As construction of its new building progresses, Temple Israel turns its focus inward to the art that will adorn its most holy spaces. Specifically, the process to select the artists who will fashion the sacred art pieces is underway.
Temple Israel has partnered with the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts to help curate artists who will be considered for creating “the most critical art focal points in the new synagogue,” said Todd Simon, who has been working to coordinate the process between the building council, the relevant committees and the Bemis.
The focal points include the ark enclosure, the eternal lights for both the main sanctuary and the chapel, Torah covers, clerestory windows that surround the sanctuary and a wall sculpture to be displayed at the new building’s main entrance.
“Those are the most important signature pieces that are going to become internal icons of the experience at Temple,” Simon said. “We felt it was really important to get it right the first time.”
To help get it right, Temple Israel turned to the Bemis Center.
“The same kind of professional approach that we took to find the architect, we wanted to take that same approach to find the artists,” Simon said. “So we hired the curatorial staff at the Bemis to guide the process to select qualified panelists who could select world-class artists.”
A five-member jury, consisting of 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; Hesse McGraw, the Chief Curator for the Bemis; and Connie Wolf, Director of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, was formed to submit artists for consideration. Invitations were sent to approximately 40 artists from around the world, and on December 12, the jury will meet at the Bemis to review the submissions.
An Artwork Committee, made up of members of the Worship and Building Committees, along with the clergy, will also participate in the day-long discussion at the Bemis, though the final vote remains solely with the jury.
In addition to being a juror, Adam Kleinman will be giving a lecture at the Bemis the week of the jury. The lecture, presented as a partnership between Temple Israel and the Bemis Center, will be open to the public. Further details will be forthcoming.
The jurors sought out artists whose previous work exemplifies the kind of aesthetic best suited for display in a place of worship.
“The jury is going to look for artists who they think can execute the kind of piece that has been defined through this process, within the aesthetic, budgetary and timing of when we need this done,” Simon said. “They’re going to bring their sense of beauty to the project.”
Hesse McGraw said he and the other jurors are excited to see all the work that’s submitted for consideration. The jury is tasked with ensuring the artwork is of high quality and embodies the heart and soul of the congregation.
“What we’re tasked with asking is, ‘Who are the best choices for artists who are suited to specifically engage this situation?’” Hesse McGraw said. “Amongst the nominated artists, it’s an incredibly exciting group of nominees. Many of the artists have produced prior works for temples, some have Jewish heritage.”
In addition to helping curate artists for consideration, the Bemis Center is also ensuring that the selection process be a “positive experience for the artists,” according to McGraw.
“The Bemis Center’s mission is to support artists of exceptional talent,” McGraw said. “Our role is to help structure a very humane process for the artists. Artists are often treated like any other subcontractor.”
After the votes are tallied from the December 12 vote, commissions will be offered to the artists who received the most votes. The artists, should they accept, will develop proposals that will be reviewed and approved by the Building Council and Artwork Committee prior to the final execution of the artwork.