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Jewish exhibit in art gallery celebrates professor’s book

Have you ever wanted to write a book? How about curating your own art exhibit celebrating the book?

Ben Schachter, professor of art, has done both.

His exhibit “Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Culture” is on display in the Art Gallery until Feb. 18, Tuesdays through Thursdays, from one to four p.m.

“I think anybody who has an interest in religious ideas and their own religion and art connected to that would be interested in coming to see the show,” Schachter said, “because it’s a new approach to: how does art and religion talk to each other?”

Schachter said that many modern artists try to exclude religion from their work in order to be universal, which makes the popularization of Jewish art challenging. The art in this exhibit, Schachter explained, “sits on the line.”

“You look at it and you’re not really sure it’s religious, you’re not really sure it’s contemporary,” Schachter said. “You probably have a feeling that it’s doing something other than just being an interesting


Philip Montalbano, junior finance major, was present when the exhibit opened on Jan. 18. He also commented on some of the art’s non-obvious Jewish themes.

“The meaning or the values or references to something in Jewish culture was woven into the piece instead of just being at the surface,” Montalbano said.

One piece featured pictures of a performance in which a man held different people for as long as he was able, without any talking between them. This work by Douglas Rosenberg relates to interpersonal relationships and identity, according to an information card Schachter wrote that was mounted by the photos.

“Rosenberg’s performance calls to mind the nature of religious belief in so far as Judaism provides many injunctions to be kind and assist others,” the card read. “Furthermore, ‘tzedakah,’ commonly translated as charity, includes an element of ‘lifting’ a person out of their current circumstance.”

In addition to photographs of performances like this, the exhibit also includes photos of installations and objects.

An installation is a form of art in which some structure is added to a specific location to change how the space is experienced.

Schacter said that when people think of Jewish art, they often think about ritual objects or how a big idea in Jewish thought is that art is bad. This inspired him to research the topic.

“I wanted to demonstrate that, in fact, it’s a whole much broader question about what these artists are engaged in,” Schachter said.

He also noted that Saint Vincent played a role in his research, explaining how his interest in Jewish art grew with his time at the college.

“The community takes their religion seriously and enjoys seeing others take their own religion seriously,” Schachter said. “I felt encouraged in this work, being here at Saint Vincent.”

According to Montalbano, Saint Vincent has a rich cultural heritage for being such a small school and does a fine job or promoting the arts.

However, Montalbano said art is sometime underappreciated on campus.

“The productions, performances, exhibits, things like that I think are typically under attended for the quality they are,” Montalbano said. “I think people aren’t aware of it, or don’t prioritize it, or don’t make the time to attend those kinds of things.”

Montalbano said he tries to attend events like concerts and exhibits on campus. He attended the opening for this exhibit to take pictures for Alexander Byers, digital media specialist at SVC, for whom Montalbano is a work study.

While photographing, Montalbano said he was able to appreciate the art.

“While, obviously, the research and the knowledge was present in the works, you didn’t have to be a scholar to appreciate them, which I thought was pretty impressive and pretty interesting,” he said.

Montalbano said the way Schachter explained the complexities of the works was beautiful.

“I remember him explaining one piece, there were four or five or six different little nuance references within the piece that were culturally or linguistically relevant,” he said, “and gave me a much richer appreciation for it, knowing all the things that had gone into it.”

The exhibit features works from different Jewish artists that are discussed in Schachter’s book, the oldest piece being around 15 years old. Artists featured in the book are from America, Israel, Australia and Great Britain.

Montalbano said that everyone he talked to about the exhibit really enjoyed it.

“Every gallery has its own kind of feel or its own style to it that one person may like more than another, but objectively I think it was very well done,” he said.

Photos: Matthew Wojtechko, Phillip Montalbano

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