Articles in Category: Contemporary Jewish Art

Contemporary Jewish Art

Lynn Russell: A Growing Unease

Written on November 15, 2005

Tashlich, oil on canvas (20 x 24) by Lynn Russell Courtesy Langer Gallery

Lynn Russell's work presents a vexing aesthetic problem. She insists on treading the murky line between photography and painting; between mechanical reproduction and handmade creation. Hardly alone, her quest is in fact one of the major discourses of Modern Art. The early 20th century saw the utilization of commercial typefaces, printed patterns and newspaper clippings in groundbreaking Cubist collages while at the end of the century Pop Art celebrated multimedia and Postmodernism erased the cultural distinction between art and popular culture. All aspects of aesthetic experience, from the banal to the sublime, are now legitimate material for the creation of art. The uniqueness of Russell's work rests in the fact that she operates in the arena of Jewish meaning, building a legitimate third realm that supersedes the limitations of both photography and painting.

Shoshana Golin’s Windows

Written on October 05, 2005

Rosh Chodesh, 2005, etched glass windows by Shoshana Golin Young Israel of Hillcrest, Queens

Shoshana Golin’s cycle of etched glass windows at the Young Israel of Hillcrest fill the fifty year old sanctuary with light and textual meaning that transforms the synagogue space, illuminating a new environment for the congregation.  The window cycle begins with the three windows in the women’s section, Creation, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, and continues on the lower level of the men’s sanctuary with four tall windows that elucidate the Yom Tovim and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Thus the entire Jewish cycle of creation and celebration is represented in natural light filtered and shaped in the medium of glass.

Shoshana Golin - Etchings Of The Masks Of Esther
Masks of Esther

Written on October 05, 2005

Esther’s Child: Epilogue (2001)

All of us, sometime or other, hide behind a mask. Whether it is a strange new identity we momentarily assume for Purim or simply filling the public role of father, mother or child, teacher or even artist. The mask, which represents the ideal role we are expected to play, might be the first thing anyone sees until the reality of our personality manages to appear. Masks are something we all wear, but here in America, we also almost always take them off. Here we feel that we have less to fear from the outside world and can let our guard down. This isn’t always true. For example, Persia in the time of Mordechai and Esther was not a good time for the Jews.

A New Perspective on Jewish Life
Paintings by Lloyd Bloom

Written on August 20, 2005

Jacob at Luz, Lloyd Bloom

Perspective is crucial to understanding.  When Jews greet one another with “vos macht a yid?” it means something entirely different than the jeers of ‘yid’ in the streets of Berlin.  The one point perspective in early Renaissance painting defined an individualistic centered universe of humanism.  In soaring ceilings of the Italian Baroque illusionist visions of vast heavens make the viewer feel insignificant and powerless, overwhelmed by the Counter Reformation Church’s total authority. Modernism’s chaotic points of view charted a culture in collapse, a fracture we are still struggling to mend.  It all depends on where you stand.  Perspective not only controls meaning but helps determine who we are as viewers.

Yad Vashem's Art

Written on August 09, 2005


Obscenity is not the usual province of art. And yet behind almost all Holocaust art lies the obscenity of the crime, the stench of genocide. This simple fact makes it singular in the history of art, a deep contradiction of art's traditional civilizing role even as its horror fuels the artwork with power and urgency. We cannot afford to ignore it.


Written on July 24, 2005

Figure 4

Art lies. An object depicted is not the actual thing, a person or relationship in art is but a fiction, an intellectual conceit that attempts to emotionally tempt us into a narrative insight. As much as art proclaims its purpose to be truth, it remains but a lie that is a means to an end.

Rephidim A Painting by John Dubrow

Written on July 24, 2005

Figure 4

A Painting by John Dubrow

From 1997 to 1998 John Dubrow got to know the World Trade Center fairly well. He made many paintings from a high vantage point on the 91st floor in a temporary studio granted him by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. His heavily worked cityscapes built solid compositions out of urban structure, color and space and define an important body of his work at that time. After September 11, 2001 he was, like most New Yorkers, devastated by the attacks and the destruction of the World Trade Center. He wondered how he could return to cityscapes after his city had been so violated and his artistic milieu shattered. In the wake of the smoke, ash and collapse he groped for an artist's response to this mass murder.

Lights at the Israel Museum

Written on July 11, 2005

Amnon and Tamar

From ‘Let there be Light' of Biblical fame to yesterday's sound and light show, the notion of light as a metaphor or aesthetic tool is worn and tedious at best. Even as pietists, who claim dominion over Divine emanations, battle with modernists who assert visual primacy, nonetheless as a serious metaphorical concept ‘light' is cliched and superficial. Therefore it is with considerable courage that curator Amitai Mendelsohn at the Israel Museum has fashioned a surprisingly handsome exhibition of forty artist's works that address the problematic subject of light.

Missing Women of the Book

Written on May 30, 2005

Pentimento XV/Hamsa

Jews and natural a combo as love and spring, wine and cheese, and for sure God and His people...they are meant to be together. Proud to be known as the People of the Book we parade the Torah, Talmud and countless writings as our special inheritance. And beyond simple piety, the contemporary Jewish contribution to secular literature is legendary, marking us as a nation who both read and write voraciously.

Rand's Prayer

Written on December 28, 2004

Twelfth Amidah Theme: Punish Heresy: Jepthah (2002), acrylic on canvas (48 x 64) by Archie Rand

The Nineteen Diaspora Paintings

Why should we bother with art? A waste of time, bitul Torah, perhaps even a lure into apikores....viewing art, not to mention making it, could be viewed as a can of worms best left unopened. Alas, our tradition is to follow the ways of our forefathers and since Bezalel, the Jews of Dura Europos, Bet Alpha and countless other pious Jews for two thousand years have partaken of the visual arts, it becomes our sacred duty to explore both our inheritance and those who continue to create Jewish art.

Maus Part I

Written on December 10, 2004

Vladek on the Exercise Bike, pg. 12

Maus: Flash Back to the Present
Survivor Memory into Holocaust Art, Part I

History's Limits

Elie Wiesel encapsulates the problem of Holocaust art by insisting that “Auschwitz defies imagination and perception; it submits only to memory. It can be communicated by testimony, not fiction.” Art as an approach to the Holocaust would seem to be seriously misguided if not transgressive of memory. Nevertheless he admits that even a survivor's attempt at retelling “escapes language,” and therefore, if “we are incapable of revealing The Event, why not admit it.” Yet there are demands of historical responsibility that survivors feel compelled to answer. Finally, in despair Wiesel demands that survivors must rise above such doubts because “the future depends on our testimony...we invoke the past to save the future...[in a] commitment to life and truth.” (Wiesel; “Does the Holocaust Lie Beyond the Reach of Art,” New York Times, April 17, 1983).

Maus Part II

Written on December 10, 2004

Time Flies, pg. 41

Maus: Flash Back to the Present

Survivor Memory into Holocaust Art; Part II

The Negative Heart of Maus

Last week we examined the first volume of Maus, A Survivor's Tale, by Art Spiegelman. It is a complex and engrossing work that combines the testimony of a Holocaust survivor, the author's father Vladek with Art Spiegelman's process of telling the story in a ‘graphic novel' that depicts the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. The two-volume work of close to fifteen hundred comic book style frames was published in 1992. Now we will consider the second volume.

Natan Nuchi Untitled

Written on October 27, 2004

Figure 4

View from the Shoah

A well-known Midrash tells of the destruction of Jerusalem and how the Divine Presence removed itself from the holy precincts of the Temple. Stage by stage the Divine Presence retreated from the holy land of Israel as the Land was defiled and the Jews were exiled. We are told, as a kind of consolation, that the Divine Presence has gone into exile with us and metaphorically awaits redemption.

A Simple Genesis
Paintings of Shalom of Safed

Written on October 23, 2004

Where are we?

There once lived a pious old man in Safed. His great grandparents had come from Eastern Europe to Eretz Yisroel sometime in the eighteenth century. He remembered back when the Turks ruled Palestine and then the English came and tried to govern this difficult land. In those years Safed was a mix of Arab and Jew, Sephardi and Ashkenazi.

The Divine Ecology of Janet Shafner

Written on October 04, 2004

Compassion for the Mother Bird / Out of the Whirlwind

New Paintings

“When the Holy One, blessed is He, created the first man, He took him and led him around the trees of the Garden of Eden and said; ”Look at my works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy my world, for if you do, there is no one to repair it after you...” (Koheles Rabba on verse 7:13). Creator and created became partners in creation, sharing responsibility. Janet Shafner takes a long hard look at this mutual responsibility and how it connects us back to the Garden of Eden in her new series of paintings; “The Divine Ecology.”