Four works from the Jewish Museum’s collection find ways to explore the table as a place where festivity, sanctity, and history converge. Isidor Kaufmann’s painting Friday Evening sets the stage: a lone woman in traditional Jewish dress of the eastern Habsburg Empire sits at a Sabbath table. Kaufmann’s impulse was both romantic and ethnographic: to preserve the folkways of a vanishing provincial Jewish culture.
To create Laid Table with Etrog Container and Pastry Molds, a commission for The Jewish Museum, Beth Lipman crafted glass replicas of holiday and food-related objects in the museum’s Judaica collection. Here, the table is crowded with functional items, but the people who might use them are absent or invisible—as suggested by the use of transparent glass. Subtle references to mourning scattered among the festive items, convey a sense of joy and sorrow mixed together.
Izhar Patkin’s large paper collage Salonière portrays a single-legged tabled arrayed with symbolic Enlightenment-era objects, including a porcelain statuette of a monkey—a reference to a peculiar Prussian law of 1769 that required Jews to purchase porcelain dinner services and figurines in order to obtain official government documents.
In Linen, by the Israeli artists’ collective Studio Armadillo, a ghostly tablecloth is suspended above the ground. Dishes, loaves of hallah, a wine bottle, a kiddush cup, and candlesticks—all formed from starched linen—are sewn to it. The Friday evening ceremony marking the beginning of the Sabbath is evoked as a pause for reflection and rest, separating the practical concerns of daily life from the spiritual moment.
As these artists recognize, the household table, laden with objects both mundane and precious, can carry a great deal of symbolism. Just as the dining table is transformed into a sacred space by the observance of the Sabbath, so the delicate materials used here—glass, paper, and linen—are transformed into something ethereal and poetic.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Isidor Kaufmann (Austrian, b. Hungary, 1853–1921) was known for his portraits and genre paintings of religiously devout Jews in the provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He studied at the Budapest Drawing School and the Vienna Academy and received honors from Emperor Franz Josef, as well as the German emperor and the Russian czar.
Beth Lipman (American, b. 1971) lives and works in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. Her work in glass, including site-specific installations, is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Corning Museum of Glass, The Museum of Art and Design, and The Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.
Izhar Patkin (Israeli, b. 1955) moved to the United States in 1977 and achieved recognition for his rubber curtain paintings in the 1987 Whitney Biennial. His work, often large-scale installations and series, has been collected by international institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
Studio Armadillo, a Tel Aviv-based design collective, was founded by Hadas Kruk (Israeli, b. 1970) and Anat Stein (Israeli, b. 1972), and in 2002 also included Sharon Samish-Dagan (Israeli, b. 1971). Known for its modernist, often whimsical designs for household and industrial objects, it has also produced a line of contemporary Judaica.