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Spinoza in Our Time: Panel Discussion at 92St Y / Conney Conference

Monday April 1, 2019, 9:00-10:00 am.

92 St Y, Buttenweiser Hall 

1395 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10128

Spinoza in Our Time 

Moderator: Ori Z. Soltes.

Panelists: Artists Lenore Mizrachi-Cohen, Goldie Gross, Judith Joseph, Cynthia Beth Rubin, Yona Verwer, and David Wander.

View the video recording HERE

The panel will take up some of the thinking that shaped the exhibition, Spinoza: Marrano of Reason, which opened on March 7 in two venues in Amsterdam. The exhibit offers the work of a diversity of artists—from the Netherlands, the United States, Israel, and Colombia—who addressed a diversity of issues that resonate from the story of the brilliant 17th-century Dutch Jewish philosopher.

Spinoza came from a family that left Portugal during the previous century in the context of an ongoing Inquisition by the Catholic Church into heresy and proper Christian faith. From a teenagerhood as an intense student of rabbinic Judaism, he evolved to become both the father of modern Jewish thought and one of the fathers of modern Western thought, and at the same time, was the victim of a double process of excommunication for heresy and improper Jewish belief by the Sephardic rabbinate of Amsterdam.

The panel will be introduced by a brief discussion, by the moderator, of Spinoza’s thought and why and how it was deemed worthy of excommunication and why and how it is essential to modern Jewish and Western thought. This introduction will include references to several artworks from the exhibition that reflect on Spinoza, his biography, and his thought: as a lens-grinder with profound intellectual vision, who imagined a God of pure reason without a narrowly personified being, but who suffuses all of creation (natura naturans cum amor intelletualis).

The six panelists will then follow with brief discussions of their own work in the exhibition that addresses Spinoza in different ways. These visual ideas, in diverse media, connect the philosopher’s era to other issues and eras, including our own. The artists consider the matter of defining Jewish thought and Jewish art within the larger history of art; the issue of hiddenness (Spinoza’s era was not the only one in which Jews have felt obliged to remain hidden in fundamental ways); the matter of being a woman and a woman artist within Judaism, the West and the worlds of Jewish and Western art; and the matter of immigrants and refugees across time and space. These questions connect Spinoza to the matter of being a Jew in a Christian world, a Jewish artist in the world of art, a genius in the world of narrow minds, and a human being in the world of natura naturans and naturata.

Ori Z. Soltes currently teaches theology, philosophy and art history at Georgetown University. Dr. Soltes has lectured at dozens of museums across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. For seven years, Dr. Soltes was Director and Chief Curator of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, where he created over 80 exhibitions. Nearly 280 publications have included, among others: Tradition and Transformation: Three Millennia of Jewish Art & Architecture; and Fixing the World: Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century.

Lenore Mizrachi-Cohen is a mixed-media conceptual artist based in Brooklyn. She employs Arabic and Hebrew calligraphy, imagery, and light to create art that contrasts past and present cultural values. Her family heritage as a Syrian Jew is a deep well of inspiration for her work, which has been exhibited and collected in the US and abroad.

Goldie Gross is a Brooklyn born & raised artist, curator, and student. She has curated several exhibitions for the Jewish Art Salon, and was the curatorial assistant for Spinoza: Marrano of Reason, as well as the co-producer of Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth at the Jerusalem Biennale 2017. You can find her work in galleries and nontraditional art venues all across the boroughs. 

Judith Josephis a Chicago-based painter, printmaker and calligrapher.  She is Managing Director of the Jewish Artists Collective – Chicago, a group of twelve artists who exhibit together, and teaches an Artists’ Beit Midrash.  She exhibits widely in solo and group shows, and has a thriving practice as a ketubah artist.

Cynthia Beth Rubin is an early adaptor of digital imaging, beginning the transition from paint in 1984. Rubin’s digital prints, videos, and interactive works have been shown on the ICC facade in Hong Kong, the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Cotton Club screen, the ICA in London, and the Jerusalem Biennale, as well as numerous international festivals, and her awards include multiple Connecticut Artist Fellowships, NE Foundation on the Arts, Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and more, and artist residencies in France, Israel, Canada, and Scotland.

Yona Verwer is a Dutch-born, New York-based multimedia artist whose works explore personal and collective identity, history, and kabbalah. Verwer’s work has been shown internationally at the Jerusalem Biennale, Amsterdam’s Troubled Waters, the Andy Warhol Factory, and the Holocaust Memorial Center. She has been published in 4 languages, including in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Art Criticism. Verwer is the co-founder and director of the Jewish Art Salon, the largest contemporary Jewish visual arts organization.

David Wander is an artist and a story teller.He has been working for over forty years interpreting and reinterpreting Jewish folk tales, megillot, and biblical stories in a visual midrash format. His Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust was shown in a one man show at Yad Vashem and published and shown in German through Humbolt University in Berlin. He has shown at Mobia Museum, Temple Emmanuel Museum, and the HUC Museum in New York. He has drawn the five Megillot, the book of Yonah, and the five books of David.


The Jewish Art Salon is proud to be participating in the Conney Conference on Jewish Arts at the 92Y, March 31-April 3rd, 2019.

The other two Jewish Art Salon panels:

April 2: 10:00-11:00 am.

Anti-Semitism and Jewish Art Today / Moderator: Ruth Weisberg. Panelists: Yona Verwer, Phillip Schwartz, Max Kulchinsky, Richard McBee. 

April 2: 2:00-3:00 pm

Contemporary Jewish Narratives / Moderator: Matthew Baigell. Panelists: Archie Rand, Richard McBee, Joel Silverstein 


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