Articles in Category: Contemporary Jewish Art

Contemporary Jewish Art

Arbit Blatas: Centennial Tribute

Written on September 29, 2008

Elektra, Teatro la Fenice, Venice  oil on canvas by Arbit Blatas Courtesy Hebrew Union College Museum

Barbarism cannot triumph.  This is what we believe, as Jews and as Americans.  And yet it did a mere seventy years ago in the very heart of what was considered the cultural capital of Europe, Germany and Austria.  The rich cultural milieu that produced the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Brahms, and Strauss, and the pictorial masterpieces of Durer, Holbein and Cranach was inexplicably the birthplace of Hitler’s Nazism and his murderous jackals.  In some mysterious way the artwork of Arbit Blatas (1908 – 1999), currently seen in a centennial tribute at the Hebrew Union College Museum, holds this conundrum in a kind of uneasy balance.

Piety and Art:
Zvi Malnovitzer’s Paintings

Written on July 17, 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 02, 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 20, 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.

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

Written on April 03, 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 24, 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 24, 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 10, 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?

The Name
Feinsmith Quartet at Merkin Concert Hall

Written on January 04, 2008

Daniel David Feinsmith

To encounter God is an elemental quest of mankind.  And yet for Jews it is paradoxically impossible and immediate.  In any physical sense we know that “…no human can see My face and live” (Exodus 33:20) even as we stand before our God three times daily in our prayers. Arnold Schoenberg’s three-act unfinished 1932 opera, Moses and Aron, grapples with the central paradox that the Jewish artist must inevitably confront, namely the ineffable presence of God.

Baruch HaShem: Other Views
Paintings and Objects by Lynn Russell

Written on December 30, 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?

Bible Scenes

Written on October 02, 2007

Akeida  (1989), oil on canvas (60 x 38) by David Wander

“And the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”  Rabbi Tarphon said: That fish was specially appointed from the six days of creation to swallow up Jonah…He entered its mouth just as a man enters the great synagogue, and he stood.  The two eyes of the fish were like windows of glass giving light to Jonah.”  (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer; 10)

The Passion of Leah Ashkenazy

Written on February 12, 2006

Remember and Rebuild WTC Leah Ashkenazy

“…there is just something about that little girl that I can’t get out of my mind. How does she face those fire-breathing beasts?”  Four and a half years ago (September 7, 2001) I wrote about Leah Ashkenazy’s painting, “The End of Childhood” as a “complex commentary on the Shoah and how it affected the children who lived through it.”  That review came out the week before the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11th.  As a survivor of the Holocaust and now a witness to 9/11 Ashkenazy finds herself caught  between two epochal events that changed our world.  Nonetheless her artistic vision is uncomfortable with these simple parameters, rather she is inexorably drawn to the many other tragedies that have blossomed between the war against the Jews and the war against the West.   Her passionate nature finds the violent death of any child, the needless suffocation of any life, the fruits of any terror equally inimical to God’s image in which we are all created.  Her passion is not limited.

Terna's Touch

Written on January 30, 2006

Tablets for Time, acrylic on canvas (48 x 30) by Frederick Terna

Frederick Terna has a soft touch.  His images are neither strident nor angry.  The horror behind many of them is paradoxically softened by symbols and metaphors.  He is not an illustrator; indeed much of his work over the last sixty years is abstract.  Yet there is nothing abstract about the journey Frederick Terna has taken from April 1945 to today. He has lived through one of the defining events of the 20th century, managed to survive and make art.

Chava Roth's Meanings

Written on January 15, 2006

I'm Here

Pleasure and Meaning.  In the visual arts they are equally essential.  The pleasure of looking at an object, its contours, colors, texture and subsequent visual excitement is fundamental to engaging the viewer.  Lacking visual enjoyment and complexity a painting, drawing or print will quickly lose the interest of the viewer and they will move on to a more rewarding visual experience.  And a rewarding visual experience is the foundation of ascertaining the meaning of a work of visual art.

Eisenberg’s Space

Written on December 18, 2005

Five on a Plate (1989), oil painting by Raphael Eisenberg Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

Space is created in the visual arts in a multitude of ways.  Illusionistic space was invented in the Renaissance and continues to be depicted in contemporary realism. This method creates the impression of looking through a window and seeing an ordered progression of objects, those closest the largest and diminishing in size as distance increases, all converging on one or more points on the horizon.