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Inaugural Jerusalem Biennale Draws a Crowd

The six-week art festival features both contemporary and historic Jewish art, and aims to spread them worldwide

By: Graham Sigurdson
Published: September 24th, 2013 in News » Israel
Tobi Kahn's 'Saphyr'

The inaugural Jerusalem Biennale opened last week to a positive reception from art pundits and casual observers alike, aiming to combine the best in both contemporary and ancient Jewish art.

The six-week-long event will run till the end of October, and hopes to establish that Jewish art reaches beyond just Kiddush cups and menorahs.

"Not your grandmother's challah covers"

Ram Ozeri, the festival’s organizer, told JTA "We wanted an event that maps out what exists today in common between the contemporary art world and the Jewish world. I am interested in where the world of Jewish content comes out through art. Because it’s a dominant ingredient in Israeli identity, it doesn’t make sense that it will have no expression."

The festival is exhibiting in five locations across Jerusalem, with more than fifty artists participating. The aim is that the festival will stand as a proving ground for emerging Jewish artists to reach a wider audience. Ozeri hopes that the festival will be the first of many.

Ken Goldman, a Memphis-born multimedia artists living in northern Israel referred to the festival as "not your grandmother’s challah covers."

"It’s a chance to get in on the ground," he said. "We’re a very small community of modern artists dealing with Jewish subjects. It’s a chance to meet the world, show our stuff. I want to have one foot here and one foot there, and be straddling that edge." Goldman’s piece, a photo of his arm with deep tefillin imprints alongside the quote of "You shall bind them as a sign," is like many pieces that it deals explicitly with religious rituals.

Tobi Kahn, a New York-based artist who has exhibited in multiple museums over the last 30 years, serves as the festival’s most prestigious exhibitor. He contributed Urah VI, a Mark Rothko-like painting with solid color squares that serve to emulate the bejewelled breastplate of the Israelite high priests of yore.

Kahn’s Saphyr, which consists of a wooden table with a compartmentalized tray holding 49 sculptures representing the period between Passover and Shavuot is also on display. Kahn stated "The most interesting thing for me in Judaism is time. I’m intrigued by what time means, the whole Jewish law of when Shabbat starts. I’m thrilled to be part of an exhibit that’s opening its doors to many types of Jewish understanding."

Related articles: Israel News, Jerusalem Art Festival, Art News, Jewish News, Tobi Kahn
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