On December 12, the five-person jury tasked with selecting artists who will be asked to submit proposals for the sacred art objects for Temple Israel’s new building convened at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art to discuss the nominated artists with clergy and lay leaders.
“It was an inspiring, cutting edge conversation,” Rabbi Aryeh Azriel said. “It was educational for those of us who are not artists to discuss with this amazing group of people.”
Connie Wolf, one of the jurors and the Director of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, was particularly pleased to have the clergy present for the discussion.
“[They] remind us to step back and look higher,” Wolf said. “To raise the conversation to another level.”
Wolf explained that if a particular artist caught the eye of Rabbi Azriel, she would give more consideration to that artist, because a rabbi would see a piece of art differently, more in terms of religion or spirituality.
“I’ll like [something] because the rabbi is interested,” she said.
The jury, consisting of Wolf; Jack Becker, the Executive Director and CEO of the Joslyn Art Museum; Maurice Finegold, the Boston-based architect who designed the new Temple Israel; Adam Kleinman, a writer and curator who was the Agent for Public Programming for the dOCUMENTA (13) art exhibition; and Hesse McGraw, the Chief Curator for the Bemis; along with Rabbi Azriel, Rabbi Josh Brown and Cantor Wendy Shermet, and members of the New Building Artwork Committee, debated the styles and suitability of many talented artists for about eight hours before ultimately coming away with a short list of names whose work and vision were deemed most reflective of the Temple Israel community.
“The meeting was wonderful and inspiring,” Rabbi Josh Brown said. “It was a meeting of religious minds and spiritual minds, and people passionate about our congregation and who know art better than anyone. It was a wonderful mix of strong feelings and passion. And even though we all at some point in the day had differing opinions, we all left feeling like the result of our discussion will be some really meaningful focal points in the congregation.”
The “focal points” include the eternal lights in both the sanctuary and the chapel, the Ark enclosure, the Torah covers, text for the clerestory windows and a wall sculpture for the main entrance.
The jury will invite the finalists to submit proposals for the various sacred art objects for the new building. Once the proposals have been received, the clergy will meet with the Artwork Committee and other members of the congregation to get their input before moving forward with the artists.
“We feel it’s important to involve the community from the beginning,” Rabbi Brown said. “As one person in the meeting put it, it was very thoughtful for the leadership of the congregation to even have this discussion, and in light of having this discussion, that we have the ability to elevate the artistry that’s in the synagogue. That was the really interesting part, we spent eight hours really struggling over what messages do we want to send, how do we want to inspire people, what does it mean to raise the standard of artistic expression in a spiritual space.”
The artists will also be invited to visit the new Temple Israel building and meet with the clergy and lay leaders to get a feel for a community and a better understanding of what would be most reflective of the congregation.
Members of the Artwork Committee present at the meeting included Katherine Finnegan, Gary Kaplan, David Rice, Terri Schrager, Louri Sullivan, Todd Simon, John Waldbaum and Program Director Wendy Goldberg.