In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of the most important Jewish exhibits of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.
The Jewish Museum: “Kehinde Wiley / The World Stage: Israel”
Kehinde Wiley’s paintings of young, urban black men in the poses, and sometimes trappings, of famous European history paintings boldly challenge the art historical canon. For his recent exhibit, “The World Stage: Israel,” at Jewish Museum in New York, he traveled to Israel to find and photograph his models, young men he met in the streets and nightclubs, whose ethnicities range from Ethiopian to Arab Israeli.
Fowler Museum: “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews”
At a time when Iran is ever-present in the American consciousness a major exhibition about the Jews of Iran, which originated at Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, opened at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews,” traces the 3,000 year-long history Iranian Jewry with more than 100 objects ranging from archeological artifacts to intricately made Judaica to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary photographs and art installations.
Paul Kasmin Gallery: Nir Hod: “Mother”
[“Mother,”] Nir Hod’s exhibit at the Paul Kasmin Gallery, amplifies literally and creatively one woman from Franz Konrad’s famous 1943 photograph, “The Boy From Warsaw Ghetto.” While designer name-dropping and modern contexts swirl around (some say she looks like a lady hailing a cab uptown), each of the canvases reach out to grab the viewer.
Marlborough Gallery: “Avigdor Arikha, Works From the Estate”
“Avigdor Arikha, Works From the Estate” was an unflinching record of how the artist apprehended the world. The first New York Arikha exhibition since 2007 and first mini-retrospective in the United States since the artist’s death in 2010, “Works From the Estate” presented the state of flux and anxiety that Arikha used as tool of visual perception, driving the artist to an extreme present tense and turning his art into a state of high-wire visual tension.
The Jewish Museum: The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951
The innovative, humanist and socially-conscious New York Photo League would eventually be brought down during the Red Scare of the 1950s, but for 15 years the League championed the work of young, energetic and frequently Jewish photographers whose work remains a profound document of the era. This year, the Jewish Museum hosted a major retrospective that brought together over 140 images from members like Jerome Liebling, Sid Grossman and Weegee. While the sheer breadth of the exhibition was a welcome rarity, the curators were able to capture the creative spirit and uncompromising aesthetic of the group at a time when social justice and inequality are rising concerns for a new generation