Word Symbol Space, a selection of works by six contemporary artists, will be on view at The Jewish Museum in the final gallery of its permanent exhibition, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, from August 11 through October 7, 2012. These post-1970 works from the Museum's collection all respond to mid-twentieth-century modernism. Each uses the language of abstraction - areas of pure color, geometric shapes, and gestural brushwork - and adds to it, incorporating words and symbols with specific personal, historical, and cultural meanings. Artists represented include William Anastasi, Ross Bleckner, Dana Frankfort, Alain Kirili, Brigitte NaHoN and Frank Stella. In addition, a related work by Ori Gersht will be on view in the third floor elevator lobby of the Museum.
William Anastasi, Untitled (Jew), 1987, oil on canvas. The Jewish Museum, New York: Gift of the artist , 1987-115a-d.
In William Anastasi's Untitled (Jew), 1987, the artist confronts the viewer with the single word jew, which he considers the most charged word in the English language, leaping from an otherwise monochrome canvas. For Anastasi, the word conjures both positive and negative associations: it evokes great modern intellectuals such as Freud, Schoenberg, Einstein, Kafka and Marx, as well as ideas that are defamatory, even violent. The austere, minimal painting uses the linguistic, moral, and political meanings that emerged from language-based Conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s.
The iconic Jewish emblem of the Star of David emerges from Dana Frankfort's field of expressionistic color and Ross Bleckner's minimalist stripe painting, both inspired by the highly aesthetic, abstract language of the Color Field painters of the 1950s, who experimented with saturated colors in large, open areas of pure paint. In Bleckner's Double Portrait (Gay Flag), 1993, a three-dimensional Star of David breaks through the flatness of the modernist canvas, literally and symbolically. The work becomes a metaphorical self-portrait, incorporating the rainbow colors of the gay pride flag and the Star of David to embody the artist's sexual, ethnic, and artistic identities. Frankfort's Star of David (Orange), 2007, stretches and distorts a familiar symbol so that its form is emphasized. Frankfort seeks a universal meaning in the six-pointed Jewish star: "I like the idea that a star can't be original. It's a symbol that anyone can draw and have."