A Love Letter of Jewish Art for Exploring in Isolation

April 23, 2020

Celebrated Jewish artist Marc Chagall once said ‘in the arts, as in life, everything is possible provided it is based on love.’ Entering a second month of being together but apart, I find my heart filled and spirit lifted by art in all its forms. Catching our eyes and minds, evoking places we’ve been and taking us to imaginary spaces full of hope – the power of artists to connect and conjure has never been more vital.

This week we’re beyond lucky to borrow The Age art critic Robert Nelson, who shares the work of four Jewish artists for exploring in isolation. But before handing over to Robert, I’d like to draw your attention to a special project.

We’ve been so buoyed by your embrace of our Love Letters that we’d like to empower you to send your own. At the Jewish Museum of Australia, we illuminate Jewish life; if you’re a student, emerging, mid-career or retired artist, we invite you to share an original artwork that responds to the idea of illumination. We’ll use a selection of these to create postcards for purchase online, with half of each sale returned to individual artists.

Our hope is that real life Love Letters will start popping up in letter boxes, bringing smiles to many dials while profiling and providing much-needed support to the arts community. Please participate in and spread the word of our Love Letters Project.

Stay safe and well until we meet again,

Jessica Bram
Director & CEO

Lucian Freud
Girl in a Striped Nightshirt (1983–85)

Freud painted his models by eyeballing them at close range: his perceptual method of painting required him and his long-suffering figures to be locked up in the studio for a long time, suggesting a paralytic kind of stress. When people who normally enjoy space and freedom are forced to be with one another for long hours, we need some of Freud’s concentration to make the experience searching and penetrating rather than boring and claustrophobic.

Lauren Berkowitz
Manna (2010)

Berkowitz uses plants as a palette; and when she doesn’t use natural botanical specimens, she uses plastic bottles or glassware to imitate their behaviour and nature, as if they belong to a hanging garden. Her work orients to the magic of gardens that we often miss, how plants fit into traditions and cultural history. At the moment, the private and indoor gardens many Australians can enjoy provide an antidote to our feeling of captivity.

Andrew Cooks
here and there (2014)

Andrew Cooks is also interested in gardens, but expansive, heady, monumental gardens with parterres and hedges and architectural embellishments. He likes them in the same way he likes both grand and labyrinthine cities, places where you can enjoy getting lost and rambling productively. The rhapsodic sensibility in his work helps me think of distraction and daydreaming as an imaginative boon rather than a waste of time.

Sigalit Landau
Barbed hula (2000)

Sigalit Landau makes sculptures in salt, but I was transfixed when I saw her early video of a young woman who makes a hoop spin around her midriff, with the striking feature a hoop with spikes on it that gouges her naked flesh. The performance by the sea made me think of suffering in an existential light, invoking the crown of thorns and other agonies that various saints endured for some kind of salvation. Through a strange aesthetic transformation, the pain and rupture seem transcendent.