A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table

Sandee is the arts and culture editor at the Jewish Week.

There’s something exquisite about the Offit Gallery on The Jewish Museum’s second floor: It is high-ceilinged with lots of light flooding in from the windows overlooking Central Park. In 2012, the Museum inaugurated a series of “laboratory” exhibitions in the space, once part of the Warburg family mansion. New works as well as pieces from the Museum’s collections are featured, in an effort to advance new ideas about art and culture.

In what may have been one of the dining rooms back when the Warburgs lived here, “Collection Tableaux” features four works, each an homage to home and the idea of gathering around a table. On their own and in an artistic conversation with each other, the pieces explore great questions, about community, family, ritual, holiness, memory and food.

Entering the space, the most prominent piece is a glass sculpture, Beth Lipman’s “Laid Table with Etrog Container and Pastry Molds” (2012), commissioned by the Museum. Sparkling glass ritual items are crowded onto a granite table top, with candlesticks rising above the heap and a wine goblet perilously close to the edge. Some of the same items are covered in white linen, on a table suspended from the ceiling, set for Shabbat dinner, in an installation “Linen” (2002) by the Israeli artists’ collective Studio Armadillo. On the far wall, Izhar Patkin’s collage “Saloniere” (1998) features an ornate table holding a bust of the daughter of philosopher Moses Mendelsohn, with a teacup and symbolic objects.

The absence of people around these tables calls out. The only person in sight is a woman seated at her family’s Shabbat table in Isidor Kaufman’s “Friday Evening” (c. 1920). Candles are lit: she sits with her hair covered and hands folded, waiting. This is a room of anticipation, with hints of mourning, and hopes and dreams of ceremonies and celebrations to begin.

“Collection Tableaux” is on view at The Jewish Museum until February 3, 2013.

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