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Skidmore College
Jacob Perlow Series

Is There a Jewish Art?

A public lecture to be delivered by art critic Jed Perl with an introduction by Robert Boyers, English Department

Wednesday, November 2, 2016, 8 p.m.
Gannett Auditorium, Palamountain Hall • Free and open to the public

Is There A Jewish Art?

Jed Perl photo by Kelsey Floyd

Photo by Kelsey Floyd

The Jewish tradition has been grappling with the power of visual experience for thousands of years, from the Second Commandment’s rejection of graven images to the work of El Lissitzky, Marc Chagall, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. What can we learn from this rich, many-faceted evolution? Is there a Jewish art or a Jewish tradition in the arts?

Jed Perl will argue that there is a tradition—a tradition grounded not in naturalistic experience but in the power of the visual arts to order our experience of the world. In a lecture ranging from the descriptions of the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus to the contemporary painter R. B. Kitaj’s First Diasporist Manifesto, Perl will examine paintings and ritual objects as well as the architecture of synagogues and the arrangement of the dinner table for the Sabbath meal. We will see how major 20th-century art historians and critics have grappled with the relationship between ancient traditions and modern avowals. The Jewish tradition in the visual arts, with its rejection of naturalistic representation, foreshadows modernity’s vision of the arts as a reshaping of reality—or an alternate reality.

Perl is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and has over the years been the art critic for Vogue and the New Republic. A reviewer in the Atlantic, writing about Magicians and Charlatans—Perl’s most recent collection of essays—observed that he “may be the finest American critic at work today in any field.” And the poet John Ashbery, writing of Perl’s criticism, has said that he is “an almost solitary, essential voice.” Perl’s other books include Antoine’s Alphabet, Paris Without End and New Art City, a 2005 New York Times Notable Book. He is currently working on the first full-length biography of the sculptor Alexander Calder, to be published by Knopf. Perl is the recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy in Rome, the Leon Levy Biography Center at the City University of New York and the Ingram-Merrill Foundation. He has appeared on Charlie Rose, the McNeil Lehrer News Hour, CNN and National Public Radio; he teaches at the New School in New York City, where he lives.

This presentation is part of the Jacob Perlow Event Series sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Special Programs. Funding is provided by endowments established by Jacob Perlow and by Beatrice Troupin.


About the Jacob Perlow Series: A generous grant from the estate of Jacob Perlow—an immigrant to the United States in the 1920s, a successful businessman deeply interested in religion and philosophy and a man who was committed to furthering Jewish education—supports annual lectures and presentations to the College and Capital District community on issues broadly related to Jews and Judaism.