Annabeth Rosen in Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists
February 22, 2018 – July 29, 2018
Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists is a group show that presents the work of sixteen California-identified artists of Jewish descent—both historical and living—whose work refers to the machine either literally or metaphorically. Some of the artists are rarely seen now. Among the living artists, there will be large-scale mechanical installations by Bernie Lubell and Sheri Simons, as well as ceramics, drawings, sculpture and paintings by Ned Kahn, Bella Feldman, Howard Fried, and Annabeth Rosen.
The economic success of famous Jewish California families is well chronicled. Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists argues that Jewish business contributions were paralleled by a less recognized contribution: Jews constitute a considerable number of the artists who have built the artistic reputation of California. Among the artists of Jewish heritage who have lived in California, this exhibition has selected a group of sixteen for close examination. A significant percentage of these artists were inspired by the notion of the machine, especially the improvised machine. Sometimes the reference to mechanical contrivances is literal, from Rube Goldberg to the contemporary artists Bernie Lubell and Bella Feldman. Sometimes they are more metaphorical as in the work of the twentieth century’s Boris Deutsch and his city-as-machine cubism, and Irving Norman and his paintings of trauma depicting the body incorporated into the machinery of history. Some of the artists achieved acclaim in their time, but are in danger of slipping into obscurity now; some are still working today quietly in retirement like Carol Bernard. Others have received art world acclaim like Annabeth Rosen, yet might not be widely known by the general public. What they share, and what the exhibition explores, is an experience of California that when combined with their Jewish culture led them to look to the machine and the gimcrack as a source of imagery, metaphor, and at times consolation.
As defined by the Collins English Dictionary, a contraption is, “A device or contrivance, especially one considered strange, unnecessarily intricate, or improvised.” When used by the artists in this exhibition, they are engaging in a symbolic readaptation of the material and visual culture encountered in their surroundings, which are often perplexing and alien. By achieving a learned mastery, what initially appears as an impenetrable tangle of incomprehensible things and their opaque operating instructions, is transformed into a useful, reassuring state through art, not only for Jews, but many immigrant people who find themselves at an economic or cultural disadvantage. Through parody and exaggeration of a mechanical ethos, these artists also find a way to use humor as a defense mechanism. Bella Feldman states: “…My work is driven by my angst about the state of the world as well as the love-hate relationship I have with machines. It includes an edgy sense of the world being out of whack….I produce anxious objects, yet humor laces through my work because, like my ghetto forebears, I need to laugh at the dark.”
Read more about Art Studio in the Contemporary Jewish Museum lineup.