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Filling the Void: Sculpture by and for Jews After the Holocaust with Samuel Gruber

Hosted By: Orange County Community Scholar Program (CSP)

“In this series of three lectures art historian Dr. Samuel Gruber explores the uneasy relationship between Jews, Judaism, and the art of sculpture. Mostly, he will introduce a wide variety of sculpted ritual metalwork from the 16th through the 21st centuries, and an even larger selection of representational and abstract sculpture made by dozens of Jewish artists from the late 19th century until today. Dr. Gruber will introduce us to works by little known but influential and inspired Jewish artists and to some of the major names in 20th century art (who just happen to be Jewish).

The Jewish love affair with sculpture continued After World War Two, and many sculptors continued to celebrate the human form though often manipulating the subject for expressive – and often commemorative purpose. Perhaps more common was the adoption of abstraction by many Jewish artists. On the one hand, this was in keeping with older Jewish tradition, but it was also a response to the inhumanity of the Shoah. Working in metal, artists like Richard Serra and Beverly Pepper emphasize the materiality of the bronze or steel over symbolic or narrative meaning. Others used sculpture architecturally to decorate architecture, especially synagogues. In the late 20th century, many Jewish artists were also in the forefront of installation art which combined sculpture and other media with live performance. Alongside these developments was the creation of an entirely new genre of Jewish sculpture, the Holocaust memorial. Already in the 1940s artists were seeking a new sculptural language to express – or at least remind the world – of the horrors, suffering and insurmountable loss of the Shoah. Sculptors as varied as George Segal, Sol LeWiit, Joel Shapiro, Louise Nevelson, Elbert Weinberg, Luise Kaish, Richard Serra, and many others have all created Holocaust memorial sculptural art. The verdict is still out how well they succeeded.”

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