Artists ‘Under The Jewish Umbrella’

Mixed-media ‘Jew York’ show encompasses the Lower East Side but moves well beyond it.

07/03/2013
Jewish Week Book Critic
Photo Galleria: 

Sammy Gluck is the real thing. His family has been in the clothing business on Orchard Street for more than 70 years. Now, “Jew York” has turned his art of selling into installation art.

At the entrance to the Zach Feuer gallery, Gluck has a rack of suits and a table of shirts. In his Yiddish-accented English, the Satmar chasid convinces gallery visitors of all stripes to try on a jacket as they enter, and then he marches them to a back room to try on the pants. In two appearances, he has sold 10 suits.

“Jew York,” a show of art by 87 Jewish artists, is exhibited at two New York galleries, Zach Feuer in Chelsea and Untitled on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, just down the block from  Gluck’s shop.

Paintings, photographs, prints, drawings, video art and collages by Joel Sternfeld, Eleanor Antin, Alex Katz and others line the walls.  Deborah Kass has pieces in both galleries, with her repeating colored portraits of Barbra Streisand, “Four Barbras” at Untitled, and a series of images of Sandy Koufax pitching, “Sandy,” at Zach Feuer.

Joel Shapiro’s small bronze, “Untitled (house);” Joshua Neustein’s “Fanning the Fear,” stones covered with Hebrew, English and Arabic newsprint, scattered on the floor; and Dustin Yellin’s man made of tiny floating objects and images, enclosed in glass, “Psycho Geography,” are among the most striking sculptures. Jamie Sneider’s “The Year of the Jewish Woman” is a calendar of Jewish holidays, with photographic images of the artist covered only by Jewish icons, like plants for Tu b’Shevat and, as on the cover, golden coins and a crown for Purim’s Queen Esther.

This is art by Jews, not Judaica, per se. Some pieces may be inspired, in the widest sense, by Jewish thought or culture or tradition, but just being made by Jewish artists is the common ground. It’s presented in a spirit of high energy and fun.

“All the living artists agree — they have an affinity with Jewishness even if they’re not practicing. They’re willing to be under this umbrella,” Lauren Marinaro, assistant director of Zach Feuer, says. “In a way they’re outed — quite a few people didn’t know they were Jewish.”

Summer is the time of year when many galleries host group shows, Marinaro explains, adding that sometimes the themes can seem arbitrary. “So why not a show of Jewish artists working in New York?”

Together, staff members from the two galleries brainstormed lists of Jewish artists, and included people of different ages, backgrounds and media. “It’s by no means encyclopedic,” Marinaro says. Only a few declined the invitation. They also feature a few Jewish artists no longer living, such as Diane Arbus, Marc Chagall and Philip Guston.

“We can’t talk about Jewish artists without talking about Chagall,” Carol Cohen, co-owner, with Joel Mesler, of Untitled, says. “We were very lucky to find such a great example of his work,” she says, referring to the 1979 painting, “Le peintre au chevalet a St. Paul.” An essay by Sy Colen, father of painter Dan Colen, sets out a history of contemporary Jewish artists, beginning with Chagall, Chaim Soutine and Max Weber in Paris.

Artists were invited to submit a work of their own choice — some submitted work they had already done and others created new pieces. Mesler is to be married later this summer, and Alex Israel’s “Ketubah for Joel and Sarah,” in acrylic, pumice and ink, is part of the exhibit.

“When you decide to do a show about Jewish artists, you can’t expect any sort of continuity,” Cohen says. “The variety was expected. That was part of the idea.”

Not far from Diane Arbus’ photographs of a nudist camp, Jennifer Rubell presents “My Shrink’s Couch,” a well-worn leather sofa on a white platform. She bought this couch, where she spent many hours, when her therapist was about to get rid of it.

In the spirit of looking back, visitors might see themselves in Jon Kessler’s “Magnum Opus,” a mixed media piece. A child doll in pajamas and a sweatshirt operates a camera from behind a cabinet — it looks like an old movie projector, but it’s an Ipad taking kaleidoscopic portraits of those standing in front of it.

Greg Goldberg’s “NYC May 23” is a feast of light, a gouache with opaque, translucent and transparent slices of color. The date in the title refers to the date on which the piece was made.

When asked to participate in the show, Luis Camnitzer, a German-born Uruguayan conceptual artist, declined, and his letter of mixed emotions, is framed, now part of the show. The grandson of Holocaust victims, he feels that the umbrella of “Jewish artist” under which the artists are presented “is an artificial and anecdotal ground irrelevant to the work of most artists invited and therefore tinged by an aroma of weird fundamentalism.” Yet he doesn’t seek to deny his Jewish connections, bound by his ethics and beliefs. 

The piece most connected with Untitled’s Lower East Side neighborhood, Sol Lewitt’s “Autobiography,” catalogs in photos and text the artist’s nearby apartment on Hester Street. Perhaps a bookend to Gluck’s suits at Zach Feuer, the front of Untitled features Isaac Brest and Louis Eisner’s “Casual Friday,” a clothesline of archival vests worn at B & H Photo. Not to be tried on.

“Jew York,” at Untitled, 30 Orchard St. (untitled.com) and Zach Feuer, 548 W. 22nd St. (zachfeuer.com) is on view through July 26.
 

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