The Perpetual Well: Contemporary Art from the Collection of The Jewish Museum, New York presents an overview of the Jewish experience, a kaleidoscopic portrait of a people as seen through the eyes of contemporary artists. Paintings, sculpture, prints, photography, and installations by a diverse group of artists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who share an interest in Jewish issues and iconography, will be featured.
Over the past two decades, The Jewish Museum has built an impressive international collection that embodies many of the themes that are at the heart of the Jewish experience. These themes, which also reflect many of the topical issues that are at the forefront of art today, include history, memory, ritual, tradition, identity, marginalization and homeland, dividing the exhibition into six sections.
Narrating History: Bible, Legends, and Myths features artists whose work looks to the past and draws its inspiration from the rich legacy of Jewish literature. Sources include the Bible, the Kaballah, and Hasidic folk tales. The story of the golem (a mystical tale about bringing a creature fashioned from mud to life) is a particularly popular legend for such contemporary artists as Christian Boltanski, Louise Fishman and Robert Wilson. With its themes of survival, redemption, deliverance and messianism, the golem has powerful parallels with the history of the Jews while also serving as a metaphor for the process of creating and making art.
Tradition, Ritual, and Prayer presents a sometimes solemn, sometimes humorous view of the rituals, ritual objects and religious practices that have distinguished and united Jews throughout the ages and throughout different cultures. Light, an important symbol in several Jewish holidays, is the subject of number of works, including Jonathan Seliger's Pop simulacra of sabbath candle boxes, an original Hanukkah lamp by Joel Otterson, and Mike Mandel's photograph of a robot lighting a menorah. Wijnanda Deroo's unflinching photograph bears mute witness to a now abandoned and decaying synagogue on New York's Lower East Side. By contrast, photographs by Patrick Faigenbaum and David Wells speak to the enduring power of prayer as a vital and valued practice.
The works on view in Identity and Assimilation address the notion of Jewish identity. With the rise of multiculturalism as a topic for discussion, identity - both individual and cultural - has become a popular subject, especially among artists who previously felt marginalized. In this spirit, Jewish artists explore what it means to be Jewish, to be an artist, and what responsibilities come with being a Jewish artist. Ken Aptekar faces the dilemma of assimilation in his own family and Dennis Kardon struggles to reconcile a secular and religious self. Deborah Kass challenges male hegemony in the art world while concurrently asserting her own identity as a Jewish, feminist artist. Neil Winokur constructs his identity by photographing significant people and objects from his life.
Artists included in Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, both Jewish and non-Jewish, confront the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust and its aftermath. William Anastasi reveals the nuances and charged meanings of the word "Jew." Contemporary photographers addressing this topic include Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, who went to the concentration camp at Dachau; and Mark Berghash, who recorded the faces and testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Hannelore Baron's distressed assemblages evoke the hardship of her childhood in Nazi Germany and Vivienne Koorland combines her family history with that of other victims and survivors.
Generation to Generation presents a group of photographs that highlight the relationship between parent and child. A number of these works include images of the photographers' own parents. Such works as Annie Leibovitz's portrait of a loving couple, Hannah Wilke's bittersweet images of dying parents, Gay Block's brazen portrayal of a topless mother and daughter, and Lorie Novak's constructed memory of family life affirm the primacy of family in Jewish life, while Brian Weil's photo of a Hasidic man and his son acknowledges the traditions that link generations.
Wandering... Home, the final section of the exhibition, reflects on the founding of the State of Israel. Joshua Borkovsky, Joshua Neustein and Krzysztof Wodiczko address the theme of displacement and the diaspora. Stuart Klipper and Richard Misrach draw inspiration for their art from Israel's topography, while Michal Rover focuses on the fact that Israel and the surrounding Middle East have been a war zone for much of its short history.
The Perpetual Well: Contemporary Art from the Collection of The Jewish Museum has been organized by The Jewish Museum, New York. Donna Harkavy served as guest curator. The Jewish Museum is under the auspices of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The exhibition is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.