133 North Allegheny Street Bellefonte, PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
Central Pennsylvanians are so steeped in mountains and valleys carved out of tradition and memory that at times it would seem that those things are maybe even more important than all that limestone and shale beneath our feet when it comes to defining what we're made of. You can barely travel a mile or two in Centre County without passing at least some old farm or historical marker or hunting camp that heralds back to some bygone era of our collective history. We are, in a way, reminded by our past.
Reminded of who came before us.
Reminded of what happened here once upon a time.
I like that. I like knowing a bit about the place where I raise my kids, about the people who raised their kids here before me. And perhaps it's that sort of universal connection forged out of what amounts to pure ether that also holds much of the power when it comes to art. We can only go so far with forgotten names and faces. We can only learn so much about ourselves from imagining what it was like for those who came before us.
But when we turn our actual eyes upon a book or a painting: things change drastically. It isn't all on us anymore. The burden of connecting with an ephemeral past is lifted swiftly and suddenly, dare I say- as if by magic- our entire consciousness is thrust into a time and a place we have never known and may never still.
Which, by the way, is just my over-bloated fancy-schmancy way of trying to tell you this one little thing that I believe in with all of my fatty heart.
Art of any kind is absolutely essential for each and every one of us if we ever hope to make the world an even slightly better place.
Case in point? I'm glad you asked.
A brand new exhibit down at the Bellefonte Art Museum (BAM) called 'Judaica Cultural Objects and Modern Art by Jewish Artists' may sound like something that isn't right up your cultural alley if you're not...I don't know... Jewish? Or a real art fan? But as is often the case in these instances, our initial reaction to the theme of a show or the title of a book or even a particular style of music can be criminally misleading.
Because like so many other gifts of art that we skip out on across the span of our lifetimes, this particular exhibit isn't something geared at making us feel uninformed or uneducated about the artists or the works themselves, or about the techniques used to create the works. NO NO NO. Thats just our inner self-critic being hard on us again. I should know; I've been battling mine since I was a 'husky' Little Leaguer with buck teeth and a deep love of Heavenly Hash ice cream.
We get to thinking we're not 'smart' enough to be interested in something. And guess what? That is one of the worst cheats we ever perpetuate against ourselves.
This show, a gathering of works from artists whose Jewish roots influenced them in one way or another, is an absolute perfect example of why America...and Americans...have been going a little bit off the deep end the past couple of years. (That's news to you? Oh COME ON!) We end up polarizing ourselves from our neighbors, from our fellow countrymen. And by 'neighbors' and 'countrymen' I don't mean 'people who look exactly like us and think like us and worship like us and live basically within a mile or two of my tool shed in the yard', folks. I mean everyone.
All of us. Everywhere.
Warsaw. Paris. Belarus. South Africa. The North Pole.
People in all the places make the ship sail, y'all...like it or not. And by opening our minds and hearts to their particular experience, to their stories and art, we allow our own tales to be written just a tiny bit better. Because they get written with a murkier ink, you see. An ink of our own, as luck would have it, all swirled up and mixed with someone else's ink. And so it is with the art in 'Judaica Cultural Objects and Modern Art by Jewish Artists'.
Give yourself a chance. Get to know what it is that the brilliant early modernist Marc Chagall was trying to show us when he created one surrealistic masterpiece after another across nearly a hundred years of life on Earth.
Take a deep dive into one of Jaqueline Tuteur's art-deco tinged seriagraphs, and let that whisper in your ear. What's a seriagraph? COME DOWN AND FIND OUT! You deserve to know! And yes: you are well smart enough to understand and care, too. So there.
There are a slew of wonderful Jewish artists in this show that would be worth learning about and witnessing their work even if they were each being featured alone. But when you combine their powers and allow some of their best individual works to intermingle with those of other artists who were loosely telling their own version of a similar tale, well...the end result is a rush. We stand to learn so much about them and who they are and what their journeys have entailed so far.
That's a lucky opportunity for us. It's not merely a thread of Judaica that's tying this whole thing together, you know? It's even more than that. It's the understanding, as you walk out the door, that their story parallels ours in so many more ways than we ever thought to realize.
It just sometimes takes us giving certain things a chance to speak to us, even when we're feeling closed off, like our damn brain sponges have all dried up.
They haven't, guys. You're still as ready to live and learn as you ever were. Me too.
All this art was made just for us.
Stop letting it come and go in the night.
Judaica Cultural Objects and Modern Art by Jewish Artists
April 1 - May 26
Bellefonte Art Museum
133 North Allegheny Street
Museum hours Friday, Saturday, & Sunday 12;00 - 4:30 p.m.
While at your visit to BAM, head up to the 3rd floor to witness Underground Railroad: A Journey to Freedom exhibit. That permanent feature highlights the escaped slaves who sought safe passage to freedom in the north via a secret network of people who wanted to help abolish slavery altogether.
*This exhibition is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency fund-ed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
The Bellefonte Art Museum is supported by the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau. Learn more about the CPCVB by visiting www.visitpennstate.org.
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