Contemporary Art Exhibition Inspired by Sacred Texts at the Gershman Y

The Gershman Y kicks off the new year with the art exhibition And the Word Is…, running January 22-May 14. And the Word Is… explores the use of religious text in contemporary art, from the straightforward to the ironic. Bringing together artists from across the country, the exhibition will display Sandow Birk’s work from his American Qur’an series, a sculptural work with Hebrew and English text from Leviticus by Johanna Bresnick and Michael Cloud Hirschfeld, detailed text-based drawings by Martin Brief, Braille-based sculptures connected to well-known Bible parables by Philadelphian David Stephens, Carole P. Kunstadt’s work drawing from the Hebrew Bible, local artist Nicholas Kripal’s installation of one of his word-based floor pieces, and Philadelphian Stephanie Kirk’s documentation of the changing messages found on religious signs.

Admission to the exhibition is free. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 9 AM-5 PM and Sundays from 9 AM-2 PM. There will be a free Opening Reception on Thursday, January 22 from 6-8 PM.

Sandow Birk is a multi-media artist concerned with themes of contemporary American life. His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and The Library of Congress, Washington, DC, and has been featured in exhibitions at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, CA; The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Heidelberger Kunstverein, in Heidelberg, Germany. Birk has received Guggenheim, Fulbright, Getty, and Smithsonian fellowships as well as several National Endowment for the Arts awards.

Johanna Bresnick is a conceptual sculptor based in New Haven, CT. Bresnick received an MFA from the University of Illinois in Chicago. Her works have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco; the Jewish Museum in NYC; the Rose Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; and at the John Slade Ely House in New Haven, CT.

Michael Cloud Hirschfeld is a three-dimensional artist exploring themes of morality and the sacred through linguistic communication. His work has been included in exhibitions at the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Martin Brief, an artist and professor of Studio Art at Saint Louis University, creates conceptual drawings that explore language using material collected from a variety of print and media sources. His Amazon God series is comprised of ink prints, each containing a list of handwritten book titles with the word “God” in the title collected from a search on Amazon.com. The recipient of an individual artist award from the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, MO, Brief’s work has been featured at Danese/Corey Gallery, New York, NY; Gallery Joe in Philadelphia, PA; Civilian Art Projects in Washington, DC; the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in Wilmington, DE; and 1708 Gallery in Richmond, VA.

In her church signage series, local photographer Stephanie Kirk addresses the textual declarations of religious public signage posted in the front of churches. These signs aim to alert people to the need to attend church and the significance of religion in our lives. Kirk’s work has been widely exhibited, including at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts; Colourworks Photo Space in Wilmington, DE; the International Center of Photography, NY; the Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado; the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, Brooklyn, NY; PhotoPlace Gallery, Middlebury, VT; Delaware Museum of Art, Wilmington, DE; Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle, WA; and Muse Gallery in Philadelphia, PA.

Nicholas Kripal, based in Philadelphia, is Chair of the Crafts Department at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. His work features themes of religious rites and iconography. Kripal has received a Pew Foundation grant and a Pollack Krasner award. His work has been shown at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE; Hunter College, New York, NY; Philadelphia International Airport; Union Station, Kansas City, MO; and the University Art Gallery, University of Newcastle, Australia.

Carole P. Kunstadt’s art has been displayed in exhibitions at the Museum of Biblical Art, New York, NY; the Joseloff Gallery, Hartford Art School, Hartford, CT; the Museum of Arts & Design, New York, NY; the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE; Center for the Arts Gallery, Towson University; and the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, Calgary, Alberta. Kunstadt has been featured in Transforming the Sacred, a mini-documentary by PBS and Off Book. Several collections contain her work, including The Book Arts Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; the Permanent Collection of the Center for Book Arts, New York, NY; the Montclair State University Collection, Montclair, NJ; and the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, Lake County Discovery Museum, Wauconda, IL.

David Stephens is a local abstract artist working in mixed media. Informed by his loss of sight ten years ago, Stephens creates abstract wood constructions with paraphrases from the Bible carved in Braille along their surfaces. His work has been shown extensively, including at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; and the University of Pennsylvania. His work is featured in the collections of the Slought Foundation, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Howard University.

The Gershman Y will host two programs and two artist lectures related to the And The Word Is… exhibition. Shelley Cohney, an acclaimed lecturer on food and Jewish history at the Jewish Museum of Australia and at Melbourne’s William Angliss Institute for Culinary Arts, reveals what Jews in biblical times ate and how they viewed the Land of Israel in Milk and Honey and Other Biblical Smoothies on Wednesday, February 4 at 7 PM. Using biblical and historical sources, Cohney explores why the Israelites may not have wanted to settle in the Land of Israel and examines the origins of the “seven species” of Israel and their connection to cult practices that still impact Jewish ritual today.

The Gershman Y is rocking on Thursday, March 26 at 7 PM with Rock ‘N’ Religion: The Top 10 Pop/Rock Songs with Biblical References, presented by Sahar Oz, Director of Programs at the Gershman Y. From The Byrds and Boney M. to Leonard Cohen and Adele, biblical references have been featured in pop/rock hits for decades. This fun and musical lecture probes what these lyrical inclusions reveal about the impact of Jewish and Christian biblical narratives on contemporary life and language.

On Thursday, April 16 at 6 PM, guest curator Dr. J. Susan Isaacs will present a Curator Talk exploring the artists’ relationships with spirituality and religion in contemporary life as evidenced through the art work in her exhibition. Isaacs, Professor and Coordinator of Art History and Director of the MA in Professional Studies/Art History as well as the Curator of the Holtzman Center for the Arts Galleries at Towson University, is also the Curator of Special Projects at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. In a special Artist Talk on Thursday, May 14 at 6 PM, two artists from the exhibition, Johanna Bresnick and Michael Cloud Hirschfeld, will discuss their individual art work and the projects that they have worked on together that explore language and literature.

The Gershman Y is a vibrant arts and culture center located in Center City Philadelphia on the Avenue of the Arts. The Gershman Y’s mission is to be an urban community center informed by Jewish values that presents a broad array of arts, culture, and educational experiences for curious individuals of all ages. Committed to sharing the diversity and breadth of the Jewish experience, The Gershman Y welcomes people of all ethnic backgrounds and religious affiliations to explore, participate, and contribute to our rich roster of Jewish arts and cultural programs and community initiatives.

Auction Guide