The Jewish Museum Installs WORD SYMBOL SPACE Exhibition


Word Symbol Space, a selection of works by six contemporary artists, will be on view at The Jewish Museum in the final gallery of its permanent exhibition, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, from August 11 through October 7, 2012. These post-1970 works from the Museum's collection all respond to mid-twentieth-century modernism. Each uses the language of abstraction - areas of pure color, geometric shapes, and gestural brushwork - and adds to it, incorporating words and symbols with specific personal, historical, and cultural meanings. Artists represented include William Anastasi, Ross Bleckner, Dana Frankfort, Alain Kirili, Brigitte NaHoN and Frank Stella. In addition, a related work by Ori Gersht will be on view in the third floor elevator lobby of the Museum.

William Anastasi, Untitled (Jew), 1987, oil on canvas. The Jewish Museum, New York: Gift of the artist , 1987-115a-d.
In William Anastasi's Untitled (Jew), 1987, the artist confronts the viewer with the single word jew, which he considers the most charged word in the English language, leaping from an otherwise monochrome canvas. For Anastasi, the word conjures both positive and negative associations: it evokes great modern intellectuals such as Freud, Schoenberg, Einstein, Kafka and Marx, as well as ideas that are defamatory, even violent. The austere, minimal painting uses the linguistic, moral, and political meanings that emerged from language-based Conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s.

The iconic Jewish emblem of the Star of David emerges from Dana Frankfort's field of expressionistic color and Ross Bleckner's minimalist stripe painting, both inspired by the highly aesthetic, abstract language of the Color Field painters of the 1950s, who experimented with saturated colors in large, open areas of pure paint. In Bleckner's Double Portrait (Gay Flag), 1993, a three-dimensional Star of David breaks through the flatness of the modernist canvas, literally and symbolically. The work becomes a metaphorical self-portrait, incorporating the rainbow colors of the gay pride flag and the Star of David to embody the artist's sexual, ethnic, and artistic identities. Frankfort's Star of David (Orange), 2007, stretches and distorts a familiar symbol so that its form is emphasized. Frankfort seeks a universal meaning in the six-pointed Jewish star: "I like the idea that a star can't be original. It's a symbol that anyone can draw and have."<

Alain Kirili's Commandment II, 1980, part of his Commandment series of sculptures, reflects the artist's fascination with both traditional biblical scripture and modernist, nonrepresentational art. Kirili's works are abstracted from the calligraphic Hebrew letters of the Torah. While the Torah remains unchanged, it is infinitely open to interpretation. Likewise, Kirili's individual sculptural elements can be seen as symbols or letters, and can be assembled in various configurations to create new meaning.

Frank Stella's Dawidgródek III, 1971, is one of 130 large-scale works in the artist's Polish Village series. The series is inspired by the architecturally whimsical wooden synagogues built in provinciAl Poland before the 20th century. All were destroyed during World War II, making the series an homage and a memorial, as well as a celebration. Stella transforms their bold, distinctive forms into brightly colored, abstract shapes and patterns, capturing their exuberant spirit and creating constructions that play between architecture and painting.

Brigitte NaHoN's sculpture TIME ZERO, 2006, addresses opposites: balance and imbalance, solidity and fragility, heaviness and lightness, the temporary and the eternal. TIME ZERO was the first work made after the artist's recovery from a serious illness and serves as a spiritual offering. In the sculpture, life metaphorically hangs in the balance as wooden spokes and crystals cascade toward two reflective stainless steel panels on the floor.

In the museum's third floor lobby, Ori Gersht's Olive 10, 2004, comes from Ghost, a series of color photographs of centuries-old olive trees in the Galilee in Israel. These images explore both the iconic power of the trees and their fragility. Gersht allowed the harsh midday sun to bleach his film and fade the images, creating delicate, ghostly scenes, filled with melancholy and a lyrical beauty. This painterly photograph, with its soft, hazy color, is both a portrait of a mighty tree and an essay on the passing of time.

Word Symbol Space has been organized by Karen Levitov, Associate Curator at The Jewish Museum.

Comprised of nearly 800 works, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey examines the evolution of modern Jewish identity as it has evolved from ancient times to the present with fine art, photography, Jewish ritual art, and broadcast media. The final, contemporary gallery features regular, changing installations of art from the Museum's collection.