The rather large grasshoppers all have different human faces. The trees have human bodies with branches sprouting out of their heads. The animals in the Peaceable Kingdom garden seated at Isaiah’s feet are painted purple, pink, blue and red. Welcome to the visionary world of Nahum HaLevi’s Latter Prophets.
For most observant Jews, the eruv is invisible. Each week we prepare for Shabbos: ready our food, conclude our mundane affairs, shower, dress and put the house keys in our pocket and check the web that the local eruv is up. Unless there has been a storm or other physical disaster, we can assume everything is okay. Just like the Shabbos calm that descends for 25 hours, the eruv operates for us in the background: essential but unnoticed.
Finally the King of Diamonds fittingly is represented by King Hezekiah. Quite beyond his courage in resisting the brutal assault of the Assyrian Sennacherib on Jerusalem, it was King Hezekiah’s determined religious reforms and return to the worship of Hashem that earned him the praise that he: “trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).
Chagall’s reputation needs no burnishing and yet refinements are always welcome. Indeed the Nassau County Museum of Art has mounted a wonderfully extensive survey of Chagall’s works with a unique emphasis on his 1957 Bible series of hand-colored etchings that significantly casts many aspects of his work as uniquely Jewish. Amid the complexity of Chagall’s entire oeuvre, this is deeply significant in the exhibition history of non-Jewish institutions.
Passion of belief can certainly lead to passion of expression, especially for an artist. Rosa Katzenelson’s paintings and digital artwork currently at the Hadas Gallery in Brooklyn could easily define the very essence of religious expressionism. As a Chabad devotee, every aspect of her work exudes a passion for both the Chassidic subjects she depicts and for the visceral act of making a painting. Nonetheless, upon closer inspection her work yields considerably more complexity.
Jacqueline Nicholls, a Jewish artist from England, presents us with a formidable challenge. Namely; what is the role of a contemporary Jewish Woman artist and how does one confront patriarchal dominance? She presents her response to both queries in her current exhibition at the JCC Manhattan beautifully curated by Tobi Kahn and organized by Tisch Gallery director Megan Whitman. The results are breathtakingly forceful, subtle and insightful.
Reaching back in time to reclaim a family for herself and, in a yahrzeit moment, to rekindle lives snuffed out, Diana Kurz’s paintings stand as testaments to victims of the Holocaust, one by one. After a successful 20 year career as an artist and teacher, (with a strong feminist bent), in 1989 Kurz happened upon a few surviving photos of her own relatives “who disappeared during the war.” Suddenly her past opened up and possessed her. Recently this spring (April 4 – May 2, 2012) a series of these paintings was shown at the Art Gallery at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.
In 1974 Mark Podwal, noted author, illustrator and physician, created a spare, illustrated Book of Lamentations. This complete English translation is graced with 28 black and white illustrations, or more correctly, reflections, on the tragic text. Podwal maintains Jeremiah’s alphabetical acrostic of each chapter containing 22 sets of lines, reflecting aleph to tav, denoting each English set with the appropriate Hebrew letter. According to Sanhedrin 104a “ R. Johanan said: Why were they smitten with an alphabetical dirge? Because they violated the Torah, which was given by means of the alphabet,” representing the tragic reality that the Jews of his time transgressed the Torah fromaleph totav, beginning to end. Eicha!
Earlier this year I was presenting my survey of Jewish art, “A Jewish Art Primer,” in a West Hartford, Connecticut synagogue and during the intermission a local artist, David Holzman, introduced himself to me. He relayed his rich and fascinating artistic background and then produced a portfolio of 8 black and white prints that he generously gave to me as a gift. As a tantalizing glimpse into recent work, they are truly amazing and I would like to share them with you.
Examining a choice selection of drawings done by Itshak Holtz over 30 years ago is a rare pleasure that allows for the appreciation of his unique sensitivity and insights. I was afforded that pleasure at the inaugural exhibition of the Betzalel Gallery in Crowne Heights on Thursday, May 17, 2012. Although the this modest selection of 25 drawings and watercolors of this paradigmatic frum artist ranges from 1963 to 1999, the majority of the works is from the 1970’s and reveals a special aspect of his inner artistic soul. Easily this selection of images could narrate the fabric of ordinary Jewish life.
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.
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.
“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.