Contemporary Artists Celebrate Jewish Time

A permanent exhibition of contemporary Jewish ritual art

Living in the Moment: Contemporary Artists Celebrate Jewish Time, a landmark exhibition presenting the renaissance of ritual in our time, will be on permanent view at the HUC-JIR Museum in New York. This exhibition is New York City’s only permanent exhibition solely devoted to innovative and contemporary Jewish ceremonial art. It offers the first significant and comprehensive view, in over a generation, of the leading artists of all faiths who are creating innovative and contemporary works of Jewish ritual art today.

This permanent exhibition showcases over 100 objects by close to 100 contemporary artists, created within the past decade, mostly within the last year. It illuminates the Jewish conception of time as experienced through the fulfillment of a cyclical system of daily, weekly, and lunar-calendared family and communal moments, as well as a linear, messianic conception of time. Among the celebrated artists, working in various media, are Bennett Bean, Kurt J. Matzdorf, Albert Paley, Steven Weinberg, and Laurie Wohl. The permanent exhibition features select works of ceremonial art from the 125th anniversary exhibition, which were designed for virtually every key moment in Jewish life: the life cycle from birth to death, the yearly religious holiday cycle, the practice of Judaism in the home, the communal and synagogue-based celebrations and commemorations, and the historical, linear progression of Jewish belief from creation to messianic redemption. A special feature is the presentation of objects that have been designed for many holidays, commemorations, and celebrations that have emerged within the Jewish community over the past 50 years: rituals relating to women’s lives, ranging from the naming of baby girls to the bat mitzvah and Rosh Hodesh (new moon) observance, the commemoration of the Holocaust, and celebration of Israeli statehood. Commissioned especially for this exhibition, these works are available for acquisition, so that they can enter into the lives of families and communities.

Prior to the 19th century, Jewish ritual art was created by non-Jewish artists, since Jews were banned from craft guilds. With emancipation, Jews were empowered to become artists and crafts persons. In the early 20th century, the focus of Jewish craftsmanship was centered on Palestine and Europe. With the destruction of the Holocaust, the creation of contemporary ceremonial art was sustained in Israel and North America through the work of a limited number of artists and a handful of workshops. Within the past decade, the number of artists creating contemporary ritual art internationally has grown tremendously. The most celebrated of these artists and crafts persons, represented in leading museum and private collections, are represented in this exhibition.

The creation of Jewish ritual art is mandated in the biblical injunction of hiddur mitzvah [the beautification of the fulfillment of the commandments of the Torah]. The Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 113b explains: “Beautify yourself Before God in mitzvot [commandments]. Make before God a beautiful sukkah [temporary dwelling for the holiday of Sukkot], a beautiful tzitzit [prayer shawl fringes], a beautiful Sefer Torah [Torah scroll] , and write it for God’s sake with beautiful ink, a beautiful pen, by a skilled scribe and wrap it in a beautiful wrapper.”

Laura Kruger, Curator of the exhibition and Chair of the HUC-JIR Museum in New York, noted: “Diversity, insight, scholarship, and technique combine to invest contemporary Judaic ritual objects with vitality and beauty. Paralleling the development of the contemporary craft movement in the latter half of the twentieth century, ritual objects for the enhancement of the sanctuary and of domestic celebration in the Jewish community are much in evidence. Artisans eagerly explore the symbolism of their heritage and extend themselves to the highest levels of craftsmanship. New inclusive ceremonies celebrating the role of women, as well as a deep interpretation of text has given rise to the creation of ritual treasures. Working with the oldest of materials as well as some never before considered appropriate, the artists and crafts persons have enriched our lives with objects of aesthetic value.”

Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Exhibitions Director of the HUC-JIR Museum in New York, added, “This exhibition reflects HUC-JIR’s mission: to apply to contemporary life the sustaining values of our Jewish tradition. Through this exhibition, we are highlighting the vitality of the visual arts as part of the renaissance in Jewish cultural, religious, and educational life taking place in Jewish communities throughout North America. HUC-JIR seeks to engage the larger community and visitors of all faiths in a dialogue on contemporary expressions of time, art, and ritual, and their meaning for our time.”

Amplifying the exhibition is a 48-page, illustrated catalog which includes statements by the artists.