I felt a quasi-religious feeling upon entering the Nir Hod exhibition at Paul Kasmin. The title of the exhibition, Mother, refers to the image of a woman repeated, icon-like, across the gallery. Vaguely cinematic but with only subtle variation in color to distinguish one painting from the next, I wondered about the significance of the repetition and the meaning of her gesture.
The woman could easily be shopping on Fifth Avenue. Towards the back of the gallery there is a small reproduction revealing the well-known source: Hod's paintings are based on a photograph taken in the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. If you didn’t get the reference upon entering, it comes as a kick in the head.
This work raises many questions. Slight changes in proportion and the addition of color make Hod's woman seem contemporary. Nominally, the boy is the subject of the source photo. What are the effects of the decisions to focus on her and to remove her from the context of time? Is Hod treating the original photograph -- and the Holocaust as a subject -- with respect? The press release did make a comparison to Warhol, which in this case might be a red flag. Is the repetition an emptying out of meaning, or an intensification? I thought about all of this while in the gallery, and for some time afterwards. In the end, my feeling is that Mother serves as an elegy in particular to the unknown woman in the photograph. The temporal decontextualization brings us closer to her. And the repetition extends our empathy for her suffering to all the other unknown victims of the Holocaust.