13 March 2009

Art: Creating seder plates, through June 2

Only a few weeks to go to Passover, Pesach, Pessah, Pessaj.

No matter how you spell it, it is a time for the generations to come together to celebrate at special seder meals held on the first or the first two nights of the eight-day holiday, which marks the release of our ancestors from bondage in Egypt.

It is the perfect Jewish genealogy holiday, as many families use the multi-generational family seders as an excellent opportunity to retell and share the stories of their own immediate ancestors' migrations and immigrations.

This year, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco invited 80 artists of different faiths and backgrounds to create their unique visions for Passover seder plates, which hold ritual foods symbolizing the holiday. The seder plate is an essential fixture at this home-and-family-based ceremony. To see photos of the plates and read more about the exhibit, click here.

The San Francisco-based Contemporary Jewish Museum Seder Plate Invitational is called "New Works/Old Story: 80 Artists at the Passover Table."
"It's so much fun to see what they come up with," said associate curator Dara Solomon of the ambitious, unusual show, which runs through June 2. "It's such a wide range of objects - some functional, some nonfunctional. It's a really fun exhibition."

For the past 25 years, the museum has invited diverse groups of artists to creatively explore and re-interpret a Judaic object, holiday or concept.

Here are the comments of three participating artists:

Contemporary ceramic artist Richard Shaw (Fairfax) is a respected and collected artist. His only connection with Passover was a seder he once attended with a high school friend, but he had been working on a series of pieces dealing with migration and cultures, so it fit right in with the exhibit.

His glazed porcelain blue-and-whiteware plate (see picture detail above left) features transfer decals, boats fashioned from torn pieces of paper and stamps of ships, heading in the same direction.

"This plate is about movement, travel and history - one culture traveling to another," he said. "It's about migration."
Grace Hawthorne (Mill Valley) worked with Phoebe Strebow (Oakland) to create a pop-art-style recreation of a seder meal, using a clipboard, pencils, Post-Its, binder clips, magic eraser and giant binder rings.

"I'm not Jewish and I was very unfamiliar with seder plates in the beginning," Hawthorne said. "But I'm Asian and the idea of food and family resonates with me.

"I thought using common every day objects would make this not so precious, but without taking away from the importance of the occasion," she explains. "It lends a familiarity. It makes art more accessible, more familiar, more comfortable. I literally raided my daughter's play food for this."

Sculptor Carl Dern (Fairfax) isn't Jewish and wasn't really familiar with the seder plate or Passover, but he's happy to have been asked to join in. One of the few metal artists in the show, he created a silverplated bronze piece with a hot wax finish.

A cantilevered steel base holds cup-shaped seder plates with the ceremonial items - lettuce, shank bone, charoset, bitter herb, parsley, egg - stamped on them. Overlooking the plates is the witness of the title, an empty, slightly imbalanced chair, one of Dern's signature images.

"New Works/Old Story: 80 Artists at the Passover Table" will continue through June 2, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

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