Word Symbol Space
In this exhibition, six post-1970 works from the Museum’s collection respond to mid-twentieth-century modernism. Each uses the language of abstraction – areas of pure color, geometric shapes, and gestural brushwork – and adds to it, incorporating words and symbols with specific personal, historical, and cultural meanings. Artists represented include William Anastasi, Ross Bleckner, Dana Frankfort, Alain Kirili, Brigitte NaHoN and Frank Stella.
In William Anastasi’s Untitled (Jew), 1987, the artist confronts the viewer with the single word jew, which he considers the most charged word in the English language, leaping from an otherwise monochrome canvas. For Anastasi, the word conjures both positive and negative associations: it evokes great modern intellectuals such as Freud, Schoenberg, Einstein, Kafka and Marx, as well as ideas that are defamatory, even violent.
The iconic Jewish emblem of the Star of David emerges from Ross Bleckner’s minimalist stripe painting and Dana Frankfort’s field of expressionistic color, both inspired by the highly aesthetic, abstract language of the Color Field painters of the 1950s, who experimented with saturated colors in large, open areas of pure paint. Bleckner’s Double Portrait (Gay Flag), 1993 becomes a metaphorical self-portrait, incorporating the rainbow colors of the gay pride flag and the Star of David to embody the artist’s sexual, ethnic, and artistic identities. Frankfort’s Star of David (Orange), 2007, stretches and distorts a familiar symbol so that its form is emphasized. Frankfort seeks a universal meaning in the six-pointed Jewish star: “I like the idea that a star can’t be original. It’s a symbol that anyone can draw and have.”
Alain Kirili’s Commandment II, 1980 reflects the artist’s fascination with both traditional biblical scripture and modernist, nonrepresentational art. The work’s seventeen sculptural elements are abstracted from the calligraphic Hebrew letters of the Torah and can be seen as symbols that can be variously assembled to create new meaning.
Frank Stella’s Dawidgródek III, 1971, from the Polish Village series is inspired by the architecturally whimsical wooden synagogues built in provincial Poland before the 20th century and destroyed during World War II. Stella transforms their bold, distinctive forms into brightly colored, abstract shapes and patterns, capturing their exuberant spirit and creating constructions that play between architecture and painting.
Brigitte NaHoN’s sculpture TIME ZERO, 2006, addresses opposites: balance and imbalance, solidity and fragility, heaviness and lightness, the temporary and the eternal. TIME ZERO was the first work made after the artist’s recovery from a serious illness. In the sculpture, life metaphorically hangs in the balance as wooden spokes and crystals cascade toward two reflective stainless steel panels on the floor.