Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

August 9, 2012

MOCRA Voices podcast features Archie Granot and Max Thurm

Archie Granot, The Papercut Haggadah, page 20. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

Archie Granot, The Papercut Haggadah, page 20. Collection of Sandra and Max Thurm. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

MOCRA’s showing of Archie Granot’s Papercut Haggadah in Spring 2012 proved to be a highly popular exhibition, one that elicited deep appreciation for Granot’s technical virtuosity and sense of design, as well as his skillful manner of reinterpreting a classic religious text for a contemporary audience.  One of our disappointments was that we could not arrange to bring Archie to MOCRA during the run of the exhibition.

Fortunately, in early May MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, SJ, and I had the opportunity to sit down with collector Max Thurm (who with his wife Sandra commissioned The Papercut Haggadah) in the studios of WFUV (90.7 FM) at Fordham University in the Bronx, NY. Archie joined us on the phone from his home in Jerusalem. For the next hour or so we enjoyed a wide ranging conversation covering topics such as how Archie was drawn to the art of papercutting, how the commission came about, the special considerations engaged in creating an artwork based on a sacred text, and continuity and innovation in the Jewish tradition. The rapport between Archie and Max was evident from the get-go, and their exchanges open a window on the fascinating process of collaboration between artist and patron.

We are pleased to make an edited version of this conversation available as the latest installment in the MOCRA Voices podcast. You can stream the podcast from our website, or subscribe to the podcast in the iTunes Store. Also be sure to check out the extensive Listening Guide, which delves further into the topics discussed and includes images of many of the pages from The Papercut Haggadah.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

April 10, 2012

Other contemporary takes on haggadot and Jewish papercut art

I often find that, as I become deeply immersed in an exhibition at MOCRA, I become highly attuned to news and cultural items that relate to the exhibition. (More prosaically, it’s like the experience of buying a new car and suddenly seeing that model everywhere, on the road, in parking lots. The cars have been there all along, of course; it’s a matter of opening one’s eyes to see them.)  Here on the fourth day of this year’s Passover, I thought I would share a few of the Papercut Haggadah-related  items I’ve come across.

We recently added a new link to the “Art, Religion, & Spirituality” page on the MOCRA website. “Jewish Art Now” states that its mission is “to build an appreciation for contemporary art in Jewish communities and build respect for Jewish art in the contemporary art world. ” The organization’s website showcases Jewish artists from around the world, along with news, reviews, upcoming events and resources for artists and art appreciators. The organization also has a presence in social media and print.

As I was browsing the site recently, my eye was caught by an exhibition titled The Paper Tefillah. The work is by artist Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik and is being shown at a reform synagogue in Memphis, Tennessee. The catalogue is available online here, and here is the artist talking about his work.

Paper Tefillah from Temple Israel on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, at Jewish Art Salon I came across an interview with artist and author Mark Podwal on PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly website. He discusses his recently published haggadah Sharing the Journey. In the interview he connects his approach to expressing the text in his paintings, as well as how his work relates to historic haggadot such as the Prague Haggadah (1526) and the Venice Haggadah (1609). The website also has several pertinent related links about the haggadah, the Passover seder, and more.

http://www-tc.pbs.org/s3/pbs.videoportal-prod.cdn/media/swf/PBSPlayer.swf

Watch Passover Haggadah on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Sitting here in front of me on my desk is a copy of the New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander. I heard about this via an interview with these two authors on NPR’s Weekend edition and was intrigued by their project. I’m looking forward to delving into this new haggadah, but just paging through it, it’s clear that the text has been translated not just by Englander, but by book designer Oded Ezer, an Israeli graphic designer and typographer. Myriad variations and transformations of Hebrew letters flow across the pages, congregating in one spot here or tracing graceful arabesques across a spread there. In other instances they splinter like fractals or disintegrate and dissolve. These letters are purposeful, alive. Ezer talks about his approach to this volume in an interview with Ellen Shapiro of Print magazine. He  says,

Here is what I really want people to know: If I touch the letters I think and I hope that people will be touched by them. I’m a secular Jew and I know this story almost by heart because I’ve heard it every year since I was born, 39 years ago. If we designers are involved with what we do, it’s likely that our audiences will get involved with it too. For years I have been claiming that the real question about typography is not ‘how does it look?’ but ‘how does it behave?’

The interview includes Ezer’s commentary on specific pages in the New American Haggadah.


All of these works are quite distinct from Archie Granot’s approach to the visual interpretation of traditional prayers and texts as embodied in The Papercut Haggadah, but they are all examples of the vitality and variety of contemporary Jewish art and belief.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

February 18, 2012

Why Are You Showing . . . ?

I was asked recently why MOCRA is showing Archie Granot’s Papercut Haggadah for our next exhibition.  That’s not an uncommon question for us to field, and it can sometimes be tricky identifying just what constitutes art that engages the religious and spiritual dimensions. However, that’s not the case this time around.

The Papercut Haggadah is a fine example of work by a contemporary visual artist who is in dialogue with the great faith traditions but who also brings contemporary concerns and modes of expression to bear on those traditions. In this case, Granot is exploring the sacred text and ritual of the Haggadah through a traditional medium often associated with folk art — papercutting. But he expands the conventional book format of the Haggadah into individual pages highlighting particular passages from the text, and in contrast to the illustrational art often found in Haggadot, he employs his own vocabulary of geometric forms and subtle references to Israel and Judaica. In so doing, he shows the vitality both of the Jewish tradition and of contemporary artistic expressions of faith.

This exhibition also helps further our aim of being a center for interfaith understanding and dialogue. The Jewish community plays an important role in the social fabric of St. Louis, and we hope that The Papercut Haggadah will provide an opportunity for members of the local Jewish community to explore their own tradition, and at the same time open a window into the celebration of Passover for people of other faith traditions.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

The Papercut Haggadah opens 2/26/12 at MOCRA

MOCRA’s next exhibition is titled Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah. Israeli artist Archie Granot was commissioned to present the story and rituals of the Passover Seder in the traditional medium of papercutting. The resulting 55 pages employ intricate geometric and abstract shapes and calligraphic text to create an exquisite, unique version of the Haggadah.

A free public opening reception will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2012, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Collectors Sandra and Max Thurm, who commissioned the work, will be in attendance. The exhibition will be on display at MOCRA through May 20, 2012.

Click here to visit the exhibition page on MOCRA’s website, or continue reading to learn more about the show.

Archie Granot, The Papercut Haggadah, Page 46.

Archie Granot, The Papercut Haggadah, Page 46. 1998-2007. Collection of Sandra and Max Thurm. Courtesy of the artist.

About the exhibition

Haggadah (הַגָּדָה) is Hebrew for “telling,” namely, the telling of the Exodus story at the Seder service during the Jewish festival of Pesach, or Passover. The term also signifies a book that contains the ritual guide to the Seder, along with scripture passages, commentary, prayers, and songs. For centuries the Haggadah has been one of the most celebrated items of Jewish literature and art, and there are many examples of both handwritten and printed Haggadot with intricate illustrations. In each generation artists continue the tradition of reinterpreting the Haggadah for contemporary believers.

Commissioned by Sandra and Max Thurm, Archie Granot’s Papercut Haggadah was handcrafted using the Jewish folk art tradition of papercutting. The result is a series of 55 pages that employ intricate geometric and abstract shapes and calligraphic text to create an exquisite version of the Haggadah.

Granot evokes the intense emotions attached with the Passover Seder by utilizing geometric and abstract shapes instead of the usual symbols. Every word of Hebrew text in his Haggadah is handcut, with each page standing as both an independent work of art and a single piece of a beautiful, thematically unified whole. Each page of his multi-layered paper pieces (some nearly an inch thick) tackles a certain aspect or song associated with the Seder, such as “Ma Nishtanah” (מה נשתנה, The Four Questions), or “Pesach, Matzah, Maror” (פֶּסַח, The Passover Offering; מַצָּה, the Unleavened Bread; and מָרוֹר, the Bitter Herb), which incorporates shapes that evoke the traditional matzah.

About the artist

Archie Granot was born in London in 1946 and moved to Israel in 1967. Prior to settling in Jerusalem in 1978, he was a member of an agricultural community where he milked cows and grew melons. He earned a M.Phil. in Russian Studies from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and a B.A. in Political Science and Russian Studies from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Granot started papercutting in 1979, and maintains a studio and gallery in Jerusalem. Many of his papercuts carry a reminder of the Holy City, a source of his inspiration, and he often employs texts that relate to Israel, Judaism, and Judaica. Granot has had solo exhibitions in the United States, Israel, and Germany, and has participated in group exhibitions in France and Japan. His works are found in public collections in Israel, Germany, England, and the United States, as well as numerous private collections.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

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