Mezuzah love at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art

Image of Mezuzot from the show, A Kiss for the Mezuzah, curated by Matthew Singer of the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art.
Image of Mezuzot from the show, A Kiss for the Mezuzah, curated by Matthew Singer of the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art.

Not long ago Matt Singer, Curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art emailed to ask me if I’d write an essay for a show he was putting together at the museum called “A Kiss for the Muzuzah.” The exhibit is all new commissioned works — each a Mezuzah — by a Philadelphia artist. Not all the artists are Jewish and together they represent a power team whose works I’ve long admired: Candy Depew, Jeanne Jaffe, Isaac Lin, Virgil Marti, Stuart Netsky, Norm Paris, Bruce Pollock, Isaac Resnikoff and Shelley Spector. My essay, one of several in a beautiful brochure published in conjunction with the show, deals with the Philadelphia-ness of Philadelphia artists and how right now Philadelphia is full of artist’s groups who gain strength from being together and sharing a group identity with their respective collective.

mezuzah essay, a kiss for philadelphia artists by roberta fallon
My brochure essay for the show, focusing on the idea of Philadelphia-ness and how great it is to be a Philadelphia artist. Image is a drawing by Isaac Resnikoff for his hand-carved wood Mezuzah which is based on one he made as a child in summer camp. As with all the images, click to make them bigger so you can read the text.

The show’s up now to Feb. 1 and the Mezuzot — which range from a boyish carved piece by Isaac Resnikoff to a cake icing curlicue special by Candy Depew — are like metaphorical self-portraits and they’re really great to look at. The surprise to me is how the artists — with the exception of Isaac Lin — didn’t stray far from the naturally-ocurring size of the Mezuzah in the real world of a house (ie small). Lin made his piece a monumental 10×9 ft, which somehow fits the psychic power inherent in these small signifiers of kinship and group identity.
Below are some images from the brochure along with some of the essay texts. (In addition to my short essay there are essays by Vivian B. Mann, of the Jewish Museum, New York, Rabbi Michael Holzman of Congregation Rodeph Shalom and Elisabeth R. Agro, of the PMA’s Crafts and Decorative Arts Department.)

A panel discussion at the show’s opening drew a big crowd and the artists each got to tell the story of coming to grips with creating their own version of the religious identifier. One after another artist was thrown back to reminiscences of childhood, a time when identity is forming and consciousness of who you are and what that means is heightened perhaps more than at any other time.

There’s a nice article about the show in Art Matters by Jennifer Zarro. And here’s my flickr set photos.

Jeanne Jaffe’s piece (bottom) and one of Candy Depew’s two pieces (top).

Isaac Lin’s piece, photographed here before it’s in its final state. The piece is 9×10 ft. and in its finished state has multiple layers of lines of color on top of this and a deep black void in the middle.

Bruce Pollock’s piece. Pollock works as a preparator/installer at the Museum but this is the first time he’d made a piece of art for them.

Norm Paris (top) drawing for his mezuzah, Stuart Netsky (right) and Virgil Marti (bottom). Paris’s piece, which looked like a bit of rubble torn from a bomb site, was hand made out of concrete and rebar.

Shelley Spector’s piece reminds me of her installation at Painted Bride a few years back, a show very much about feeling a part of her community and about her identity as a Jew. Spector suggested the theme of Mezuzah for the show.