The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY, features an exhibition of The 613 by Archie Rand, the celebrated painter and muralist. For over five decades Archie Rand has been regarded as a maverick and rule breaker, and The 613 is his most ambitious work. An enormous multi-panel painting, it depicts surprising responses to the 613 commandments of the Torah, which is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament).
Rand’s monumental installation, which will fill MAG’s Docent Gallery through July 18, 2021, explores traditions of both biblical interpretation and artistic expression. It exemplifies Rand’s groundbreaking achievements in the construction of a contemporary Jewish iconography, affirming his position as a relentlessly innovative artist.
Video of Archie Rand in conversation with MAG Director Jonathan Binstock about his monumental installation, “The 613 by Archie Rand”.
Interrogation is a common strategy among the individual panels, as the images may underscore, contradict, and very often obscure the teachings of the referenced commandments. Quoting masterworks by artists such as Paul Cézanne and Edouard Manet and enlisting imagery from mainstream media as well as Jewish comic artists, Rand interweaves visual culture and Jewish Scripture, which, ironically, has been interpreted historically to forbid the creation of idols, images, and, even more broadly, art.
On another level, The 613 also challenges commonly held beliefs about expression and representation. By linking the Torah’s commandments with oftentimes seemingly unrelated pictures, Rand undermines how people usually expect words and images to function when juxtaposed. His loose, pulp fiction-inspired, cartoon-like painterly style is as irreverent to the history of painting as it is to the religious tradition it purports to explicate. The complexity of the project encourages an investigation of both systems of knowledge, that of art history and of Judaism, and demands an engaged viewing. The 613 is fundamentally a study of the mechanics of tradition and how meaning is made.
Jonathan P. Binstock, MAG’s Mary W. and Donald R. Clark Director, stated that “Archie Rand’s fluid, illustrational style belies a sophisticated philosophy that challenges viewers to rethink preconceptions of how words and images interrelate, and what we mean when we say a picture is worth a thousand words.” Binstock continued, “MAG is thrilled to bring The 613, a powerful, immersive aesthetic experience and an extraordinary artistic accomplishment by any measure, to Rochester.”
MAG’s exhibition is sponsored by the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, which is honoring the artist as the 2020 Farash Fellow for the Advancement of Jewish Humanities and Culture. “We are honored to have this wonderfully inventive artist join us in Rochester as the recipient of the 2020 Farash Fellowship,” said Holli Budd, executive director of the Farash Foundation, “and we are pleased to collaborate with the Memorial Art Gallery in the presentation of his magnum opus, The 613.”