Articles in Category: Artists


A Light Unto the Nation
Knesset Menorah by Benno Elkan

Written on January 04, 2009

Knesset Menorah (1956) cast bronze by Benno Elkan Jerusalem, Israel

While the heart of Israel’s democracy is to be found in the Knesset in Jerusalem, just across the road is a quiet but persuasive work of art that sums up the awesome narrative of Jewish history that finally brought us to the Land of Israel.  War and strife are the undeniable subjects of this 15’ foot high bronze menorah by the British artist Benno Elkan.

Shmuel der Mahler
Memory Paintings

Written on December 04, 2008

Self Portrait, (37 x 32) oil on board by Samuel Rothbort Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

Shmuel the artist is what they called him back in the Old Country.  At home and in cheder he was always drawing or modeling something.  Born in 1882 in Wolkovisk, Russia he grew up in poverty, his father a Torah scholar and mother a peddler of grain and flour.  Early on he was orphaned and with his soprano voice was apprenticed to a cantor to give performances from shtetl to shtetl in the Polesie swampy woodlands of Byelorussia.

Rabbinic Drawing in Space
Ben Schachter’s Eruv Maps

Written on November 06, 2008

Squirrel Hill Eruv (2007), 20 x 30, by Ben Schachter Courtesy Hebrew Union College Museum

In the world of art and culture the rabbis generally get a bad rap.  From time immemorial they have often been thought of as the prototypical zealous guardians, seen as prohibiting all sorts of imagery with righteous abandon, constantly erecting walls to guard against anything that might be tainted with idolatry.  Many might even argue that the pursuit of the visual arts, whether representational or abstract, to be no more that “bittle Torah,” a waste of precious time.

Michelangelo and the Jews: Part II

Written on August 26, 2008

Moses (1515), marble by Michelangelo San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

“The Sistine Secrets” by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner raises many intriguing issues about one of the most important works of Western art and its creator, Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564) as first presented in my review of August 29th.   Now we shall attempt to put this masterpiece and the artist in a larger context.

Piety and Art:
Zvi Malnovitzer’s Paintings

Written on July 16, 2008

Walking to the Synagogue (2005), oil on canvas by Zvi Malnovitzer Private Collection, New York

Piety and paintings of pious Jews, what a dangerous mix!  It takes considerable courage to dedicate oneself to making art, not to mention to do so within the orthodox community.  That is what Zvi Malnovitzer did.  He was raised and educated in a Hasidic community in Bnai Brak, Israel and while learning at the Ponevezh Yeshiva he somehow found the time and energy to learn to draw.

Abel Pann at the Mayanot Gallery

Written on June 01, 2008

Rebecca with Sons Jacob and Esau (1940), pastel on paper by Abel Pann Courtesy Mayanot Gallery, Jerusalem

We live apart, us Jews. Partially by God’s command, partially because of age-old enmity from non-Jews.  It is even said by some that the hatred fostered by our neighbors strengthens us to keep our laws and traditions, helps us resist assimilation.  But what is the essential nature of “the other?”  How can we sum up the fundamental difference between the Jewish people and “the Nations.”  Is this an irreversible family conflict?

Ben Wilson
The Roots of Abstraction

Written on May 19, 2008

Yellow Ark (1975), oil on canvas by Ben Wilson Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

The road one chooses in Art, much like life, does not necessarily determine the final destination.  A youth can start in yeshiva and paradoxically end up a surgeon, a public school student can still find their way into the rabbinate.

Poussin’s Bible

Written on April 06, 2008

Winter (The Flood); Detail of Man Praying (1660) Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures

Near the end of his long and productive life Nicolas Poussin was commissioned to paint in 1660 an unusual series of paintings called the “Four Seasons.”  They very quickly became some of the best known and beloved of his artworks; utilizing four scenes from the Hebrew Bible to depict the Ages of Man as the seasons of the year; Adam and Eve as Spring; Boaz and Ruth as Summer; The Spies with the Grapes of the Promised Land as Autumn and finally, The Flood as Winter.

The Image before the Text
The 613: Paintings by Archie Rand

Written on April 02, 2008

326 & 327, details of The 613, acrylic on canvas by Archie Rand Courtesy the artist

First there was the word.  It was spoken on the mountain and we were afraid.  Then it was written fire on fire.  And we lost faith.  Over the years Moshe wrote it down and we thought the word was tamed.  We thought we knew it so we ignored it.  So we lost our Temple and our Land.  The 613, over the years mostly observed but mysterious, observed now, thousands of years later, distant and holy.

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

Written on March 23, 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 23, 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.

Megillat Esther
The Graphic Novel by JT Waldman

Written on February 09, 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 22, 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.

Baruch HaShem: Other Views
Paintings and Objects by Lynn Russell

Written on December 29, 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?

Davidson, Singer and the Jews

Written on October 18, 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.