This exhibition presents newly commissioned works by sixteen contemporary artists in response to a selection of tales from Jewish folklore. Acting as modern maggids—storytellers, transmitters of knowledge, secrets revealers—they explore the many facets of these stories’ characters, themes, and metaphors. Artists include: Michael Arcega, Julia Goodman, Dina Goldstein, Andy Diaz Hope and Laurel Roth Hope, Vera Iliatova, David Kasprzak, Mads Lynnerup, Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Mike Rothfeld, Tracey Snelling, Chris Sollars, M. Louise Stanley, Inez Storer, and Young Suh and Katie Peterson.
Utilizing the rich Jewish tradition of stories that incorporate religion, horror, and superstition, Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist as Maggid combines scholarly research into this cultural tradition with the creation of newly commissioned works by artists reacting to selected stories, their themes, and characters. The exhibition leans on the writings of anthologist Howard Schwartz, and most especially his anthology Leaves from the Garden of Eden: One Hundred Classic Jewish Tales (2009), which compiles stories from a vast array of countries and centuries, and from both oral and written traditions. In their works, the artists explore concepts such as transformation, metamorphosis, power, the degrees of good and evil, ethics and moral education, as well as illusions and metaphors.
The Hebrew concept of maggid has multiple meanings and layers, with the most basic definition that of a religious teacher and teller of stories. Contrasted with the more formally trained rabbis, the lay maggids acted as repositories and transmitters of cultural knowledge, folklore, and social norms and mores. In Jewish mysticism, or kabbalah, the term maggid also was used to describe a sort of ethereal or heavenly being—oftentimes an angel—that revealed mystical secrets to the chosen few. With this exhibition, The CJM invites contemporary artists to act as modern maggids—interpreting traditional Jewish folktales and characters and delivering new insights to twenty-first century audiences.
Folktales in many civilizations across continents have been passed down through oral storytelling, manuscripts, illustrations, printed books, etc. and this exhibition showcases alternate forms of narration through the artists’ works in sculpture, photography, painting, installation art, and new media. Jewish Folktales Retold will be accompanied with a digital catalog that includes insights on the tales the artists have chosen to retell, the artworks on view, as well as curatorial and scholar essays on the many topics of the show, and recordings of the tales by contemporary storytellers.