48 Jews: What it Means to be Jewish

Jewish Museum of Florida. From Oct 20th, 2009 through Apr 4th, 2010.

48 Jews examines the representation of Jews in the Diaspora. This is a series of Warhol-esque portrait paintings by Abshalom Jac Lahav of famous Jews that celebrates and questions our notions of what it means to be Jewish.

With varying degrees of abstraction, the portraits reveal mystery, emotion, shadow, form, essence and masked reality. Lahav, employing a playful wit and analytical insight, gathers images from contemporary media sources and selects them for their iconic quality. The uniform size, composition, and subject of the paintings are a response to Warhol’s Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century (1980) or Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits (1972).

In his groupings, Lahav, however, continually repaints, adds, and discards individuals, preventing closure or completeness. The individuality of each subject is affirmed with Lahav’s stylistic inconsistency, challenging their status as members of a coherent group and engaging the debate over the facts and myths of Jewish identity. His work suggests an ambition to both keep the past alive and explore issues concerning the contemporary Jewish experience.

Lahav’s paintings offer the viewer insight into the limits and boundlessness of humanity. “My work continues a tradition of portrait painting, while questioning the nature of the portrait,” says the artist. The works are far from traditional and are statements of Lahav’s interpretations of the personalities of his subjects.

Lahav also asks questions that provide something essential and new to our understanding of visual representation. What can be captured in a portrait? More importantly, how do we represent a particular identity – what it is to be a Jew – especially when the subjects of these portraits define their own identity in idiosyncratic ways or are defined by forces outside of themselves? Are only those with Jewish mothers “Jewish?” Can you declare yourself to be Jewish on a whim, or based on a Jewish father? Do you have to practice Judaism, or have some genetic markers that can be traced back to Jewish lineage? Can you be defined as Jewish if the world believes you are, even if you yourself deny it? Are you still Jewish if you converted to a different religion?

This exhibit has been traveling; last year it was shown at the Jewish Museum NY and most recently in Portland, OR. Born in Jerusalem, Israel, Abshalom Jac Lahav received a BA in Psychology from Wesleyan University, studied painting at Cooper Union and School for Visual Arts, and earned his MFA from Brooklyn College. The award-winning artist has had numerous solo and group exhibitions.

Jewish Museum of Florida
301 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139

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