Articles in Category: Contemporary Jewish Art

Contemporary Jewish Art

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.

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.

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.

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.

Yeshiva Art
Drisha Arts Fellows Explore Shabbat

Written on June 20, 2011

Who would have guessed that a yeshiva would have an Arts Program?  If I had died and gone to heaven, surely the World to Come would look like this.  And yet on the Upper West Side of Manhattan the liberal women’s learning program (i.e. yeshiva), Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, has had for 7 years an Arts Fellowship program that offers a year of study (in addition to their regular yeshiva courses like Talmud, Halacha, Parshanut, Biblical Hebrew and Liturgy) where Torah subjects and the arts are combined and pursued with the seriousness and determination of most guys sitting and learning all day long.  And its for women only.

Acts of Kindness and Jewish Art
The Art of Tanya Fredman

Written on June 02, 2011

And It All Turned Upside Down (2011) Relief sculpture by Tanya Fredman Courtesy Tanya Fredman

Acts of Loving Kindness. This mitzvah is included next to Torah study in the precepts that have no limit, as well as the precepts that are rewarded in this World and in the World to Come. This is surly one of the choicest mitzvahs available to us in our daily lives.  We are told that its object is the rich and poor alike, the dead as well as the living.   It is expressed in personal effort and involvement in the quietest ways imaginable.  And perhaps most surprisingly, it is found in the art of Tanya Fredman.

Chagall and The Cross

Written on May 09, 2011

White Crucifixion (1938) oil on canvas by Marc Chagall Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago

The oft-repeated quote by art critic Robert Hughes that Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was the “quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century” perhaps reveals more than the normally mordant writer intended.  Chagall’s role as celebrator of a dream-like vision of the Russian shtetl sharply contrasts with his personal rejection of Judaism and the norms of traditional Jewish life.

Moriah’s Illuminated Torah

Written on January 17, 2011

Gathering at Mount Sinai (2001), oil on canvas, 12’ X 12’ by Avner Moriah Courtesy Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

Avner Moriah, the well-known Israeli artist, has illuminated the Book of Genesis.  No small feat, he has conjured images for all the major narratives as well as alluding to other analogous stories throughout the Torah.   He sees the first book of Torah as nothing less than “a poem,” a minimalist text that yields an unending series of explorations of the mysteries and conundrums of the human condition.  While this is hardly the first nor largest of his explorations of biblical and Jewish narrative, it is easily the most ambitious.

Kiefer’s Challenge

Written on December 14, 2010

Jacobs Ladder

The German artist Anselm Kiefer has once again taken New York by storm. Ensconced at the prestigious Gagosian Gallery, Next Year in Jerusalem, his latest New York show, has met with reviews ranging from the gushing to the grudgingly respectful.  To Roberta Smith, the veteran New York Times art critic, the massive exhibit, which closes December 18, is “possibly the best [Kiefer] has ever mounted in the city,” even as Smith also comments, more caustically, that it amounts to “middlebrow art as catharsis, spectacle with a message.”

John Bradford: Painting the Biblical Narrative

Written on November 14, 2010

Judah and Tamar (2008), 18 x 24 oil on canvas by John Bradford Courtesy the artist

Upon entering Lloyd Bloom’s exhibition at the Chassidic Art Institute one is confronted by a sweet beautiful image of a lamb skipping through the air in a puffy cloud landscape.  Right next to it is an image of a goat kid cuddled up in the lap of a young shepherd.  Further down the wall we see paintings depicting a young man leining from the Torah, then women lighting Shabbos candles and finally a father and son at the seder table, all candidates to be the most emblematic scene of Jewish life imaginable.  So too an emotional scene showing a crowd of traditional Jews embracing each other sweeps us away in a wave of familiar emotions.  All true until one picks up the gallery list of paintings with each work’s title.  Little by little the façade falls away and a much more serious and tragic patina adjusts the meaning of these intriguing artworks.

Landscapes for Humanity
Paintings by Batya F. Kuncman

Written on October 24, 2010

LeAhava, photograph by Batya Kuncman Courtesy Charter Oak Cultural Center

The world is complicated.  Surely it seems that Divine justice is elusive.  God’s role is frequently masked and our human situation is terribly fragile. Yet according to artist Batya F. Kuncman our condition is “most promising.”  Her optimistic artwork is designed to illuminate this shadowy nature of our existence and strives for clarity and ultimate closeness to God.  In “Landscapes for Humanity” currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art images of infants are the tools she uses to explicate her belief.

Sarah’s Trials: A Personal View
Paintings by Richard McBee at the JCC Manhattan

Written on September 21, 2010

Isaac Comforted (2008) Oil on canvas, 6’ x 5’ by Richard McBee

God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, Sarah’s only child.  Our forefather gets up early and obeys, not telling Sarah his wife of 47 years.  According to Rashi (Genesis 23:2) when she finds out about this, she dies of shock.  This has always disturbed me.  Upon reflection other things about their relationship seemed problematic.

Genre Painting by Brian Shapiro

Written on August 08, 2010

Generations (2010) – oil on canvas (44”x 58”) by Brian Shapiro Courtesy the artist

Two Jewish holidays particularly command us to be connected with our vast history.  Most notably the Passover Haggadah demands that we feel as if we too went out of Egypt with the Jewish masses.  Less obvious is Tisha b’Av.