The Art Of The Donkey

The Art Of The Donkey

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

According to the kabbalists, on Isru Chag, the day after the holidays of Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot, some of the light of the holiday lingers, so the sanctity is extended.

So it was with post-holiday eyes that I visited The Jewish Museum on Wednesday, following the season of holidays ending with Sukkot and saw Izhar Patkin’s installation “The Messiah’s glAss.”

The walls of the gallery are covered with a painting, floor to ceiling, on layers of flowing tulle, “You Tell Us What do Do Act II” (2010-12). The feeling is ethereal, with muted colors depicting images drawn from Zionist history: Herzl standing at an elegant table, the burning of the ship Altalena (scuttled off the coast of Tel Aviv in 1948), the small synagogue the artist’s grandfather built, the Red Mountains of Jordan.

The veiled narrative painting frames a 12-foot clear glass sculpture in the middle of the room. A table resembling the carrier of the biblical Ark, its legs are those of a donkey, heading in both directions. The donkey’s severed head sits on the table, crowned. A man next to me is certain that it’s all made of ice. The title refers back — and plays on — Zechariah’s prophecy that the Messiah will arrive riding a donkey.

The polarities between the perimeter and center bring me back to the in-between space of holy and ordinary days, prophecy and history, otherworldly and concrete, veiled and revealed.

Back to the donkey, plowing through political thought. Patkin is also referring to Rabbi Abraham Kook’s vision of the donkey as the secular Jew building the State, whose rider was the religious Jew. The curator points out Sefi Rachlevsky’s 1998 book “The Messiah’s Ass,” following the history of the image and parable, suggesting that in contemporary Israel, religious orthodoxy has weighed down secular society. The beauty of the room suggests balance.

“Izhar Patkin: The Messiah’s glAss” is on view through Nov. 11 at The Jewish Museum, 1100 Fifth Ave. (at 82nd Street) 212 423-3271.

read more: