Jewish Journal

Artists Converge After ‘The Passion’

by David Finnigan

Posted on Mar. 31, 2005 at 7:00 pm


Christian children wearing their Sunday best for last week's Easter services understandably could forget, amidst their Easter egg hunts, that the Last Supper of Jesus was a Passover seder.

But in this season of Easter and Passover, connections between the holidays has inspired an art exhibit showcasing Christian and Jewish artists motivated by religious themes. The exhibit is housed in downtown Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Its aspirations and the artworks themselves are impressive, though the effort has suffered from uneven presentation of the artwork.

The "Passion/Passover" exhibit could be viewed as a positive response to Jewish-Catholic tensions surrounding last year's "The Passion of the Christ" by filmmaker Mel Gibson. His film was praised by Catholic church officials, though many Jewish leaders said the film unreasonably cast Jews as villains.

The exhibit's 14 artists -- seven Jewish and seven Christian -- have displayed some 23 pieces interpreting each faith's respective Passover and Easter themes.

"People began to see there were comparisons between the two holy seasons," said Gordon Fuglie, director of the Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University.

Featured Jewish artists include Santa Barbara-based Laurie Gross. Her "Miriam and the Women" is a dozen folded and twisted strips of fabric that call to mind a tallit.

"A number of the pieces that I've done use biblical woman," said Gross, who described "Miriam" as "part of a journey of my Jewish heritage. Miriam is one of the women that we look to as a role model -- of leadership, speaking her mind, speaking out."

The exhibit grouped art pieces by religion, with Jewish art grouped together and Christian art grouped in separate clusters.

As a result, in Gross' view, "there wasn't anything integrated about the exhibit."

Still, the exhibit displayed the work of Jewish women, she said. And the art, taken as a body of work, shows how, "we're trying very hard as women today to pull those voices out of text. Women are writing contemporary Midrash," she said. "I feel what I do as an artist is visual Midrash. That gives us a role in carrying on the tradition, filling in the blanks."

The pieces by Christian artists in "Passion/Passover" are noticeably larger -- such as the crucifixion watercolor by the exhibit's co-curator, the Rev. Michael Tang, the chair of the art and art history department at Loyola Marymount University.

"Catholics particularly are used to a tradition of commissions of large-scale works," said Ruth Weisberg, dean of USC's School of Fine Arts and a member of the cathedral's arts and furnishings committee. "All the Catholic artists but one [had] done very large-scale work. The Jewish artists had all chosen smaller works.

The lesser-sized Jewish artworks created a sort of metaphor set within the hugeness of the Catholic cathedral, suggesting how the world's 12 millions Jews live among hundreds of millions of Christians.

UCLA art department chair Barbara Drucker, who contributed her work, "Calendar Notation," said that unlike some of the pieces by Jewish artists, the Christian artworks were not "questioning the existence of God."

Many of the large pieces by Christian artists are displayed in the cathedral's chapel-like alcoves, including one with walls and lighting akin to a traditional art gallery. The smaller Jewish pieces are more likely to be found in less well-lit spaces -- at least four of the Jewish artists were unhappy with the lighting and presentation.

No disrespect was intended, said those involved with the exhibit. Some exhibit issues simply couldn't be helped, such as dealing with a large Christian piece on loan from a museum. The artwork's space and lighting requirement mandated that it go into a large alcove.

"The works in the Christ-themed room were larger and more monumental," Fuglie said. "For the next time around, somebody really needs to understand how the space works."

USC's Weisberg said the cathedral's arts and furnishings committee, "is concerned and wants better lighting. This is their first time out with contemporary art in the cathedral."

Financial backing for the exhibit featured a pronounced interfaith theme, with support from philanthropists, including Roy Disney, Eli Broad and Stanley Gold.

Despite the glitches, artist Deborah Lefkowitz said she was "quite interested in the resonance my work might have when exhibited in a space devoted to prayer."

"Passion/Passover: Artists of Faith Interpret Their Holy Days" runs through May 1 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 680-5200.


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