'The 613' laws in portrait

 

Fifteen years ago, without any idea where his work would be exhibited, painter Archie Rand began transforming each of the 613 Jewish mitzvahs, or commandments, into its own painting, a series that took five years to complete. Now, in his new book "The 613" (Blue Rider Press, Hardcover, 9780399173769, $45, on sale Nov. 10, 2015), Rand collects all of these panels-beautiful, shocking, insightful, funny, and at times transgressive-into a single book, with one painting per page accompanied by the commandment in text.

In 2008, Rand mounted an exhibition of "The 613" in a Brooklyn warehouse; the paintings covered 1700 square feet of wall space and the public viewing lasted only four hours on a single day, but more than one thousand people attended. The New York Times featured the exhibition and described "The 613" as "rendered in the style of comics and pulp fiction book jackets, a dash of Mad Magazine, a spoonful of Tales of the Crypt, some grotesques, some superheroes, always action, emotion, drama." The exhibition has not since been publicly displayed. But with the publication of "The 613," many more than the original thousand viewers will be able to explore and consider Rand's paintings, both individually and as a collection. The book format also allows for boldface captions; in Rand's words, "the marriage of narrative with the identifying script is fixed-each page speaks."


"Judaism and art don't mix well," begins Rand's introduction to "The 613." Over the course of five decades, Rand's work has attempted to explore the relationship between the two worlds. His murals at the B'nai Yosef Synagogue in Brooklyn, which completely cover the interior of the building, were halted during installation and put on trial for heresy. Ultimately Rand was acquitted and praised, as the placement of serious Jewish art in a sacred space was deemed to be kosher and commendable; today, B'nai Yosef is the only completely muraled synagogue in the world. Now, in "The 613," with influences ranging from Lenny Bruce ("He did not ridicule his Jewishness and he was assertive") to Art Spiegelman, from Carl Jung to Franz Kafka, as well as artists who openly considered and explored their religious identities-Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Kiki Smith, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane-moved Rand forward in his ongoing efforts to create Jewish art that would be  a way for Jews to "claim a space in that conversation from which we've been rebuffed and that we ourselves have rejected."


Neither literal nor ironic, Rand's "The 613" is vibrant, perceptive, and unexpected. For readers of art, religion, or popular visual culture, "The 613" may be the most audacious and distinctive book of its kind. Each painting provokes a sense of wonder and self-reflection, making "The 613" a book to be visited again and again.

About the author

Archie Rand, born 1949, is an artist from Brooklyn, New York. Rand's work as a painter and muralist is displayed around the world, including in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. There have been over 100 solo exhibitions of his work. He has published collaborative work with poets Robert Creeley, John Ashbery, Clark Coolidge, David Plante John Yau, David Lehman and Jim Cummins. He was awarded, among numerous honors, the Achievement Medal For Contributions to the Visual Arts by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and he received the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Visual Arts at Columbia University he is currently the Presidential Professor of Art at Brooklyn College, CUNY. His home and studio are located in Brooklyn.

 

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