Arts & Entertainment

Relatively Jewish

Seeking the spiritual in this temple art show
Reviewed by V.I. Levin
Advocate correspondent


Hannah Richman, “Earle Street,” oil on canvas (24” x 36”) 
IMAGE COURTESY HANNAH RICHMAN Hannah Richman, “Earle Street,” oil on canvas (24” x 36”) IMAGE COURTESY HANNAH RICHMAN BROOKLINE – Visitors to this exhibition can choose to gauge it by how well the pieces included adhere to the titular theme, with all its implications of individual as opposed to collective memory and revisionist as opposed to actual history – that is to say, relativistically – or by its success in meeting the standard of all art, which is to present something revolutionary and thus awaken the audience from its slumber of false consciousness.

The curators euphemistically describe the seven artists represented as early-career – in other words twenty-somethings or as they say millennials, a demographic not distinguished by its historical memory – and Jewish, which, judging from the work, may also be employed euphemistically.

For example, the laser-carved wooden pieces and handmade books of Rachel Jackson, while pleasing to the eye, create confusion when considering their Jewish content. A wooden wall hanging and wooden bread plate offer Hebrew words – the lazy reliance of visual artists upon words to create meaning continues – which is definitely Jewish in a religious sense; a book featuring a whimsical chicken on its cover could pass for culturally Jewish; but the nonironic “Islamic Book” is definitely not Jewish.


Emily Mogavero, “Aufheben 71,” drypoint, chine-collé and aquatint on paper (fifty 7¾” x 10”, twenty-five 10” x 13”) 
IMAGE COURTESY EMILY MOGAVERO Emily Mogavero, “Aufheben 71,” drypoint, chine-collé and aquatint on paper (fifty 7¾” x 10”, twenty-five 10” x 13”) IMAGE COURTESY EMILY MOGAVERO More successful in wedding medium with message is co-curator Emily Mogavero’s series of prints, “Aufheben,” a number of sequential works on paper – out of dozens – where the same metal plate is carved, inked and pressed so that previous images gradually fade behind new bold ones, thus serving as a clever illustration so to speak of the exhibition’s title, preserving the memory of prior prints while creating a visual history of the metal plate. The works are also pleasantly abstract – avoiding the kitschy narrative quality of the representational pieces in the show – although the best prints in the series juxtapose strong geometric lines with curves suggestive of figures. Employing a medium that erases, preserves and creates anew images and naming the impossibly lengthy series with a German word that means the same is as they say gemütlichaufheben having been employed by Marx and Hegel – and creates a clever Holocaust reference that is unfortunately not at all relatively Jewish.


Natalya Bernstein, “Miriam,” oil paint and colored pencil on paper (18” x 24”) 
IMAGE COURTESY NATALYA BERNSTEIN Natalya Bernstein, “Miriam,” oil paint and colored pencil on paper (18” x 24”) IMAGE COURTESY NATALYA BERNSTEIN Geometry also features prominently in the oils of Hannah Richman, whose urban landscapes she has made minimal as fields of color not unlike the way Mondrian did. The modern Dutch master took a syncopated, bird’s eye view of city life – picture “Broadway Boogie Woogie” – while Richman revels in the grit of the industrial street, the vast sameness of windowless industrial facades and parallel horizontal lines of abandoned train tracks overgrown with weeds of ochre. Richman is at her best when she works big – of her two small canvases in the exhibition, one is cluttered and the other bare – and when she releases her attachment to detail – her factories do not need HVAC units on the roof nor do the weeds need to be presented so haphazardly – her art will mature considerably. The lack of Jewish content save the artist’s identification does not detract from Richman’s modern accomplishments, but it does suggest the curators’ use of the term Jewish can be quite relative.

Not surprisingly, the single work that best employs a medium to express the philosophy of the curators and offers Jewish content – that is to say presents holistically the theory and practice of the exhibition – is co-curator Natalya Bernstein’s subtle, sublime “Miriam,” an 18-by- 24-inch work of remarkable depth and insight. The artist’s modest description – oil paint and colored pencil on paper – underplays the complexity of this mixed media work, which includes a boldly contrasting palette, brush strokes apparent in thickly applied oils, space defined negatively, exquisite balance, an abstract figure reminiscent of de Kooning, and most provocatively, strips of paper torn from a siddur. While we are loathe to acknowledge privilege in any setting, this piece deserves the space it occupies in this otherwise cramped exhibition.

From a holistic perspective, the exhibition makes a strong case for the expression of the attributes of the artist in her work, in that an intelligent artist produced complicated prints, a pretty artist produced beautiful paintings and a thoughtful, passionate, sexy artist produced a subversive and revolutionary canvas.

“Guarding Memories | Creating Histories”; Temple Ohabei Shalom, Brookline; July 26-Aug. 20 (Tuesday & Wednesday, noon-5 p.m.; Thursday, Friday & Sunday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m.; or by appointment); mohobrookline@gmail.com; free



Community

DEDHAM – Corey Roberts’ third grade class helps...


Copyright 2008-2017 The Jewish Advocate, All Rights Reserved