Topic: 1. Kabbalah and Contemporary Art
Wallace Berman (American, 1926-1976)
Detail from Silent (1967-1969)
Verifax on paper, Sheet and Image: 48 x 48 3/4 in. (121.9 x 123.8 cm.)
Purchase: Mr. and Mrs. George Jaffin Fund, Lucy and Henry Moses Fund, and the Fine Arts Acquisitions Committee Fund; Partial Gift of Timothea Stewart
Courtesy of The Jewish Museum, New York
Alchemy, a magical process associated with practical kabbalah (kabablah ma’asit), is perhaps a useful metaphor for the relationship between kabbalah and contemporary art. Since World War II, a significant number of artists have mixed ancient mystical texts with postmodern thought and aesthetic practice in order to achieve rich and innovative results.
What aspects of kabbalah are appealing to artists? Is it the transgressive act of approaching an esoteric subject that is restricted to non-initiates? Is it a desire to get closer to the Divine? What qualities do artists and mystics share? Why might contemporary art be a productive medium to explore mystical concepts?
How has the visual culture of kabbalah evolved from 16th century Sephirot diagrams, 18th and 19th century amulets, to contemporary art and film?
How does kabbalah enable artists Robert Wilson, Anselm Kiefer, and Grisha Bruskin to work through historical traumas such as the Holocaust and the former Soviet regime?
How did kabbalah offer Wallace Berman and other Beat Generation artists and poets a secular alternative to mainstream Judaism?
How do feminist artists such as Mirit Cohen and Rachel Rosenthal reinvent kabbalah?
Does the Jewish renewal movement have any influence on the work of Shalom Gorewitz, Michael Berkowitz, and Leonard Nimoy?