One of the New York City’s best-kept secrets, The Hebrew Home at Riverdale is a treasure trove of unexpected delights. The permanent and rather eclectic collection housed there contains more than 5,000 works of art. Prepare to be surprised by the array: Around one corridor, Andy Warhol’s “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century,” around another William Wegman’s iconic Weimaraner photos. Here an Alex Katz, there a Picasso, or lurking behind a column, a Ben Shahn or Louise Nevelson. And be sure to stare back at the “Portrait of Thomas Chaloner,” from the school of Anthony Van Dyck (c. 1630s) with its eponymous subject coolly gazing out at diners in the facility’s River Café. The sculpture garden, with its sweeping view of the Hudson River, includes work by Herbert Ferber and Menashe Kadishman. And, in the hallways, don’t miss the collection of Madame Alexander First-Lady Dolls.
Currently on exhibit at the onsite Derfner Museum of Judaica through January are Lynda Caspe’s “Biblical Reliefs.” A series of 12 bronze bas reliefs based on biblical scenes, the works feel both contemporary in their rough execution and demonstration of process while hearkening back to a much older, classical tradition. In fact, the artist, in a conversation with Susan Chevlowe, director of the museum, cites the influence of Lorenzo Ghiberti, the 15th century master whose ten panels, the “Gates of Paradise” depicting scenes from the Old Testament, grace the doors of the Baptistery in Florence.
Caspe’s reliefs likewise find inspiration in stories from the Bible but unlike her predecessors, she has used interpretations from Rashi and the classic rabbinic commentators to pictorially depict the well-known scenes. Many of the reliefs are based on Genesis, including “The Story of Adam and Eve”(2013), “The Binding of Isaac” (2007) and “Joseph in the Pit” (2012). Cain and Abel seem to be of particular interest to the artist, appearing as subject for two of the works on display: One of them, “Cain and Abel” (2007), is especially evocative in its unfettered portrayal of fraternal rage and hatred.
In other works, Caspe provides some unexpected approaches to her subject matter. In “The Pharaoh and his Army,” Caspe presents a new and vulnerable view of the Egyptian attackers. Seen from behind, without any trace of the Hebrews they are chasing, they no longer present as the hated, conquering enemy but as men, exposed and at risk, whose death, according to the commentaries, we must mourn even as we rejoice in the salvation of the Jews. As we begin the new year with weekly Torah readings of Genesis, now might be a great time to find inspiration in Linda Caspe’s thoughtful renderings of the familiar stories.
“Lynda Caspe: Biblical Reliefs” is on view in the Derfner Judaica Museum through January 5, 2014 located in The Hebrew Home at Riverdale, 5901 Palisade Avenue, Riverdale.
Gloria Kestenbaum is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.