Wonder Woman is having a very good year. Her blockbuster movie grossed over 400 million dollars (Gal Gadot must be very happy). Not only that, Wonder Woman made an appearance in this year’s Jerusalem Biennale in Joel Silverstein’s painting, Ten Commandments – A Question. Silverstein’s painting was part of “Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth,” a Jewish Art Salon exhibition curated by Ori Soltes.
Silverstein’s Ten Commandments is a large figurative painting painted in bright, hi-key colors happily accepting comic book stylistic elements. Depicting Manhattan’s city scape, the painting includes ten figures close to the picture plane, each one taking its own place across the canvas. Wonder Woman is prominently placed on the right side of the painting along with Moses as made famous by Charlton Heston’s tanned face. Toward the left of the image is another famous movie character, the eponymous figure, the “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
Silverstein’s painting invites us to think about the 10 Commandments and puzzle over the meaning of the picture. Is the artist providing interpretation of the biblical text through his selection of contemporary iconography, for indeed these figures have clear cultural references and meaning, or is he less specific and welcomes us to ask questions? Asking questions is central to Jewish thought and education. I, myself, am quite happy to be left to my own questions, but I also welcome being surprised by another underlying meaning.
Silverstein’s bright comic book-like style is, in many ways, shared by another artist who was recently on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Archie Rand’s monumental work The 613 includes a panel for each mitzvah, good deed, as itemized by Moses Maimonidies.
Rand’s style is bright and highly influenced by pulp fiction and film noir. Each image corresponds to one of the commandments. Like Silverstein, Rand leaves it to us to figure it out. But as the artist has said of himself, he’s a “wise guy,” willing to tease, give us a hard time, or let us in on an “in joke.” So don’t get too series or you’ll miss the gag.
After all, these artists poke a stick in the eye of the mainstream art circles. Don’t let them fool you, too.
Ben Schachter received a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in studio art and art history, and received an MFA in studio art and an MS in art history and criticism from Pratt Institute. He is currently professor of visual art and chair of the Fine Arts department at Saint Vincent College. He exhibits regularly and gives public lectures.
In the Fall of 2017 his first book “Image, Action and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art” will be published.