In celebration of Jewish Heritage Month, 81 Leonard Gallery is pleased to present PAUSE: Jewish Heritage Month/Ways of Being, in collaboration with the Jewish Art Salon.
On view from May 2nd through June 12th, 2022. Schedule a visit: HTTPS://BIT.LY/PAUSE_VISIT
81 Leonard Street New York, NY 10013
The gallery’s street-facing windows will feature a rotating display of artworks, and the exhibition continues inside, accessible by appointment here.
Featuring the work of six local Jewish artists, PAUSE: Jewish Heritage Month/Ways of Being pays homage to the multi-dimensional nature of Jewish identity and the varying, and often unexpected, ways in which Jewishness manifests in visual art.
This exhibition is curated by Hannah Eve Rothbard and Goldie Gross, and is supported by a grant from CANVAS.
In one word, “Jewish” can describe many aspects of a person’s identity. However, very few assumptions can be made about someone with this identifier. While sharing the label proudly, the artists in PAUSE: Jewish Heritage Month/Ways of Being vary in their levels of religious observance, languages spoken, and traditions practiced. Just as there are many ways to be Jewish, so too there are many ways for Jewishness to present itself in art, ranging from representational biblical imagery to pure abstraction. The artists featured in this exhibition illustrate this phenomena with visually diverse work that emerges from each artist’s distinctly Jewish approach to artmaking and to life.
On view in the windows for the first two weeks of the exhibition and inside for the remaining duration, artworks by Orli Swergold and Tobi Kahn present art as an act of compassion. For both artists, Jewish values play a central role in the creative process, and abstraction is the result. Swergold’s work makes use of organic and industrial materials, fusing them into hybrid objects that reflect an inseparable and codependent relationship with nature. Her practice of recycling and renewing materials becomes both a ritual and responsibility, drawing on ideas from the biblical narrative of creation and Tikkun Olam, the Jewish idea of healing the world. Kahn’s work similarly explores our spiritual connection with nature and reflects a concern for the uncertain state of the world. With biomorphic forms and elemental landscapes, Kahn achieves equilibrium between abstraction and observance, capturing the essence of the natural world in all its beauty, power, and mysticism.
The work of Yona Verwer and Ali Shrago-Spechler, on display for the second two weeks of the exhibition, both probe their respective personal and cultural histories in attempts to reconcile questions of belonging. Verwer’s paintings Hebban Olla Vogala 1 and Hebban Olla Vogala 2 reference the first three words of one of the earliest texts in Old Dutch, which translates, according to the artist, as “all the birds have made their nest except for you and me.” A Dutch expatriate and Jewish convert, Verwer crafts a language of recurrent symbols, including submarines representative of Jonah’s whale, to tell an ongoing story of spatial, spiritual, and cultural transition. Shrago-Spechler’s work considers transition through the use of cardboard, a material which embodies impermanence and exchange. Using cardboard to construct various tchotchkes, photographs, ritual objects, and books pulled from her family oral history and archives pertaining to Ashkenazi Jewry, Shrago-Spechler highlights the displacement of European Jewish cultural heritage during the Holocaust on a large-scale and individual level.
Joel Silverstein and Richard McBee’s works, on view in the windows for the final two weeks of the exhibition, filter biblical perspectives through a modern imagination. Drawing on his background as a Brooklyn-born Jew with a strong interest in classic movies and comic books, Silverstein fuses pop culture, art history, and biblical references to create fantastical paintings that refer as much to modern Jewish life as they do to the Torah. Illustrating content from early Jewish mystical thought and incorporating collaged paper, Merkabah Misadventure presents materialism as modern-day mysticism. McBee’s paintings also re-envision biblical scenes with a contemporary sensibility. In McBee’s painting Moses I, Moses stands atop Mount Sinai and looks hesitatingly back from where he came in light of the idol worship occurring below. McBee’s work offers new perspectives on the inevitability of the tablets’ destruction; clutching them to his chest, Moses seems to be exploring other options besides for descending the mountain.
Swergold and Kahn’s work will be featured in the windows from May 2 until May 15.
Verwer and Shrago-Spechler’s work will be visible from May 16 until May 29.
McBee and Silverstein’s works will be featured from May 30 until June 12.
The exhibition continues inside, accessible by appointment here.
Top Row: Tobi Kahn, Orli Swergold
Middle Row: Yona Verwer, Ali Shrago-Spechler
Bottom Row: Richard McBee, Joel Silverstein
About the Artists
Tobi Kahn is a painter and sculptor whose art has been shown in over 70 solo museum exhibitions. Works by Kahn are in major museum collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC; the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, TX; The Phillips Collection, DC; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Yale University Art Gallery, CT; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; and The Jewish Museum, NYC. Kahn has completed commissioned installations at locations across the country, including Holocaust memorial gardens (La Jolla, CA), the 9/11 Memorial Museum (NYC), and Thomas Jefferson University (Philadelphia, PA). For over 30 years, he has taught fine arts at the School of Visual Arts, NYC and is the Artist-in-Residence at Kivunim. He is the co-founder and facilitator of the Artists’ Beit Midrash at Temple Emanu-El’s Steicker Center. Kahn lectures extensively at universities and public forums internationally on the importance of visual language and on art as healing.
Orli Swergold is a Brooklyn-based abstract sculptor and painter from Westchester, N.Y. After graduating with high honors from Brandeis University (B.A., Studio Art and Art History, 2018), Swergold trained at Brandeis’ Post-Baccalaureate program and earned her M.F.A. in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design (2021), where she received the competitive Graduate Commons Grant. Swergold has shown in select group exhibitions at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Brandeis University. As an undergraduate, Swergold self-produced three solo exhibitions accompanied by artist grants. Her work is on permanent display as part of the Brandeis University Library Art Collection. Most recently, Swergold exhibited at Asya Geisberg Gallery in Chelsea, N.Y., and the I Like Your Work Podcast Winter Exhibition.
Yona Verwer is a Dutch-born New York-based mixed media artist. She has shown and curated in galleries and museums nationally and internationally, such as the Jerusalem Biennale, Amstelkerk and the Skirball Museum. In NYC: the Andy Warhol Factory, the Bronx Museum, Y.U. Museum, and the Bernard Heller Museum. Verwer has been featured in the New York Times, the New Yorker and the Huffington Post. She is the founding director of the non-profit Jewish Art Salon, a global network of contemporary artists and art professionals. She holds a master’s degree in fine art from the Royal Academy in The Hague, Netherlands.
Ali Shrago-Spechler is an interdisciplinary artist and educator from Hollywood, FL. She holds a BFA in Painting and Art History from Pratt Institute (2011) and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts (2016). She received a Fulbright Grant (‘20-‘21) to research the German Remembrance Culture through the framework of the Thingspiele theatrical and political movement, positing that it was born of German-Jewish cultural collaboration. She is also the recipient of the Naomi Anolic Emerging Artist Award (2017) and has participated in residencies with ProjectArt in Crown Heights Library, Mass MoCA, Trestle Art Space and Vermont Studio Center. She currently lives and works in Germany, Jerusalem, and New York.
Joel Silverstein was born in Brooklyn, NY and attended Pratt Institute BFA in Painting,1979, MPS in Art Therapy 1982, and Brooklyn College MFA in Painting 1992. He has shown nationally and internationally at the Hebrew Union College Dr. Bernard Heller Museum (NY), Art Basel (Miami), the Van Leer Institute (Israel), The Mishkan Le’Omanut Museum (Israel), Greenkill Gallery (Kingston NY), the Amstelkirk Gallery (Amsterdam, Netherlands), the Rabbi Ario S. and Tess Hyams Judaica Museum (Roslyn Hts., NY), the Pratt Hadas Gallery Rohr Center (NY), the Columbia/ Barnard Kraft Center (NY), and the Jerusalem Biennial 2015 and 2017 (Israel). The artist and critic is a Founding and Executive Member of the Jewish Art Salon and has curated or advised on 15 Salon exhibitions. His work and curated exhibitions are cited in Ori Z. Soltes’ Tradition and Transformation; Three Millennium of Jewish Art & Architecture and Matthew Baigell’s Jewish Identity in American Art, a Golden Age Since the 1970s.
Richard McBee, born in New York City, studied painting at the Art Students League of New York. His artwork has been exhibited internationally and is in many private collections throughout the country. McBee was program director of the Alliance of Figurative Artists in the 1980’s and in 1991, was one of the founding members of the American Guild of Judaic Art. In 2008, he cofounded the Jewish Art Salon to promote contemporary Jewish Art through exhibitions and lectures. He has written for The Jewish Press, the Forward the Jewish Week, Jewish Ideas Daily, and Mosaic magazine. He is a member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and the Association for Jewish Studies. Leading scholars of Jewish Art, including Matthew Baigell and Ori Z. Soltes, have discussed his artwork extensively. McBee continues to write, exhibit, lecture, and curate exhibitions on Jewish Art.