A collective of artists apply their Judaic studies to “What We Carry,” opening at the Janice Charach Gallery.
In 2015, 12 Jewish artists were chosen by Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership to participate in the Midwest Jewish Artists Lab. The year-long residency allowed the artists access to Spertus’ archives of art, artifacts and massive library, where they studied treasured text together with local scholars and were provided professional critiques, culminating in a group exhibit at Spertus called “Wisdom.”
Although the artists were chosen independent of each other, they bonded over the experience and formed the Jewish Artists Collective Chicago (JACC), apart from Spertus. They rotate meetings among their own studios and join forces to advance members’ individual projects.
After “Wisdom,” the group scheduled two more exhibits — all three different. The second was at Hillel in Milwaukee, and the third will run June 3-July 12 at the Janice Charach Gallery in West Bloomfield, where there will be associated programming.
The Michigan focus, expressed through a multimedia display by 11 of the artists, is “What We Carry.”
“The exhibit reflects both the themes that we carry as Jews and the individuality with which we live our lives,” says Judith Joseph, who leads the meetings and has been central to the upcoming exhibit. “Our heritage is the common link while we express ourselves uniquely.
“I’m showing woodblock prints that reflect my Jewish identity in one way or another — even if it’s subtle. I have a Golem series that was created for an exhibit at the Brooklyn Jewish Art Gallery in New York, and I have a woodcut about my grandfather’s teenage pogrom experiences that made him want to immigrate to America.”
Jonathan Franklin, who spent his early years in Grand Rapids and returned to the state to study art at the University of Michigan, will be showing a series of small dioramas made from recycled materials. Pieces from early-20th-century sepia photos have been cut and repositioned.
“I wanted to show connections among people — subjects and viewers,” says Franklin, who has pursued art projects while living on a kibbutz and while serving as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces. “People in the photos look like immigrants, and they imbue feelings of what individual immigrants call the ‘old country.’”
Ellen Holtzblatt, who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and has shown her work at the Jerusalem Biennale and the Museum of Biblical Art in New York among other prestigious venues, has submitted two painting projects presented in parts — the triptych There’s Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart and the four-view Storm.
“I have an interest in landscape paintings — how landscapes reflect my internal self and how [appearance] can be fleeting,” says Holtzblatt, who works with oil paints on linen and paper to relate images sometimes suggested through religious readings. “I work in parts to show how nature is always evolving.”
Holtzblatt, who has attended artist retreats at the Ox-Bow School of the Arts in Saugatuck, believes her Jewish perspectives permeate her identity and creative approaches.
Amy Reichert, an artist and architect who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale, is showing a Carrera marble memorial candleholder.
“I decided to work on this Judaica project because memorial candleholders are among the most under-designed ritual objects,” Reichert says. “Since each candleholder is part of such an important ritual, I thought it needed more poetic attention.”
Although Reichert’s design does not show the actual candlelight, it does convey a reflection through a gold leaf segment. Oval shapes recall pebbles placed by mourners on gravestones.
“The design comes from a desire to express traditional values in modern forms,” says Reichert, whose work is on display at the Jewish Museum in New York, Jewish Museum in Vienna and Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. She also has created installations and furnishings for synagogues around the country and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“What We Carry” opens with a reception on Sunday afternoon, June 3, when a companion exhibit, “Prudence Bernstein: A Retrospective,” also opens to celebrate the work of the late local artist. Bernstein, who specialized in colorful abstract paintings and participated in dozens of solo and group exhibitions, will be further honored with a silent auction that presents selections from a curated collection of her projects.
Among the collective members showing their work in the exhibit is Gabriella Boros, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and has been spotlighted by the Charach Gallery in the 1990s. She will be introducing woodblock prints.
Six other artists and their approaches add perspective to the theme: Sylvia Ramos Alotta, handmade book and mixed media; Melanie Dankowicz, stainless steel sculpture; Susan Dickman, encaustic on board; Berit Engen, miniature tapestry woven with Scandinavian linen yarn; Carol Neiger, oil and gold leaf on canvas and monoprints; and Dimitri Pavlotsky, oil on board.
“The exhibit is self-curated by the artists,” Joseph says. “I framed the theme and statement for the exhibit with the help of Ellen Holtzblatt and asked the artists to respond to that. Each artist is allotted 15 feet of space. The number of pieces depends on that space and what is being shown.
“The artists help each other, support each other and like each other. We are strongly thinking of opening the collective to others, but we want to make sure we are settled into what works and what doesn’t. We’re thinking about holding a juried exhibition and then considering some of the people for membership.
“I invite Michigan Jewish artists to contact me if they’re interested in starting a similar collective,” Joseph says. “One way to support and nurture Jewish civilization is through art.”
“What We Carry” and “Prudence Bernstein: A Retrospective” will run June 3-July 12 at the Janice Charach Gallery at the Jewish Community Center. The free opening reception is scheduled 1-4 p.m. Sunday, June 3. Art historian Wendy Evans will present a lecture on Jewish art at 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 12, and will feature the work of many of the artists in “What We Carry.”
(248) 432-5579; charachgallery.org. Judith Joseph can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.