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‘48 Jews’ explores layers of identity

Exhibit at Oregon Jewish Museum through Sept. 6


article created on: 2009-06-11T00:00:00

Abshalom Jac Lahav’s series of paintings “48 Jews” is not an homage to Gerhard Richter’s earlier project entitled “48 Portraits,” but there is a connection, according to Lahav.

Lahav is a 30-year-old Israeli-born New York artist whose “48 Jews” is currently installed at the Oregon Jewish Museum. The exhibit opened June 3 with the artist present, as he was again the next night, which was the regular First Thursday opening of new shows at Pearl District and other nearby art galleries.

Like the German Richter’s “48 Portraits,” “48 Jews” is more an installation than a mere collection or series of paintings. Unlike Richter’s work, Lahav’s is not fixed in number, although the title may be in order to maintain the reference to Richter. Lahav is still adding to the project. For example, while the show at OJM includes only one Anne Frank (she’s wearing an Obama T shirt), the artist has completed some 26 Anne Frank portraits.

Lahav’s style is fluid. It may be more accurate to refer not to his style but to his styles, in the plural, because they vary dramatically from painting to painting, spanning centuries of art history, much as his portrait subjects also are separated by time.

In speaking with gallery goers Thursday evening, Lahav made reference to “many different layers of identity” which he attempts to probe by exploring what can be captured in a portrait and how one represents a particular identity—Jewish, for example.


Included among the paintings are portraits of some whose Jewishness would be questioned in some quarters, Frida Kahlo, for example and Elvis Presley. The artist is asking us to consider what makes one Jewish, and, more broadly, what is the source of identity generally.

Lahav noted that Jewish subject matter in paintings faces something of a taboo in the art world, which he likened to an order of anti-Semitism in the art market.

He noted, for example, that German artists may paint about the Holocaust and not face market resistance, but when Jews paint about the Holocaust their art does face resistance, and Jewish themed painting generally may be viewed in the art market as Judaica, which seems to imply a diminished order of significance.

“German artists can deal with the Holocaust,” said Lahav. “But Jews? It’s another thing.”

Lahav’s show at OJM is the first time any venue has put up a full set of 48 images. The New York Jewish Museum showed 16 of the paintings. A gallery in Chelsea has shown 30 of the paintings, and now the project is slated for exhibit in Berlin.

For now, however, “48 Jews” will remain at OJM until Sept. 6.

Learn more about Lahav and view all the paintings online at ojm.org.


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