Courtesy: Terror: Artists Respond

There is a short list of things that really matter: family, friends, country and faith top most.  For many Jews, our people and Israel occupy an almost sacred place in the order of commitment and passion.  Therefore when either the Jewish people or the legitimacy of the State of Israel are attacked and slandered, we react passionately.  In a visceral way these things are crucial to the very core of our identity. How do contemporary Jewish artists respond?

Alan Falk’s Lessons

Written on August 07, 2011

The Cry of Esau (2010), watercolor by Alan Falk Courtesy the artist

Two of Alan Falk’s biblical paintings immediately assault us aesthetically and thematically.  Isaac Blessing Jacob (2009) and The Cry of Esau (2010) document the famous stolen blessing of Genesis 27 and its consequences.  The ancient Isaac is clad in a white nightshirt, raising his bony hands in blessing over his two sons.  In one Jacob has donned a curly-haired brown Afro deceitfully offering his blind father food, while in the other, Isaac’s trembling hands attempt to bless the hysterical Esau at his feet.  The cartoonish figures are caught in a melodrama of high-keyed color and exaggerated gesture that casts the biblical tale into an unfamiliar and strange realm.

Mourning, Memory & Art

Written on August 07, 2011

Destruction of Jerusalem by David Roberts

David Roberts (1796-1864) was a Scottish painter who in the late 1830’s traveled extensively in the Levant and Egypt documenting “Orientalist” sites in drawings and watercolors. Together with the lithographer Louis Haghe, he marketed his work to a public eager for exotic scenes.  Queen Victoria was one of his first customers.

Meer Akselrod: Painting his People

Written on August 04, 2011

Smoke (1969) by Meer Akselrod Courtesy of Estate of Meer Akselrod

Empathy and memory meet in the work of Meer Akselrod (1902-1970), the Jewish Russian artist who defied aesthetic convention and totalitarian dictates to relentlessly pursue his personal artistic vision of painting the Jewish people.  His quiet courage in the face of epochal changes that convulsed his Russian homeland cannot be overestimated. They are amply attested to by his artwork, not the least of which are two pen and ink drawings, Pogrom, from 1927 – 1928, currently at the Chassidic Art Institute.