Mar 16, 2009 — Four exhibits taking their inspiration from the world of Jewish life and tradition in a rich variety of media are opening to the public at the Yeshiva University Museum in February and March.
I of the Storm: Michael Hafftka, Recent Work, March 22 – Aug. 30, 2009
After more than 30 years of portraying the human figure with a neo-expressionist style, Michael Hafftka turns to his Jewish heritage for subject matter and inspiration in his new exhibition, “I of the Storm: Michael Hafftka, Recent Work.”. Frequently compared to the painters Soutine, Goya and Rouault, Hafftka here makes use of mystical images, biblical themes and the Hebrew alphabet in watercolors and oils.
A group of watercolors based on “The Zohar,” or Book of Splendor serves as a visual exegesis of this 13th-century Jewish mystical text, which is widely considered the most important work of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. Several recent oil painting focus on Jewish or biblical themes including “The Flood,” “Honi Ha Me’aggel” (Honi the Circledrawer) and “Babel.” A centerpiece of this group is “The Hill (Jerusalem),” a large-scale triptych that the artist recently donated to the YU Museum.
The son of Holocaust survivors and refugees from Europe, Hafftka was born in Manhattan in 1953 and raised in the Bronx. After the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, he volunteered to work on a Kibbutz in Israel for a year. The experience, which the artist says was accompanied by a series of visions and mystical dreams, led him to experiment with painting, which became his true vocation.
Hafftka’s work is represented in the permanent collections of, among others, The Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Carnegie Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, New York Public Library Collection, Housatonic Museum of Art, Arizona State University Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, and the Yeshiva University Museum.
Joseph, the Bull and the Rose by Anette Pier, Feb. 26– Aug. 30, 2009
Mexican artist Anette Pier takes the theme of the bull (shor) and the bull fight (fiesta brava) and relates it to the multi-faceted biblical figure of Joseph in her exhibition “Joseph, the Bull and the Rose.”
Working from within her Jewish-Mexican tradition, Pier builds upon the image of the bull as a metaphor for Joseph’s magnetism, charisma, and acquired identity. The artist visually demonstrates how bullfighting is a dance and power play, with the matador paralleling Joseph’s relationship with his brothers. The metaphor serves as a thread through this collection of 20 mixed-media paintings.
The allegorical references in Pier’s exhibition derive from Midrashim—later interpretations and commentaries on the biblical text through later sources. By comparing the biblical Joseph with the more recent traditions of the bullfight, the artist highlights tensions embedded in the original text, while also commenting on ways biblical tradition has been reinterpreted and adapted by later, especially Mexican, culture.
Pier studied painting and philosophy and received a medical degree from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico. She has shown solo and collective exhibits in both Mexico and the United States.
Final Mourner’s Kaddish: 333 Days in Paintings by Max Miller, March 24 – Aug. 16, 2009
Max Miller’s grief provides the inspiration for a vivid, moving and cathartic account of his year spent saying Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, for his father.
The 50 vibrant watercolors, considered by the artist to be a coherent unit, are painted on paper. They depict the synagogues Miller visited in New York, Vermont, Ohio and Florida. Accompanying the images is the artist’s commentary, based on his thoughts, feelings and experiences with those he met during this pursuit. While honoring the Jewish tradition of memorializing a parent, he came to learn a great deal about his father and their shared heritage.
Miller is known for his abstract paintings that embrace color and line, as well as his figurative paintings of human and animal subjects. He has had exhibitions in New York City and throughout the East Coast. He received his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and MFA from Yale University. He has been awarded numerous fellowships, including a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and two Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grants.
After the death of his father, Murray A. Miller, who grew up Orthodox with Yiddish as his first language, Miller chose to undertake the custom of saying Kaddish, a prayer of mourning exalting the name of God, which is recited in the presence of a congregation daily for eleven months.
As an historic record and for personal reasons, he created a watercolor of each place he said Kaddish. The exhibition also features a stunning portrait of Miller’s father against a silver leaf background – an image of iconic and descriptive power that sets the tone for the show.
While saying Kaddish has formally ended for Mr. Miller, bringing this project to fruition provides an opportunity for those within the Jewish community, and for those in other communities, of all ages, to witness and honor the tradition of the Mourner’s Kaddish, and to reflect on their own humanity and spiritual journeys.
Exhibition Sponsor: New York Foundation for the Arts
Testimony and Memory: Contemporary Miniature Torah Mantles by Carole Smollan, Feb. 26 – July 26, 2009
The beauty of the fabrics and the high degree of skill lavished on Torah mantles are a measure of the regard in which the Torah is held. The mantles “dress” and protect the sacred, handwritten scroll comprising the first five books of Moses. In “Testimony and Memory: Contemporary Miniature Torah Mantles,” London artist Carole Smollan reinterprets these ceremonial covers using remnants from huppot (wedding canopies) that she designed for couples from around the world.
This collection of 56 exquisitely detailed miniature mantles exhibit an extraordinary range of decorative variation. Smollan employs a variety of stitching techniques and other embellishments, such as applied lace, linking this body of work to her early career in lace and lingerie design. In addition to specializing in traditional processes, such as Japanese shibori, Smollan has developed her own technique of “bleeding” silk. These pattern-dyeing techniques, she believes, epitomize the way in which cloth retains the memory of any action that is performed on it.
Additional resonance is generated by the fact that all of the textile fragments and trimmings used to construct the mantles come from the artist’s treasured store of off-cuts and rejected portions of other textile projects.
A small, moving series of Torah mantles tells the story of Smollan’s own family exodus from Lithuania to South Africa; these objects are artificially aged and stained and incorporate fragments of family travel documents and ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts), photographs, and other memorabilia. Other imagery on the Torah mantles is more traditional – the Tree of Life, the menorah (seven-branched lamp), the Ark of the Covenant, and Hebrew prayers and words spoken at life-cycle ceremonies.
Born and raised in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Smollan does not remember a time when textiles were not a part of her life. In the 1990s she emigrated from South Africa to London. She describes her large collection of miniature Torah mantles as a “collective memory,” a weaving together (to use a textile metaphor) of her life’s artistic work and personal history.
Smollan works out of studios in London and Portugal. Her work has been exhibited internationally for almost forty years.