100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art

A massive new exhibition is underway at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM), which is examining the fascinating topic of spirituality in relation to modern and contemporary art.
Covering a century of art, specifically the period between 1911 and 2011, a total of 60 works borrowed from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) have been arranged intoten sections.
Each division looks at near-universal concepts of spiritualism, many of which either share similar understandings of sacred or divine thought found in Judaism or whose ideas have origins in the Jewish religion.
This includes the Genesis narrative, how God is perceived as an omnipotent being, what role art has in reconciling existence in this world with what possibly lies in the great beyond and trying to find some sort of redemption or meaning to it all.
Naturally, the show features prominent artists with a Jewish heritage, including Helène Aylon, Wallace Berman, Ross Bleckner, Helen Frankenthaler, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Alfred Stieglitz.
While at first, it is easy to comprehend all of the above from a purely secular point of view, their contributions to modern art nevertheless is suggestive of some sort of unspoken influence emanating from a purely spiritual home or a Judaist starting point.
According to the organisers of the show, what this suggests is that in some cases, if the works of all of the above and beyond are to be engaged with, consideration must be given to mystical forces.
Consider some remarks made by two prominent artists. Rothko once said that “the people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them,” while Stieglitz remarked how “several people feel I have photographed God” when discussing his Equivalents series.
“The CJM is thrilled to have this opportunity to work with SFMOMA’s extraordinary collection to explore the convergence of art and spirituality in the modern age,” said Karen Tsujimoto, a curator at the CJM.
“As a museum dedicated to new Jewish perspectives on art, culture, and history, this unique collaboration allows us to examine and reveal surprising ways in which Jewish thought and modern art intersect.”
Caitlin Haskell, SFMOMA assistant curator of painting and sculpture, added that the museum was thrilled with the “freshness of the vision” that has emerged from this collaboration.
“It’s immensely exciting to see the works presented anew, and just around the corner from SFMOMA,” she continued. “Even those who have visited the museum for years won’t have experienced the works quite like this before.”
Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art at the Contemporary Jewish Museum runs until October 27th 2013.
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