The complete “Creation” series by artist Ori Sherman exhibited at Magnes – J.

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One of San Francisco artist Ori Sherman’s last works on dying of AIDS was a series titled “The Creation,” about the beginning of the world as depicted in Genesis. According to his longtime partner Richard Schwarzenberger, Sherman grew increasingly sick while working on the series and felt a sense of urgency to complete it.

“One evening, his temperature exceeding 104, he lay half-conscious on his bed, his arm crushing imaginary projectiles,” Schwarzenberger wrote in a personal essay he shared with J. At around 4 a.m. the next morning, Schwarzenberger found Sherman hard at work painting the sixth day of creation. “He said, ‘I thought I better work while I can.'”

Now, over 30 years after his death, Sherman’s entire 18-piece Creation Series is launched exposure at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. Although the pieces were donated to Magnes in 2006 by Charles M. Little, this exhibit, titled “On Twilight: Ori Sherman’s Creation,” marks the first time the entire series has been shown in its entirety.

“The whole project is an example of visual Torah,” curator Francesco Spagnolo said in an interview. “It’s not just about illustrating the Hebrew Bible. It’s really about interpreting it and channeling it through the power of visual culture.

Sunday, the Manges will host a free evening WELCOME featuring a conversation about Sherman and his legacy with Schwarzenberger, Spagnolo, digital art historian Justin Underhill and infectious disease specialist Lisa Danzig.

Born into an observant family in Jerusalem in 1934, Sherman moved to New York in 1936. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1955, he joined the United States Army but was fired for being gay. He traveled to San Francisco in 1958, and was “loved” in the Bay Area for designing ketubahs (Jewish marriage documents) for local couples, Spagnolo said. He also designed picture frames, dreidels, matzah boxes, Kiddush cups, tzedakah boxes, Purim masks, and other Jewish ritual objects.

At the time of his death, he was working on children’s picture books, Schwarzenberger said.

While living in New York, Sherman studied Hebrew rigorously, and this training is evident in the Creation series. Excerpts from the book of Genesis, rendered in Hebrew calligraphy, are an integral part of each piece. “The words themselves and their graphic presence are part of the creative process,” Spagnolo said. “The world comes out of the text itself.”

Sherman had a personal connection to the creation story: it was his Bar Mitzvah party. “It always had a deep meaning for him,” said Schwarzenberger, who lives in San Francisco. “I think the Creation [series] was the culmination of so many cultural and personal ties.

The Ori Sherman exhibition on display at Magnes.

At Magnes, multicolored paintings are hung on the dark blue walls reminiscent of the oceans of the earth. Animals, plants and mystical symbols surround the Hebrew text. Parts are not always literal representations of what is described in the text. For example, in one, Adam and Eve are shown picking fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil together in a “gender-neutral partnership,” Spagnolo said. (In the Bible story, it is Eve who picks the forbidden fruit and offers it to Adam.)

Additionally, one of the two paintings showing the seventh day of creation includes what appears to Spagnolo to be a depiction of the HIV virus – or what Sherman might have thought the virus looked like in the late 1980s before the advances in microscopic photography. Spagnolo consulted an epidemiologist and a medical anthropologist to try to confirm his suspicions, but he said it was impossible to know for sure.

Long before Sherman fell ill, death was a constant theme in his work, according to art historian Leora Lev. “The Holocaust and the 20th century AIDS plague are reflected and refracted in his work, immeasurable loss, Catastrophe, Beast, absence, gutting, mourning, screaming,” writes Lev, who is the niece of Sherman, in a writing accompanying the exhibition.

Sherman died in 1988, and Spagnolo said he hoped the exhibit would spark renewed interest in his work.

“I hope visitors will see how already in the 1980s, at a time of great trauma for the Bay Area community and the world, this artist was able to achieve a unique program of Jewish art that seemed untouched by prejudice. against homosexuality and AIDS,” he said.

Andrew Esensten, editor of J. Culture, contributed to this article.

“In Twilight: The Creation of Ori Sherman”

Until December 15 at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, 2121 Alston Way, Berkeley. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.


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