Reinventing Ritual

Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life

Artists and designers’ rising interest in ritual since the 1990s inspires Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life, the first international exhibition to survey this phenomenon.

Art Exhibition previously on at The Jewish Museum in United States.
From Sunday 13 September 2009 to Sunday 07 February 2010

Published by anonymous on Wednesday 05 August 2009.
Contact the publisher.

Reinventing Ritual features nearly sixty innovative works, created between 1999 and 2009 by leading artists in diverse media. Visitors will see outstanding examples of industrial design, architecture, installation art, video, drawing, metalwork, jewelry, ceramics, comics, sculpture, and textiles, revealing the intersections of creative freedom and Jewish life. A mix of emerging artists and accomplished leaders in the field, most of whom are American and Israeli, with a smaller number of Europeans and South Americans, are represented. Among the 56 artists are Oreet Ashery, Jonathan Adler, Helène Aylon, Deborah Grant, Sigalit Landau, Virgil Marti, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Karim Rashid, Galya Rosenfeld, Lella Vignelli, and Allan Wexler. All incorporate an active experimentation with contemporary Jewish life and culture into their work. Following its New York City showing, Reinventing Ritual travels to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, where it can be seen from April 22 through September 28, 2010.

In organizing the exhibition, The Jewish Museum’s Henry J. Leir Assistant Curator Daniel Belasco sought artists engaging the tension between the everyday and the sacred. Noticing an explosion of new Jewish rituals, art and objects, Belasco believes the pervasiveness of consumer culture has triggered a search for authentic experience and meaning. Ritual fills this void perfectly with its power to transform daily life and give it meaning. Artists and designers have found the tried and true in ritual to be lacking and ripe for rethinking so that the everyday can be transformed. “The results of the process are hybrid objects that blend the new and traditional, art and craft, sacred and profane, irony and sincerity, offering both artist and viewer an opportunity for contemplation and critique,” writes Belasco in the exhibition catalogue.

The works on view are arranged in four sections: Thinking, Covering, Absorbing, and Building. These categories organize artworks related to specific acts such as eating, drinking, counting, smelling, lighting candles, and praying. A focus on ritual as physical action reconsiders the familiar categories of body, space, and text. Artists, moving beyond identity politics and the culture wars, are grounding their work in things shared by all people, like food, clothes, and the environment, to envision a more sustainable and harmonious future.

Since the 1990s the practice of Judaism has been revolutionized by feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism and new media. This exhibition features new ritual objects and conceptual art ranging from repurposed seder plates to intricate drawings, gold jewelry to imaginative videos and installations, concrete mezuzahs to a model of an environmentalist synagogue building.

In Writing Lesson #1 (2005), Hadassa Goldvicht uses a ritual from the Israeli Hasidic culture in which she grew up as the basis of her video. When a boy turns three and goes to his first day of school, he licks honey off letters to remind him that learning is sweet. Girls are not traditionally participants in this ritual, so Goldvicht invented her own—showing herself licking the Hebrew alphabet written in honey on a translucent screen. Goldvicht both respects and probes the boundaries of traditional Judaism, refreshing and reinventing an age-old custom.

Recycling and the use of fragments is a thematic thread in the show. Norm Paris created a mezuzah, Rubble Fragment 1 (2007), out of what looks like a rough, old piece of concrete with a frazzled strand of cable attached to its side. The work is meant to invoke the ravages of conflict in the Middle East and throughout Jewish history. Here the material is as important as the form because it suggests construction and collapse. Concrete is made of dust and becomes dust, yet again. “I am not entirely sure whether this object is a protective talisman, a religious reminder or a symbol of territorial struggle,” the artist wrote. What he was sure of was his desire to make the piece look recycled, “Rubble Fragment I has been fabricated to look like a remnant from a military-industrial site, retrofitted to become an awkward religious marker.”

Jonathan Adler’s Utopia Menorah (2006) references the baroque patterning and flowing lines of 1960s organic modernism, incorporating influences from monumental architecture and home décor.

In Pair of Candlesticks (2007), Lella Vignelli captures the essence of Jewish ritual in the clean, modern shapes and sensuous, pleated surfaces of hand-worked silver. The candles are lit to start the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays at sundown. The tops of the candlesticks are removable, so that they can function as flower vases as well.

Studio Armadillo, the artist team of Hadas Kruk and Anat Stein, created Hevruta-Mituta in 2007. Comprised of thirty-two skullcaps on a white, plastic chess board, this work derives from a conceptual and visual analogy between hevruta (learning in small groups) and chess competitions. The skullcaps, knit by girls during lessons in religious school, are colorful emblems of women’s increasing access to traditionally male-dominated Orthodox Jewish education and ritual.

Exhibition curator Daniel Belasco is contributing to a Reinventing Ritual blog (www.thejewishmuseum.org/blog) several times a week to address ideas and thoughts related to the exhibition. The 152-page accompanying catalogue, published by The Jewish Museum and Yale University Press, contains 103 illustrations and will be available for $39.95 in the Museum’s Cooper Shop and bookstores everywhere.

This pioneering exhibition is a major realization of ten years of support from the Leir Charitable Foundations. The Leir initiative has been instrumental in helping to expand the Museum’s program in interpreting, acquiring, and commissioning contemporary Judaica. One-third of the works in Reinventing Ritual are part of the Museum’s permanent collection. A panel will award one artist in the exhibition a Leir Prize, representing a culmination of a great vision – to show the public the number, range, and quality of artists who are drawn to rejuvenate centuries-old Jewish rituals in bold, experimental ways.

Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life is made possible through the generosity of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, the Leir Charitable Foundations, and the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation. Additional support was provided through the Melva Bucksbaum Fund for Contemporary Art.