Visu­al Arts

Tobi Kahn: Sacred Spaces for the 21st Century

Ena Giures­cu Heller, ed.
  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

The book pub­lished to accom­pa­ny the exhi­bi­tion of the same name at the Muse­um of Bib­li­cal Art in New York City is com­prised of short essays explor­ing themes of sacred­ness in abstract images and objects cre­at­ed by the artist Tobi Kahn for rit­u­al and med­i­ta­tive space.

The exhi­bi­tion, which was at MOBIA until Jan­u­ary 2010, includ­ed Kahn’s rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of tra­di­tion­al rit­u­al objects plus an ensem­ble of abstract art pan­els lin­ing the glass walls of a con­gre­ga­tion in Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin which exalt the rit­u­al func­tion of the space,” accord­ing to Ena Heller, an expert on art and reli­gion. Oth­er con­trib­u­tors include a pro­fes­sor of reli­gion, a muse­um cura­tor, and Daniel Sper­ber, pro­fes­sor of Tal­mud at Bar- Ilan whose essay, Sanc­ti­ty in Space,” address­es Kahn’s obses­sion with sanc­ti­ty in space and gives a con­cise expla­na­tion of Kahn’s suc­cess in cre­at­ing an ethe­re­al­i­ty of the dimen­sion of holi­ness,” always seek­ing for rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the spir­i­tu­al in the mate­r­i­al.” Kahn’s memo­r­i­al for vic­tims of the 1995 Okla­homa bomb­ing and the med­i­ta­tive space cre­at­ed for the Health Care Chap­lain­cy in New York City are also illus­tra­tive of this quest. Nes­sa Rapoport’s poems (“songs”) intro­duce and accom­pa­ny a sec­tion of exquis­ite pho­tographs of works in the exhi­bi­tion. This book gives the exhi­bi­tion the per­ma­nence it deserves.

Esther Nuss­baum, the head librar­i­an of Ramaz Upper School for 30 years, is now edu­ca­tion and spe­cial projects coor­di­na­tor of the Halachic Organ Donor Soci­ety. A past edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World, she con­tin­ues to review for this and oth­er publications.

Discussion Questions