A pioneer of Minimal and Conceptual art, Sol LeWitt (1928 – 2007) is known for large-scale, geometric wall drawings, often using bold stripes of pure color to create rhythmic optical patterns. In 2001, he conceived the doors of a Torah ark for Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Connecticut, with the design of a six-pointed star within a circle. The pattern was later repeated on this leather Skull Cap. The translation of LeWitt’s signature Minimalist style into a multicolored item of Judaica is at once cheerful and graphically striking.
This Untitled Abstract Painting (circa 1963 or 64) is one of the last paintings made by Eva Hesse before she switched to sculpture. Its deconstructed symbols, figures, and shapes evoke natural forms and bodies without ever being directly identifiable. Delicate brushwork, soft colors and a light, witty touch lend this work a feminine quality that she intended as a rebuke to the masculinity of Minimalist Art. Hess was reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex at this time, and the text led her to question her own fragmented status as artist, woman and wife. Her work, though not overtly political, explores these issues in poetic, expressive abstractions.
A powerful rendering by the artist in her twenties, this picture was made with a practical purpose; it was painted as a reception piece for admission to the life-drawing course at the National Academy of Design. While Lee Krasner (1908 – 1984) is best known for the personal style that she developed within the movement of Abstract Expressionism in the 19540s, this self portrait (c. 1930) is a rare example of her early work, using the thick brushwork and high color of the Impressionists and Realists of the previous generation. Strikingly, Krasner depicts herself at work in nature. She eyes the viewer, who stands on the spot where, presumably, a mirror hangs on a tree. Her expression and strong handling of light and shade evoke the resolve of a young woman rising to the challenge of her artistic vocation.
In the 1980s, Judaica artists began to reexamine the form of the Hanukkah lamp, which according to rabbinical prescription should have eight lights in a straight row and on the same level, with a ninth set off from them. Peter Shire (b. 1947) typically takes familiar objects and reimagines their shapes, colors and materials so that we barely recognize them.
In his Menorah #7 (1986), a mixture of pastel and hot colors, industrial metals and a cantilevered, swirling arrangement of parts challenge the modernist aesthetic of simplicity that had dominated design for a century. This post-modernism was a key design principe of the Memphis Design Group to which Shire belonged.
Hard Sweetness (1971) is one of Joan Snyder’s Stroke paintings, a series in which abstract imagery and mark-making register personal and political struggles and decisions. Snyder began making art in the late 1960s, a time when men dominated the art world. Her sensibility and style were inspired by feminism, music, Expressionism, and her own life experience, as well as dislike of the distilled macho aesthetics of Minimalism.
Hard Sweetness uses strokes of paint in soft stains, loose washes, and thicker scumbling ( applying a very thin coat of opaque paint to give a softer or duller effect) to create rhythmic, almost musical passages of color across the canvas. As the title of this work suggests, Snyder blurs the distinction between the senses of sight, taste and perhaps even sound and smell. Like her contemporary Eva Hesse, she balances a feminine palette with a muscular formal complexity.
In titling this painting The Jewess (1908), one of the first that Modigliani exhibited, the artist declared that the sitter’s cultural identity was more important than her name. The model was most likely Modigliani’s lover, Maud Abrantes. Beyond her pallor, she is depicted with a withdrawn, languid demeanor, her cheeks and deeply set eyes touched with startling tabs of green, a streak of which also highlights the ridge of the patrician, aquiline nose. A curious pale mark obscures the area between her eyes, further isolating and drawing attention to her nose
This emphasis on the nose recurs throughout Modigliani’s work and is a focal point of his sculpture. It is s self-referential facet of his own Jewishness — an identity that his daughter later recalled as being deeply important to him. Modigliani’s exploration of his Jewish identity, as a central aspect of his portraiture, has been little noticed.
Photographed in the Jewish Museum in NYC as part of the Exhibit Modigliani Unmasked, which Continues Through February 4th, 2018.
The French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp was a member of artist Florine Stettheimer’s family’s inner circle. He is depicted here in the company of Rrose Selavy, the female alter ego that he invented in 1920. He casually carries out his game of sexual transformation by means of a contraption operated from an armchair. The clock and the chess knight are both Ducahmpian symbols: the one being a reference to the circularity of Dada time; the other an illusions to Duchamp’s prowess at chess. The frame (also by Stettheimer), composed of Duchamp’s monogram in a circle of infinite repetition, wryly comments on his program of artistic self-promotion and his obsession with identity and its ambiguities.
Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy (1923) was Photographed in the Jewish Museum in Manhattan.