Tobi Kahn's "Avoda: Objects of the Spirit" Ceremonial Art Premiere by Acclaimed Painter and Sculptor - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Tobi Kahn's "Avoda: Objects of the Spirit" Ceremonial Art Premiere by Acclaimed Painter and Sculptor

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Monday, May 3, 1999

March 21-July 16, 1999 -- HUC-JIR, New York

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion presents the premiere of "Avoda: Objects of the Spirit," an exhibition of ceremonial art by acclaimed artist Tobi Kahn. Kahn's paintings and sculpture have appeared in over 25 solo exhibitions and over 60 museum and group shows since his inclusion in the 1985 Guggenheim Museum exhibition, "New Horizons in American Art."


In "Avoda: Objects of the Spirit," Kahn has created a new vocabulary for Jewish ritual objects. His ceremonial objects reveal the timelessness of nature in its ancient, eternal presence, while resisting the familiar and domestic conventions of Judaica. "Refined to elemental form, they point to a sacred and mysterious realm," says Laura Kruger, curator of the exhibition. "In their spare, meditative grace, these devotional objects express Kahn's conviction that art can be a means of exaltation."


The objects were fashioned by the artist not only to be used, but to be handed down as embodiments of love and community. Many were made by him for family festivities -- a wedding canopy (chuppah), a circumcision chair -- in order to interpret a venerable tradition for our day. Tom Freudenheim, Deputy Director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin remarks, "The past quarter century has seen an increasing interest in re-examining the conventions of objects of Jewish utility. That exploration has probably enriched Jewish collections somewhat more than it has contributed to the actual evolution of ritual performance or ritual objects. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to watch the engaged and Jewishly literate user (i.e., the artist) create works for real use, because it establishes a new bond between the artist and the person performing the mitzvah (ritual obligation). That relationship must inevitably be one of mystery, a mimesis of the transformation that religious observance seeks to encourage. And it suggests that Tobi Kahn has elevated the artist's role beyond the aesthetic."


"Although Judaism has emphasized words, language and commentary," says Kahn. "I have found the visual elements of the tradition equally illuminating. For me, the life of the spirit is integrally bound up with the beauty of the world, with the rituals and symbols that are a Jewish medium to transcendence. Like language, what we see can be a benediction."


"Avoda: Objects of the Spirit" will be accompanied by a brochure featuring selected works from the exhibition, with meditations by writer Nessa Rapoport and an introductory essay by Tom Freudenheim, Deputy Director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin.


After leaving HUC-JIR in New York, the exhibition will travel to 12 museums over three years. A color catalog illustrating all 54 exhibition objects, accompanied by notes on the objects' artistic origins and traditions by Emily Bilski, former curator of the Jewish Museum in New York, as well as the meditations by Rapoport and the essay by Freudenheim, will be released in Winter 2000. The Project Coordinator for the traveling exhibition is Carol Brennglass Spinner.


Hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 9 AM-6 PM 
Fridays, 9 AM-3 PM 
Selected Sundays (April 25, and May 2), 10 AM-3 PM.
Text Study & Discussion
with the Artist:
Wednesday, April 28, 7:30 PM, coordinated by ourNew York Kollel, HUC-JIR's Center for Adult Jewish Study.
Admission: Free
Group Tours: Please call (212) 824-2205 and 
leave group name, number, and contact person.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.