The Jewish Art Salon organizes bimonthly programs that brings together artists, curators, and art lovers in the New York area. “It is an excellent opportunity for networking,” says Yona Verwer, the founder of the salon. In addition, the Jewish Art Salon regularly organizes exhibitions with contemporary artists who deal with Jewish topics, giving them the opportunity to show their work.
What is today a broad network of Jewish artists began relatively modest.
This Dutch-born woman, who lives in New York, initially organized slide shows with two artist friends, where artists discussed their art projects. “The format was completely informal, but very successful. Artists love to see works by other artists and discuss. “These events did not have a Jewish aspect, but were merely an exchange of ideas”. Verwer admits that she was not Jewish involved in Holland.
“In 2000 Regina Khidekel invited me to show in a group exhibition in Dumbo [well-known for its galleries district in the borough of Brooklyn, editor’s note]. She had selected a few figurative works, but shortly before the exhibition opened, I began to get interested in biblical mysticism. I created the “Urim and Tumim”, abstract works depicting the biblical oracle, which were then exhibited instead, with great success. The following year Regina organized a solo exhibition of this series which by then had expanded.”
Getting the ball rolling with networking
Her newfound interest in Jewish themes brought her in 2007 to an exhibition at the Hebrew Union College Museum, where a group of Jewish artists from Los Angeles showed their works. Inspired by the exhibit Verwer, along with Holly Wolf, decided to found a network of Jewish artists. “When I told Tine Kindermann of the idea, she suggested that I should speak to other Jewish artists such as David Friedman. David pointed me to Tobi Kahn, and in turn to artist / critic Richard McBee, who hosted the first meeting in April 2008, which was also attended by the same curator of the Hebrew Union College Museum.”
The news that in New York a network of Jewish artists was founded, in the Internet age spread faster than expected. “We hoped to get together a group of ten artists who would meet regularly.” But the interest in the newly created Jewish Art Salon exceeded all expectations. Hundreds of interested parties came forward, not only artists but also art historians, curators and art critics. “In the beginning, for reasons of space, some of the events were limited to 25.” Even though sporadic donations and grants provide financial support for the Jewish Art Salon exhibitions, so far this network works mainly because of volunteers.
New database and structure for artists
Meanwhile, the Jewish Art Salon has been active beyond New York. Some of the highlights include the “Dura Europos Project” at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, where the artists created work in dialogue with ancient Jewish art, and the group exhibition “Silent Witnesses”, co-organized with the Cultural Heritage Artists Project, which explores the relationship to Jewish Heritage, and was shown at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Detroit. Now, after five years of successful programs this summer the structure of the Jewish Art Salon will change. “We are changing into a membership structure; we are also creating a database of contemporary Jewish artists, and we want new connections to other artists here in the U.S. and elsewhere, particularly in Israel.” In addition a speaker bureau is planned as well as workshops for a larger audience.
Verwer believes that the newly introduced membership will not stop any artist from coming to the Jewish Art Salon. Verwer, like many artists, has benefitted from the group: “Through the Jewish Art Salon I have met many interesting artists and art historians, and my own art has reached a larger audience through exhibitions and press, not to mention the many friendships that have developed thanks to the salon. In other words, like everyone else I have benefitted from the Jewish Art Salon.”