The Mishkan Museum of Art in Ein Harod presents New York / New Work: Contemporary Jewish Art from NYC
November 13 – January 31, 2016
Opening Reception Friday November 13, 11:30 AM.
Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod, 18965 Israel
The exhibition, co-organized by the Jewish Art Salon, a global group of artists and scholars, features works by several of its NYC members.
Curated by Dvora Liss, a curator at the Ein Harod Museum of Art, and David Sperber of Bar-Ilan University, this exhibit was originally conceived for the Jerusalem Biennale 2015 and was featured at the Polonsky Academy at the Van leer Institute.
Showcasing some of the most established artists from the United States, participating artists are Helène Aylon, Siona Benjamin, Tobi Kahn, Rachel Kanter, Robert Kirschbaum, Richard McBee, Archie Rand, Cynthia Beth Rubin, Joel Silverstein, Eli Valley, Yona Verwer, David Wander, and Ahron Weiner.
The exhibition New York/New Work presents, for the first time in Israel, some of the current major and canonical artists of contemporary Jewish art in the United States. These artists hail from different diasporic spaces and appropriate Jewish traditions on their own terms. Their contributions to the development of contemporary American Judaism in the context of a dual diasporic lens are considerable: on the one hand, they examine the Diaspora’s relationship with itself; and, on the other hand, they look at its relationship with other diasporic locations.
For installation photos scroll to the bottom of the page.
Jewish art in the United States today exists as its own defined and developed field of visual art. In 2013, the art historian Matthew Baigell described our era as “the Golden Age” of American Jewish art. These artists present complex, critical and questioning observations, that draw on deep knowledge and reinterpretations of the Jewish texts.
Contemporary scholars explain the concept of “Diaspora” as a synchronous culture where people are located within two cultures and two languages: they share the culture of where they live, but they also belong to the culture of another group. This complex condition suggests simultaneous local and trans-local cultural belonging and expression. In other words, it is a condition where the collective has two compasses: one points to the person’s physical location, while the second points to another, distant locale; one to the local culture, and the second to the culture the person shares with other, related collectives that live elsewhere. “What makes Judaism a diasporic culture,” scholar Daniel Boyarin stresses, “are the ties with other Jews in other places around the world, thanks to Judaism’s cultural discourse and practice. . . .” Boyarin points to the study of texts as the central axis of the Jewish diasporic condition.
Many of the works on display in this exhibition are inspired by the Bible, midrash (textual interpretations or explanations) and Jewish myth, but seek to speak to the here and now through various discursive contexts: ethnicity, religion, politics and gender. Other works draw on traditional Judaica and are an act of reinventing the text and the ritual, shaping these in a conceptual or spiritual language. Although the artists working within this framework do not reject aspects of secular Jewish culture, they undoubtedly place religious values at the center of the discussion on Jewish culture.
It appears that this post-secular turnaround is based on a growing feeling among American Jews that only religion (but not necessarily organized religion) can inspire and create a meaningful contemporary Jewish culture. This turnaround is clear in the shift that occurred between the exhibitions Too Jewish?: Challenging Traditional Identities curated by Norman Kleeblatt, which traveled to many museums throughout the United States in the 1990s, and Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life curated by Daniel Belasco, which was shown at the Jewish Museum in New York a decade later. Too Jewish? looked at Judaism in the context of identity—ethnicity, assimilation and gender—and marked the beginning of the inclusion of contemporary Jewish art in the world of American Jewish art. In contrast, Reinventing Ritual indicated a further stage in the development of Jewish art in the United States, one that showed the return to or a “re-enchantment” with religion. As the cultural historian Stephen Whitfield explains, “There is simply no longer a serious way of being Jewish—and of living within Jewish culture—without Judaism.”
One of the characteristics of the new trend, namely a direct and in-depth focus on Judaism, is the establishment of groups and associations of artists who draw their inspiration from Judaism in all its diversity. The current exhibition presents new works by members of the JAS (Jewish Art Salon), one of the most important, and certainly the largest, of such groups.
Archie Rand explores the cycles of traditional Judaism in his art. He has created a number of series, including ones that look at the seven days of creation, the 613 mitzvot (commandments), the 39 activities prohibited on the Sabbath, the Amidah prayer (central prayer of Jewish liturgy) and the 54 weekly Torah portions read in the synagogue. The current exhibition presents a new series by Rand that examines the four mitzvot of Purim: reading Megillat Esther, the festive meal, mishloach manot (gifts of food to friends) and matanot leevyonim (gifts to the poor).
Helène Aylon previously exhibited an ambitious and radical installation, The Liberation of G-d, (1990–1996) that launched her long-standing preoccupation with a radical feminist critique of the Jewish world, institutions, worship and canonical texts. In The Liberation of G-d Aylon marked the non-humanistic verses found in the Torah. In the work she is exhibiting here, she marks the Torah verses brimming with anger and brutal curses and questions whether these verses can be indeed be attributed to G-d. A feminist perspective also emerges in the works of Rachel Kanter, a textile artist who creates feminist ritual textiles, and of Tobi Kahn, whose work over the years has reinvented traditional ritual objects. Here Kanter is exhibiting a giant mezuzah that transforms the traditional mezuzah into a feminist “Femage”—a collage incorporating elements of women’s traditional crafts in a way that combines both solidarity and criticism. Tobi Kahn’s “Judaica” is characterized by a contemporary, abstract and conceptual language that always touches on spirituality. The four small chairs in the current exhibition symbolize the four mothers of the Jewish people. The chairs serve as models for new ritual objects. Just as the traditional “Chair of Elijah” is used during the circumcision ceremony, these chairs are intended to be used during the “zeved habat” ceremony when a baby girl is named.
New designs for traditional Jewish objects also appear in the works of Robert Kirschbaum, connecting a clean design language with the spirituality and mysticism that is found in the Holy Scriptures. His series, entitled Devarim, is composed of 42 sculptures, the same number as the number of letters in the ineffable Divine Name. The series connects the material with the spiritual, and what is missing with the utopian. The sculptures derive their forms from Hebrew letters, architectural models in Jewish sources and ritual objects. One work in the exhibition refers to the letter “Tav” and to the shape of the Temple as described in the prophecy of Ezekiel; another’s shape is inspired by the steps used to light the menorah in the Temple and a third recalls the shape of tefillin (phylacteries).
Although Jewish diasporic culture is articulated in the works of all the artists in this exhibition, it is particularly clearly expressed in the works of Siona Benjamin, a Jew born in India, who connects Indian iconography, American pop culture and Judaism. The complex relationship between the Diasporas, i.e., American Jewry and Israel, are strongly present in the comics of Eli Valley.
On the other hand, the particularistic history of American Jewry is addressed in the works of Yona Verwer and Cynthia Beth Rubin, who employ the new technology of Augmented Reality to add layers of meaning and association to their New York’s Lower East Side imagery.
The texts and myths that connect the different Jewish Diasporas create a connection between the past and the present in the works of Richard McBee and David Wander. McBee’s works draw their inspiration from the Bible and midrash, to which he offers psychological and existential interpretations. The political context of his works, which address the biblical stories of Hagar and Ishmael, are reinforced in the current Israeli exhibition. Wander’s work in the exhibition looks at Samson, the biblical hero, and is part of a broader series of visual midrash.
The connection or confrontation between biblical myths and current culture is clearly expressed in the art of Ahron D. Weiner, whose work deliberately reveals the holy encoded within the secular. Through the medium of décollage using advertisement posters, he creates high culture (art) from what is considered low culture (advertising). Joel Silverstein achieves a similar effect in a different way, by hybridizing the legends that sprung from American Jewry—Superman and The Incredible Hulk—with traditional Jewish myths, like the Golem of Prague and the Messiah.
Israeli culture has no defined or well-developed field of Jewish art; Judaism—as a living and unique religious tradition—is usually excluded from the central discourse of Israeli art. Viewing the “there” from within the prism of the “here,” through an art exhibition that draws its inspiration from Jewish tradition, sources and culture, can challenge the conventional dichotomy in Israel that separates art from religion, and Jewish art from Israeli art. Unraveling these dichotomies and subverting the resulting hierarchies can inspire the local art scene that alienates itself from tradition.
David Sperber, August 10, 2015
December 10, 2015 – Symposium “Joseph Beuys & Jewish Art”
January 29, 2016 – Symposium “Femininity & Masculinity in Jewish Art”
Established in the 1930s, the Museum overlooks the Jezreel Valley and is one of the first Modernist museum buildings in which use was made of natural lighting.
The collection includes Jewish artifacts, paintings and sculptures by mainly Jewish and Israeli artists, temporary exhibitions and retrospective solo exhibitions and thematic group exhibitions.
Weekdays 9-4:30, Fridays 9-1:30, Saturdays 10-4:30
The Museum is located in Kibbutz Ein Harod, in the north- east of Israel.
Take route 71 from Afula to Beit Shean. 12 Km from Afula turn left at traffic light into Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuhad (note: there is another traffic light where you can turn left into Ein Harod ihud. That’s NOT the right turn).
Follow the signs going uphill to the museum. For additional directions please contact +972.4.648-5701.