Ora Lerman: I Gave You My Song

On View

September 13, 2001-December 16, 2001

A memorial retrospective

Ora Lerman: I Gave You My Song, a memorial retrospective exhibition presenting the life’s work of the celebrated artist Ora Lerman, will be on view at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum from September 13-December 16, 2001. The daughter of Eastern European Jews who settled in Campbellsville, Kentucky, Lerman’s radiant paintings, sculpture, and works on paper combine childhood fantasies with adult musings on life. Employing an allegorical, narrative style, Lerman connects family stories, textual inscriptions, and a vivid imagination to express a powerful celebration of life.

Ora Lerman lived and traveled throughout the world and incorporated these experiences into her art. She grew up in Kentucky and later lived in New York. With an abstract expressionist background and formalist training, she went to Japan on a Fulbright Scholarship where she studied calligraphy and sumi-ye (another ink tradition). Japanese art influenced her to create “layers of narrative symbolism” in her work. Consequently, she returned to New York where she worked in an realistic mode and began to integrate sentences into the borders of her paintings adding these Japanese-influenced layers of meaning to her work.

Lerman painted from figures that she collected from around the world, and from objects she created out of Fome-Cor. She traveled to Mexico, the former Soviet Union, and received a Reader’s Digest six-month grant to work at Monet’s garden in Giverny, France. She “found this to be a good context to develop images of Eden…” and developed symbols of an exiled Eve and the land of exile. Later she went to India to further her work on Eve and the Garden of Eden. She designated the Indian Tree Goddess figure “Yakshi” as “another face of Eve.” She then came full circle by bringing the Tree Goddess to New York, which she viewed as a colorless land. Her Tree Goddess brought color and was a “greening influence” on New York, and ultimately became “the synthesizer of [her] rural-urban, East-West dual history.”

Lerman received her B.A. in Fine Arts from Antioch College and an M.F.A. in Painting from the Pratt Institute Graduate School in Fine Arts. Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, which include solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sao Paulo,

Brazil, the Poulain Museum in Vernon, France, and Bernice Steinbaum in New York City, as well as group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Jewish Museum in New York. Her work is included in many permanent collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Jewish Museum in New York. The recipient of many awards including the National Endowment for the Arts Mid Atlantic Art Foundation Regional Fellowship, she was a Full Professor of Art at the State University of New York in Suffolk, and also taught and lectured at many other universities.

Laura Kruger, Curator of the HUC-JIR Museum, noted: “Ora Lerman uses narrative visual effects and text to capture her childhood memories and to interpret the deeper meanings inherent in these rememberances. The authenticity of her work is based on her family life in rural Kentucky during the early 1940’s. She created a personal visual language to evoke the unknown parts of her heritage. Celebration of life is the hallmark of Lerman’s work and we are pleased to continue the tradition of her memory.”

Catalog with color illustrations and essays by Margaret Mathews Berenson, Ann Sutherland Harris, Joan Marter, and Sabra Moore is available.

Organized in conjunction with the exhibition:

Women and Narrative Art: Expressions of the Self
Thursday, October 18, 2001 at 6:30 pm
Moderator: Joan Marter, art critic, Professor of Art History, Rutgers University
Panel: Corinne Robins, art critic, poet; Julie Hefferman, artist; Dotty Attie, artist; Selina Trieff, artist


Free photo ID required

Museum Hours

Monday-Thursday, 9 am – 6 pm; Friday, 9 am – 3 pm; Selected Sundays, 10 am – 2 pm: September 16; October 14, 28; November 11; December 2, 16.

For information/group tours