Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth

Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth
On view from January 28–May 27, 2018


I am grateful to Yona Verwer and the Jewish Art Salon for providing Derfner Judaica Museum this opportunity to exhibit Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth, first shown in two venues at the third Jerusalem Biennale in the fall of 2017. The Jewish Art Salon’s exhibition was one of 26 exhibitions and projects from around the world that occupied multiple venues at the Biennale. We are honored to bring Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth to New York for its only US showing.

The exhibition includes 34 works by 30 artists who explore this year’s Biennale theme of watershed. “As a geological term, it examines water, streams and rivers that split and converge,” the Biennale’s founder Ram Ozeri explains. “It can also be used as a metaphor to help us think about ourselves and the way we split and converge as individuals and groups. Both in Hebrew (kav parashat hamayim) and in English, watershed is used to describe an important turning point—an event that changed the course of history.” According to Ozeri, the recent Biennale threw “a spotlight onto the concept of watershed, examining it from a literal, metaphorical and even historical perspective. . . . The theme finds its expression in issues as varied as Jewish identity, immigration and refugees, alongside watershed moments in history.” These are the subjects that occupy the artists from the US, Israel, the UK and the Netherlands brought together by the Jewish Art Salon’s guest curator, Ori Z. Soltes.

As Dr. Soltes explains in an expanded essay he has written for a forthcoming issue of Ars Judaica, there was an unexpected challenge when it came to putting the chosen works on view in Jerusalem. There the physical reality of exhibition installation collided with the reality of the ideological missions of the institutions where the work was to be shown. The Jewish Art Salon had been given space at HaMachtarot Museum (The Underground Prisoners Museum)—an institution devoted to recording the building’s use as a British prison for members of the resistance of ca. 1946–48. Its dramatic interiors were to be shared by seven disparate exhibitions, with the areas for Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth, “mostly but not entirely contiguous,” as Soltes described them:

The solution to this was to organize each space to present defined aspects of the overall exhibit scope. More challenging was the censorship enforced by the Museum Director—presumably under the orders of the Department of Defense (rather than the Cultural Ministry), which owns the Museum building. Thus works by five artists were organized as their own exhibition and displayed at Beit Bezeq [an alternative venue], rather than at Machtarot (in one case, an artist had one photograph in each location).

This division of the exhibition—arbitrary, random and incontestable—is a mirror of the ruptures in Israeli society and among many Jews worldwide as a result of the painful political and moral issues facing the Jewish state. While this is not a political exhibition, the works in the show do reflect the complex, thought-provoking and deeply subjective experiences of the artists and their relationships to Jerusalem and to Judaism.

The question of Jerusalem having been left undecided by the Oslo Accords of the 1990s was recently in the news. This persistent uncertainty looms over the sacred city at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, provoking a range of reactions—from fiercely proclaimed judgments of entitlement to softer, but weighty, emotions stemming from deeply held religious beliefs and other moral and ethical convictions. Our arrival at yet another watershed moment raises the visibility of Jerusalem in the public eye and makes this exhibition all the more urgent for audiences willing to look through a Jewish lens at the different ways in which Jews and others connect personally, politically and spiritually to the holy city and the Jewish state.

I am grateful to the artists in this exhibition for their creativity and passion, courage and determination in bringing to visitors experiences at once full of beauty and of insight, and for lending their work here.

Susan Chevlowe, PhD, Chief Curator and Director, Derfner Judaica Museum

Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth
by Ori Z. Soltes, Curator

The idea of a watershed suggests a branching, be it of physical terrain, historical events or spiritual and aesthetic concepts. This notion is particularly powerful in conjunction with Jerusalem. The exhibition arc encompasses multiple divergences that begin with and come back to the geological topography of the Sacred City. That topography—an outcropping of land from the Judaean plain, surrounded by valleys on three sides—offers a symbolic statement of how the spiritual foundations of Jerusalem branch in three Abrahamic directions, and how multiple spiritual ramifications have flowed in diverse aesthetic and political streams. From beneath the surface, they periodically surge up into our consciousness.

Tobi Kahn’s uniquely sculptural paintings and Leah Caroline and Jeremy S–Horseman’s water-based sound-centered video offer, as a beginning point, abstract suggestions of the geological watershed that helps define Jerusalem. The Sacred City’s topography made it difficult for King David to conquer and when he did so, by way of its singular underground water source, he made it his political and spiritual capital. Jerusalem became the basis for much of Israelite-Judaean history and for Jewish, Christian and Muslim fantasy, and remains a centerpiece of contention in the politicized Israeli-Palestinian world of today.

The idea of the city pre-dates the city’s role in that history. The real—spiritual—beginning of the journey toward David’s unification and Jerusalem as a capital is found in watershed moments in Exodus when a loose confederation of tribes embraced a stringent, divinely-mandated covenant. Joel Silverstein’s painting Promised Land—here the beach at Coney Island—is a reference to biblical Israel and to American Jewish immigrant experience as exemplified by the artist’s grandparents.

Richard McBee’s dramatic painting submerges the plague-induced moments that gradually separated the Israelites from Egypt within a framework—conceived as two doors—that suggests the very portals into the Holy of Holies of the Temple in a watershed construction that will eventuate half a millennium after the plagues. For the Israelite evolution yields to David’s son, Solomon, the structure that he built and the wisdom with which he became associated—so that the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), as explored by Ellen Holtzblatt’s painting, is traditionally ascribed to him. Gabriella Boros considers watershed warnings to the Israelite-Judaeans articulated by Isaiah. Jerusalem is both particular and universal—and the message of the biblical book of Jonah, a dramatically different focus of Yona Verwer and Katarzyna Kozera, Jan Lauren Greenfield and Alan Hobscheid, emphasizes the watershed outreach of prophecy beyond the city of prophets as far as Nineveh—capital of the Assyrian enemies of Israel. For Verwer the painting (together with its augmented reality—hidden black and white video scenes of her family, located with one’s iphone) echoes her own journey from Holland to New York, from Catholicism to Orthodox Judaism: her own eyes above, a contemporary underwater fish (a submarine) and the Brooklyn Bridge below; her story embedded beneath the immediately visible surface—and Kozera’s parallel journey from Poland to New York.

The outcome of this series of divergences for the multi-valent city’s place in and between worlds is four-fold. One, within the Jewish tradition, the biblical has given way to the rabbinic (relating to Jewish law or teachings) and its penchant for midrash (commentary)—encountered through Rachel Kanter’s fiber work, Wake Up, and Beth Krensky’s video, Tashlich. Ben Schachter’s Aquavit: Praying for Rain furthers the rabbinic by re-visioning the concept of the mikveh (ritual bath). The rabbinic has in turn ramified toward the mystical, as in Susan Schwalb’s small, tight abstract visualizations of the legend of the LamedVav—the 36 hidden righteous ones.

In Carol Buchman’s haunting work, the mystical and geological become panentheistic: the Name of God suffuses nature at its most extreme; the artist functions as priestly intermediator.

Two: away from Jerusalem, Jewish history and thought have constantly sought a spiritual and, ultimately, physical return to Jerusalem—with particular vehemence at the harshest watershed moments in the diaspora experience. Mark Podwal conceptualizes the Expulsion of 1492 in his unique style; Billha Zussman imagines how that external watershed has internal consequences in her Spinoza: Marrano of Reason; I’m the Rose, Beware of the Thorns; Archie Rand’s 1946 offers a cutting edge—watershed—visual reference to the Shoah.

In Exodus #5, one from a series of paintings that considers the current wide-spread refugee crisis, Siona Benjamin interweaves that issue with an exploration of how PaRDeS (as a Jewish, and particularly a Jewish mystical concept) intersects the equivalent Islamic concept of Jannat. Miriam Stern re-visions the lushly colored Christian vision explored in the Crusader Bible. Four: the watershed of Jerusalem turns inward: Sarah Lightman turns the topography of Jerusalem toward profound life watersheds regarding people and the very making of art.

The watershed of return to Jerusalem and the questions of Jewish-Christian-Muslim coexistence within Jewish-governed modern Israel begin to bring this exhibition arc back toward its earthbound beginnings. The ramifications are multiple. Aviva Shemer’s mobile installation, The Moral Victory, suspended Hebrew, Arabic and Latin (English) letters, is inspired by Martin Buber’s discussion of Jerusalem as a center of the Am ve’Olam (People and the World) a century ago; Jane Logemann’s Water—frenetically repeated (like a cross between Philip Glass music and Abulafian mysticism) in Hebrew and Arabic—turns words into abstract images. Leah Raab’s depiction of the Valley of Tears alludes to a specific time and place within the Yom Kippur War. Dorit Jordan Dotan’s Water Matter abstracts from nature, showing the transformation from liquid to semi-solid on the shore of the Atlit Salt Flats—archeological evidence of how ancient communities collected water into natural evaporation pools for the harvesting of sea salt; her Drop in the Bucket focuses on the crisis of Israeli-Palestinian water-sharing.

Bruria Finkel’s Salt Mound installation turns the issue of potable and salt water convergences back toward the geology of Jerusalem. Yehudis Barmatz-Harris’s video turns water to fire in pushing history backwards: from the crucible of Jerusalem’s return to Jewish hands through the Shoah and the connotations of fire in Hassidic mystical thought to the book-burnings of diaspora experience and the burning of the Second and First Temples to the purification process of the Israelites in the wilderness by means of the burning of the red heifer. Pamela Fingerhut’s digital image of Miriam and Baby Moses returns us to the biblical moment of Moses’s birth through a modern Middle Eastern lens.

Elaine Langerman’s small, colorful painting, interwoven with text, entitled Poem/Painting #11: Watershed, concludes the return to the topographic ground of the exhibition inquiry. Text as the basis for Jewish ethos ramifies to the visual imagery that defines Jewish art—and raises the questions: what is Jewish art? And what is Judaism within itself and within the world? Both “Jewish art” and Judaism are suffused by questions—like the city of Jerusalem itself.

About Ori Z. Soltes

Dr. Ori Z. Soltes currently teaches theology, philosophy and art history at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. 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 focusing on aspects of history, ethnography and contemporary art. He has also curated diverse contemporary and historical art exhibits at other sites, nationally and internationally. As Director of the National Jewish Museum he co-founded the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and has spent nearly 20 years researching and consulting on the issue of Nazi-plundered art.

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. He has been interviewed for a score of programs on archaeological, religious, art, literary and historical topics on CNN, the History Channel and Discovery Channel. Nearly 250 publications—books, articles, and catalogue essays—have included, among others: Tradition and Transformation: Three Millennia of Jewish Art and Architecture (2016).

Artist Biographies

Yehudis Barmatz-Harris, MA ATR BFA, resides in central Israel, where she uses man-generated and naturally sourced materials from human habitat, often combining two dimensional and three dimensional media. Yehudis incorporates biblical symbols in her works, referencing the essential human experience from a personal perspective. Yehudis Barmatz-Harris exhibited her first solo installation for City of David’s Tehillim Festival 2017.

Siona Benjamin is a painter originally from Bombay, now living in the US. Her work reflects her background of being brought up Jewish in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim India. In her paintings she combines the imagery of her past with the role she plays in America today, making a mosaic inspired by both Indian miniature paintings and illuminated manuscripts. She is represented by ACA Galleries, New York.

Gabriella Boros makes religious and cultural references in her woodcuts. A child of Holocaust survivors, she lived in Jerusalem during the Six Day War, and immigrated with her family to America soon after. Her series, always in black and white, begin with written concepts on which she builds visual images. Gabriella’s topics range from religious to scientific to pure narrative.

Memphis based artist Carol Buchman received her BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and an MFA from Boston University School for the Arts. Her paintings have been collected and exhibited in museums, synagogues, children’s hospitals, private homes, schools, and corporate offices. Ms. Buchman will have a piece in the Massachusetts College of Art Biennale 2017.

Leah Caroline was raised in a Hassidic community in Brooklyn, NY. She works with cyanotype printing, digital media and installation—documenting nature and Jewish texts. Her exhibits include solo exhibitions and a commissioned installation for Artspace New Haven. Caroline has been an artist in residence, including at Weir Farm in Wilton, CT. Caroline lives and works in New Haven, CT.

Pamela Fingerhut is an artist who digitally manipulates her photographs to produce psychological complexity and depth. She attended Corcoran Gallery Art School (Washington, DC), obtained a BA (University of Hartford), and an MA (Long Island University). Further training: Art Students League (NYC), International Center of Photography NYC, and Maine Media Workshops. Her photo-montages are shown in US/European galleries.

Bruria Finkel, a sculptor working in mixed media and a curator, had over 79 solo/group exhibitions in museums and galleries. Her work is on permanent view at the Smithsonian, Washington, DC, included in the Archives of American Art. Bruria translated the works of the 13th-century kabbalist Abraham Abulafia from Hebrew to English, and has received many awards for her work and community involvement.

Jan Lauren Greenfield is a multi-disciplinary artist from New York City. She uses a variety of media to explore culture, spirituality and mental health. She was selected as the recipient of the 2014-2015 Artists Initiative by the Jewish Education Project and the UJA- Federation. She has performed at the UN, and her photographs have been featured in Vogue Italia. She is the author of My Beautiful Bipolar Mind Book: Fire on the Mountain (Classic Day Press).

Alan Hobscheid works in diverse media including digital art, photography, and painting. Hobscheid’s subject matter ranges from landscapes and still lifes to images inspired by Jewish texts and culture. As visual midrash, he integrates disparate sources to develop commentary on the nature of faith and fate that respects the past and strives for relevance in the present.

Ellen Holtzblatt is a Chicago-based painter whose work is fueled by the yearning exploration of the connection between the physical and the spiritual—the memories of the body that reside in the soul. Holtzblatt exhibits worldwide, including the Jerusalem Biennale and the Museum of Biblical Art in New York. Her work is included in numerous public and private collections.

Dorit Jordan Dotan, multidisciplinary Israeli-born, Chicago-based artist, combines her photography with innovative digital art. Through her creations, she attempts to call attention to social and cultural issues. Last 6 years she was invited to exhibit at The HUC Museum, New York, exploring contemporary Jewish art. Fellow Jewish Artist Lab, Spertus Chicago. She is guest curator at the Evanston Art Center.

Working in Rhode Island, Jeremy Santiago-Horseman reaches into biblical, kabbalistic and science-fictional realms with the mediums of sound, painting and installation. Santiago-Horseman has participated in venues in New York and Los Angeles, and he has gained international attention in the 2016 V Moscow Biennale with his work, Sanctuary (ab). Santiago-Horseman is included in the Sigmund Balka and the LeWitt collections.

Tobi Kahn has been steadfast in the pursuit of the redemptive possibilities of art. He has had over 70 solo museum exhibitions, including: Tobi Kahn: Metamorphoses, Avoda: Objects of the Spirit, Sky and Water, Tobi Kahn: Sacred Spaces of the 21st Century, Anointed Time: Sculptures and Ceremonial Objects by Tobi Kahn. Awards include Outstanding Alumni Award: Pratt Institute 2000; National Foundation for Jewish Culture Award 2004; JTS Honorary Doctorate 2007. Selected collections: Guggenheim Museum; Houston Museum of Fine Art; The Phillips Collection; Jewish Museum, NY; Museum of Art, FL and Minneapolis Museum of Fine Art.

Rachel Kanter grew up in Syracuse, NY, surrounded by women who were creating with their hands: knitting a sweater, sewing a quilt, beading, weaving. She followed in their path and is now a fiber artist using quilting and embroidery techniques while incorporating vintage textiles, sewing patterns, furniture and found objects into her work.

Katarzyna Kozera is a multimedia artist, art director and photographer. She is a PhD student and completed her MFA in Fine Arts at the Jan Matejko Academy in Krakow, Poland. Selected honors: The Kosciuszko Foundation Grant for advanced study in the United States; Maryland Institute College of Arts, Baltimore, MD: Research fellow grant; 2013 Erasmus Scholarship, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium.

Beth Krensky is a Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Utah. She holds degrees from Tufts University, Harvard University and the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her work is intended to provoke reflection about what is happening in our world as well as to create a vision of what is possible.

Elaine Langerman earned her MFA from the University of Maryland. She makes paintings, collages, sculptures and one-of- a-kind mixed media books. She is inspired by Medieval and Persian illuminated manuscripts and Majolica ware (the relief kind) as well as by the work of Klee and Cornell. Her work is in many collections including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.

Long committed to abstraction in painting, drawing and languages over the last three decades, Jane Logemann has focused on the investigations of the intersection of language and visual meaning. She studied at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She lives and works in New York City. She has continued to show in over 40 group shows to date. Her work can be found in collections such as the Jewish Museum, NYC; Morgan Library; Yale University Art Gallery; Whitney Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Richard McBee is a painter of biblical subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. From 2000 until 2014 he wrote about the Jewish Arts for the The Jewish Press and continues to exhibit paintings, lecture and curate Jewish art exhibitions. He is a founding member of the Jewish Art Salon. His website exhibits 300 of his artworks and 250 Jewish art reviews.

Mark Podwal’s art is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Israel Museum, the Vatican, and the Bodleian Library, among many others. He is the illustrator of numerous books in collaboration with Elie Wiesel. In 1995, the French government named Podwal an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters.

New York City-based Leah Raab graduated with highest honors from the Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem and received her MFA from the New York Studio School. Leah has exhibited her work in 22 solo exhibits and numerous group shows in the US and Israel.

Archie Rand is a painter and muralist whose work often engages text and Jewish subjects. He is the author of The 613 (Blue Rider/Penguin/Random House), which features full-page reproductions of every unit of The 613, his large painting that references the biblical commandments. The entire painting, The 613, was exhibited at the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum beginning in July 2017.

Ben Schachter is professor of Visual Art at Saint Vincent College. He received his MFA from Pratt Institute. His work has been shown at Yale University, Yeshiva University Museum, and other venues throughout the United States. His first book, Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art was published in 2017.

Susan Schwalb was born in New York City and studied at the High School of Music and Art and at Carnegie-Mellon University. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery, Washington, DC, The British Museum, London, The Brooklyn Museum, New York, The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, and Kupferstichkabinett-Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany. She has had over 35 solo exhibitions and has exhibited nationally and internationally.

Aviva Shemer is a sculptor, painter, installation artist and teacher in Israel. She has a BA in Creative Art and MA degrees in Art Therapy and Jewish Philosophy, and has participated in art projects combined with architecture. She is the author of The Power of a Word and Orange Red, a summary of her 50-year career. Shemer has had over 30 solo shows. Her works are in museum and private collections in Israel and globally.

Joel Silverstein is an artist, critic and teacher. He is a Founding and Executive Member of the Jewish Art Salon and has curated five exhibitions for them including JOMIX: Jewish Comics, Art and Derivation, Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art and UJA, NY. Exhibitions include The Jerusalem Biennial, 2015, Pratt Institute 2014, Columbia/ Barnard Center in 2012 and at the Clemente Center in NY in 2017.

Miriam Stern is an award-winning painter, printmaker and installation artist. Stern usually works in series of prints and paintings on a specific theme. In 2016 a monograph of her art was published. In addition to producing art, she has curated several art exhibitions and lectures about the relationship of art to Jewish interpretations of texts and ideas.

Dutch-born, New York-based Yona Verwer is a visual artist exploring identity, history, immigration, tikkun olam, and kabbalah. She has shown in galleries and museums internationally, such as the Yeshiva University Museum, Andy Warhol Factory, Ein Harod Museum, and the Bronx Museum. She was featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and others. Verwer is the Founder and Director of the Jewish Art Salon.

Israeli-born, Billha Zussman studied art at the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam where she still lives and works. She has both exhibited and been awarded as an innovative graphic artist, cartoonist, photographer and Judaica designer in Amsterdam, Belgium, Germany, Poland and the US since 1980. Her works are at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.

About the Jewish Art Salon

jewish art salon logo_LargePrintThe Jewish Art Salon is the largest, most-recognized Jewish visual art organization in the world. It is a global network of contemporary Jewish art. The Salon provides important programs and resources, and develops lasting partnerships with the international art community and the general public.

The Jewish Art Salon presents public events in the US and Israel, and produces art projects with international art institutions. Since 2008 the Jewish Art Salon has organized dozens of art exhibits and events exploring Jewish themes, related to current issues. In the New York area it hosts occasional salon sessions with international artists and scholars.

This exhibition was first organized by the Jewish Art Salon and curated by Ori Z. Soltes for the 2017 Jerusalem Biennale held in Israel from October 1–November 16, 2017. This text, which originally appeared in the printed exhibition brochure, was produced in conjunction with Jerusalem Between Heaven and Earth, on view in the Derfner Judaica Museum from January 28–May 27, 2018.

All works courtesy of the artist unless otherwise noted.

As a member of the American Alliance of Museums, Hebrew Home at Riverdale by RiverSpring Health is committed to publicly exhibiting its art collection throughout its 32-acre campus including the Derfner Judaica Museum and a sculpture garden overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. The Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection provide educational and cultural programming for residents of the Hebrew Home, their families and the general public from throughout New York City, its surrounding suburbs and visitors from elsewhere. Hebrew Home is a nonprofit, non-sectarian geriatric organization serving more than 12,000 elderly persons in greater New York through its resources and community service programs. Museum hours: Sunday–Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Art Collection and grounds open daily, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Call 718-581-1596 for holiday hours and to schedule group tours, or for further information please visit our website.

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Hebrew Home at Riverdale
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dclaLogo_color_2This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.