The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art is a monument to the timeless cultural traditions of Judaism. Tucked away on the Zarrow Campus at 71st Street, west of Lewis, the museum functions both as an educational resource and an active exhibition space.
Since October, "Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve" has been on display here. It is a collection of locally owned pieces that depict various stories and characters from the Old Testament.
I love to see people's different visual interpretations of religious texts. If you enjoy seeing Biblical stories and characters in image form, you will love "SOADOE." York informs me that two-thirds of the exhibit is borrowed from local establishments, while the remaining third is from the museum's archives. There are pieces from Temple Israel, Gilcrease museum and private collections. The high point of the exhibit is the diversity of the imagery, York says. Though all work deals with Jewish stories and themes, the artistic execution of these themes varies stylistically.
"SOADOE" is a chronologically organized show, beginning with Creation. An olive wood carving from Israel is on display as well as a painting entitled "Play Ball" in which Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" has been modified. God extends a baseball to Adam's hand as a metaphor to begin life, or "play ball!"
Noah's area features an original Picasso depiction of the infamous dove bearing an olive branch and a wood and metal sculpture of the ark, Noah and animals by Persian sculptor Bijan Bijan. The exhibit continues on throughout the formation of the twelve tribes of Judah, to Moses. I was nearly salivating at the delicious array of media available for consumption at the show! One work that I found instantaneously attractive is David Bennett's "The Joseph Cycle," which displays 12 brightly colored lithographs, telling the entire story of Joseph. The work is at once reminiscent of stained glass windows, consisting of rich fields of flat color, but also with a story telling context. In this work, Bennett has taken Joseph's coat of many colors and runs wild with it!
York leads me to the Moses area, which is even made to feel as though one is in a tent by the swaths of creamy fabric that drape down from the ceiling. Marc Chagall's "Exodus" is a modern lithograph, while an historic Moses figure made of solid ivory and studded with garnets humorously "opens" his lower garments to reveal a miniature triptych carved in relief! The most powerful pieces in my opinion have to be Isaac Frenel's "Moses and Aaron" and an unknown "Saul, David and the Harp." Frenel's "Moses and Aaron" is an impressionistic explosion of color, while the print "Saul, David and the Harp," signed mysteriously but yet unknown, is a masterpiece of metaphor.
The story behind this work is simple: King Saul was in a bad mood and needed a harpist to play in order to soothe his temperament. The future king of Israel, David, comes to play and the King is satisfied.
In the print on the left, King Saul is a geometrical ball of negative energy. Composed of hard black lines and radiating radioactive red out into the entire picture plane, the king seems still unaffected by the smooth organic nature of David, composed of lyrical lines that are echoed in the whimsically drawn harp. David's expression is placid and his draperies the same eternally spiritual blue of the sky. His depiction is the ultimate contrast to the image of King Saul. "Saul, David and the Harp" is an interesting piece, visually stimulating and effective in its rendering of the story.
Finally, to demonstrate the apparent diversity of the collection even more, York leads me to the section devoted to King Solomon and his stories. Franz Frantzen's interpretation of the story of Solomon and Sheba is highly European in appearance, featuring realism, Germanic blond characters and dress worthy of any Renaissance-era gathering, while Shlomo Katz's "Story of Solomon & Sheba" is a graphic rendering complete with brown skin, registers inspired by ancient victory stele, and a psychedelic sky filled with colors and patterns that are echoed throughout the entire piece.
The first sidebar exhibit is a collection of 75 paintings created by children at this year's Camp Shalom. The paintings depict a menagerie of brightly colored and glittered animals, former passengers of an ark under the supervision of a guy named Noah. While virtually no animals natural to our region of the country are visible, an exotic array of species inhabits this hallway in the museum.
The second accompanying exhibit, titled "Biblical Images in Pop Culture," is one that will appeal to all viewers. As the museum's curator Karen York tells me, a lot of Americans do not even realize the impact that Old Testament Biblical stories have on our mass media culture. This exhibit, consisting of movie posters, political cartoons and other bits of media sheds light on the prevalence of Biblical stories throughout our media that can go unrecognized if one is not raised with such stories reiterated throughout life.
Movie posters on display range from the well-known to more obscure titles. Of course, there is a wall devoted to Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments, the most epic Biblical film produced. Also, on display are DeMille's Samson and Delilah from 1949, Sodom and Gomorrah: The Last Seven Days from 1975, King David with Richard Gere from 1985 and the more recent One Night With the King of 2006.
A humorous British Quad Poster of Bruce Almighty features Jim Carrey a la Adam from the Sistine Chapel, reclining on a bed of strategically placed clouds. York mentions that the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art maintains a sense of humor when selecting work to display. For the kid in all of us, there are posters from the Season 10 "Simpsons Bible Stories," "The Rugrats Passover" and a vintage comic entitled "The Red-Headed Beatle of 1000 B.C.," which features Superman's friend Jimmy Olsen traveling back to Biblical times as a toga-clad rock star.
Pieces like this are not only artistically relevant; these posters are records of Jewish history. According to York, the comic Superman was created by "two Jewish teens from Cleveland."
In local interest, a piece from the collection of Mayor Kathy Taylor, Michael E. Dwyer's watercolor and ink drawing "Fill Mr. David's Glass With Merlokie" is hung next to two original ink drawings by political cartoonist and Urban Tulsa Weekly contributor Dave Simpson. This is humorous to me that a drawing from the home of Mayor Taylor is adjacent to a work that features her now iconic visage in a comic that comments on the shunned and forgotten Arkansas River development. The technical skill conveyed in Simpson's pieces is stunning.
"Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve" is exceptional to reveal the various influences and diversity of culture in the tradition of Judaism. It is a testament to the human tradition of influence and stylistic appropriation. The exhibit runs through January 28 at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, located on the Zarrow Campus at 71st Street and Wheeling.
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