What is the function of art?
There are an infinite number of answers to this question:
Art appeals to us aesthetically, provokes thought, creates and answers questions, documents and comments on society... the list goes on. Viewing art is a subjective experience, based on feeling. How does a certain piece make you feel?
It helps to leave any preconceived notions or ideas at the door when viewing an art show. Do not look at the pieces objectively, at least as a whole. Of course, we respond initially to the physical object of the work.
But art should be more than that. It should transcend space and time by evoking an emotion inside you. It is that deep feeling, the power of tapping into the collective subconscious. I know I am standing in front of a powerful work of art when I have a physical reaction to it. It usually manifests as a tingly feeling all over. Kinda like goose bumps.
I think many people are intimidated by the art world because of its exclusivity. It should not be this way. Art and design are responsible for many of the things we use every day. That toothbrush you use, the car you drive, the flat screen television you use to watch those horrible reality shows, these are all products of art and design.
All it takes are a few visits to galleries, a discerning mind, and an open heart and I guarantee any ol' Joe or Jolene can learn to have the eye of a collector.
Speaking of collectors, this month The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art presents "The Eye of the Collector: The Jewish Vision of Sigmund R. Balka."
This is a large and impressive collection of works done mainly on paper. You will see lithographs, steel-plate etchings and woodcuts.
According to the museum's CEO, Arthur Feldman, "The single vision of Balka's collection was to amass a body of work that was created by Jewish artists and has a thread of Jewish consciousness represented in the work."
"The Eye of the Collector" is arranged so that you view the works from left to right, a reference to the way one reads Hebrew.
Throughout the entire show, Jewish themes are represented in the works.
The message is clear in some, while more subdued in others.
"All these works show Jewish culture as depicted by artists before, during and right after the Holocaust," said Feldman.
"We French Workers Warn You... Defeat Means Slavery, Starvation, Death" by Ben Shahn, an American artist, is a propaganda poster that conveys the futility felt by the French workers, under the Nazi regime. The large, expressive hands thrown up in defeat and the blank stare of the man in the foreground express the despair felt by these people at such a terrible time in their life.
Other pieces run in a similar sentiment.
Grace Graupe-Pillard's "Nowhere to Go" is a series of ten vividly colored oil paintings on wood that deal with displacement. Julius Bloch's "Moonlight in No Man's Land-Bayoneted" is an expressive black ink drawing that recreates the horror and anguish of corpses strewn about after the war.
These pieces, while visually stunning, are also valid documents of history. The artists were dealing with the trauma of the time, and some of the works are the result of those experiences.
As "The Eye" unfurls, though, other subjects are represented. Feldman said that many of these pieces are an extension of Jewish cultural history. It shows how Jews infused themselves in mainstream American society.
As a diasporic people, Jews are represented all over the world. They have taken inspiration from their surroundings and responded to the artistic modes of different time periods. Arthur pointed out,
"The fiber of continuity is through the worship. We believe in unity of person. Some things are absolute, yet the diversity is here, and we certainly celebrate that."
Images of sweatshops, kosher butchers and study are prevalent throughout the show. The sense of Jewish community is evident, and it seems to be one of the cardinal tenets of the people.
Rituals are also depicted.
"Lighting Sabbath Candles," a lithograph by Chaim Gross, shows a woman surrounded by children, as she illuminates the darkened room by lighting candles. This is a significant piece, Arthur informed me, because light has always been a symbol of hope for Jewish people.
"Talmudisten," an etching by Ephraim Moses Lilien depicts the reading of the Talmud by a group of bearded men.
And what about the beards?
Many handsome depictions of men with serious beards are on display. Check out "Tel-Aviv Gentleman" by Elias Mandel Grossman, "Gimpel the Fool" by Morton Garchik or "One of the Merchant Princes of Bombay" by David Sassoon, Esq.
As a bearded man myself, my personal favorite of the Battle of the Beards would have to be Saul Raskin's "Portrait of Dr. Theodore Herzl."
The detail in this etching is remarkable! Get really close in order to see the detail of the hair.
Viewing "The Eye" was inspirational on many levels, but the strongest works are possibly the ones that have a latent Jewish content.
Feldman aid, "Many of the artists represented, some of the bigger names like Chagall and Motherwell, people don't know them as Jews, but as renowned artists. What catapulted these guys to the top was their strength of personal style."
Chagall's "Mother and Child at the Eiffel Tower" is visually stunning. A monochromatic lithograph, it depicts a mother and child embracing in the left foreground, while an organic depiction of the Eiffel Tower rises behind them, to the right. A well-intended arcing line forms the sun or moon. The simplicity of black and white forms juxtaposed in a work of art is always a powerful effect.
An outstanding lithograph by Jacques Lipchitz entitled "Rape of Europa" takes on a new form. A flat, blue background is the backdrop for a maelstrom of energy expressed in black. Vague figurative and equine forms struggle in a web of chaos, a familiar effect expressed by other artists who have taken on similar, classical rape scenes.
And then there's Robert Motherwell. "Untitled" consists of a bright blue background, marked with expressive white brush strokes and paint splatters. To study this piece is comparable to looking at ink blots. What will you see in the image?
"The Eye of the Collector" is a traveling exhibition created by the Hebrew Union Museum of New York. Through its extensive national and international relationships with major museums, the Sherwin Miller Museum is able to bring the only viewing of this exhibition outside of New York City. The exhibit will be on display until April 27 at 2021 E. 71st Street. For more information, call 492-1818.
Also on display at Sherwin Miller is "Unrevealed Beauty: The incredible landscapes of the Dead Sea" by photographer Duby Tal.
"Unrevealed Beauty" is an attempt to capture and treasure the glorious visions of this unique site, and at the same time to raise awareness to the Dead Sea's plight and to prevent its irreplaceable loss.
These stunning aerial photos of the Dead Sea region are a mind trip. Be prepared to see some very intense colors and patterns. "Unrevealed Beauty" will be on display at Sherwin Miller through March 31.
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