Transcendent Visions

October 30-November 14, 2007
Touro College New York
227 West 60th Street
New York, NY 10023
Review by Dr. Maya Balakirsky-Katz
Professor of Art History
Touro College

Touro College is pleased to host Transcendent Visions,
an exhibition featuring the works of Jerusalem artists
Yael Avi-Yonah and Dov Lederberg.

The true talent of a visual artist, when he is at the peak of his

abilities and especially one whose talent has been sanctified by the
Spirit of G-d is to be able to see the depths of existence, both in
their physical and spiritual dimensions."
Rav Kook, Ein Ayah, Berachot, volume 2

In their exhibit Transcendent Vision, Jerusalem artists
Yael Avi-Yonah and Dov Lederberg challenge us

to acknowledge that what we see is suspect,
open for interrogation,
and malleable in the hands of the artist.

In this sense, they join in the tradition of
some of the great critics
of the Renaissance masters,

who were both cynically aware and spiritually
affected by the art of illusion.

This generation of artist-critics didn't trust
the laws of two-dimensional perspective,

which seemed to "trick" the visual system into
accepting a three-dimensional space on a flat canvas.

On the other hand, they developed
their own set of visual manipulations
to attract not only the eye, but the heart as well.

In the art of the post-Renaissance artists
El Greco, William Hogarth,
Velazquez, and Andrea Pozzo,

visual perception becomes the very subject of inquiry,
susceptible as it is
to the vicissitudes
of the viewer's psychological disposition.

The history of modern art has been preoccupied
with the divide between belief in accurate representation

and the agonizing confrontation with its limitations.
Modernism has been preoccupied with the spiritual,

which scholars have juxtaposed to the material.

Avi-Yonah and Lederberg take a hard "look"

at these seemingly polarized categories.
Twentieth-century modernists,
 such as Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich,
Piet Mondrian,

and American artists Barnett Newman,
Marc Rothko, and Ben Shahn
saw themselves as divorced
from the mundane skill of copying the natural world,
and found inspiration in Kabbalistic themes.

The illusionist art of Avi-Yonah and Lederberg
enters this dialogue with a series of works

that challenges and mesmerizes our perceptual system,
as they confront the Jewish spiritual experience.

We approach their illusionist works
with wonder and delight.

Both artists tend to work in series

motivated by theme rather than narrative.
Since the 1970s, Avi-Yonah has been working

on a series of paintings in a style
which she calls Anaglyphic Art.

Avi-Yonah's themes include
the Four Angels, the Four Worlds,
Jerusalem in the Messianic Age,

Mysteries of the Black Hole and Hologramic Energies.


Tzimtzum (Divine Contraction of Creation)
32 x 32 (Jewish Symbols)

Lederberg's themes include the exploration
of the Hebrew scribal tradition in his Sacred Letters series

the texture of the rock surfaces of the Wailing Wall,
and Kabbalah

Dialog #17-Harmony
33 x 33 (Dialogues & Anti-logues)
What we think we see and what we see on second glance
and what we see through anaglyphic red-and-
green lenses,
changes with every viewing.
The image transforms when we rotate the canvas on its central axis,
and when the
video screen morphs the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The insistence on interactive viewing
produces an unstable, evolving form of vision.
We are so accustomed to judging an image
on the relationship it bears to the natural world,
that we are not sure how to confront a conceptual image of an object
that does not occupy the physical universe.
Avi-Yonah's image of Gabriel, associated in Kabbalistic sources
with the Face of the Bull in Ezekiel's
vision of the Divine Chariot (
defies traditional Western images of angels (Ezekiel 1:10).
We approach Avi
-Yonah's portrait of the Angel
with suspicion, if not downright trepidation.

38 x 42 (The Four Angels)
The Angel stands at the entrance of the exhibit,
a directional sign beckoning the viewer
to enter a space of animated letters, the future city,
visions of the Holy Temple, and the Garden of Eden.
The painting's triangular format and subject are foreign,
yet vaguely familiar with its use of
simple geometric shapes and iconic symbols.
The image draws upon our literary banks,
and yet evokes something foreboding and strange.
The colors are reminiscent of violence and sacrifice,
but the texture is evocative
of meticulous and luxurious handicraft.
The juxtaposition between the aggressive color
and the tender texture is jaunting.

In the
Book of Daniel, Gabriel serves as
the interpreter of incomprehensible images.
The prophet Daniel narrates his own confrontation
with mystifying images:
"While I, Daniel, was seeing the vision,
and trying to understand it,
there appeared before me one who looked like a man.
I heard a human voice
from the middle of the Ulai
calling out, Gabriel, make that man
understand the vision.
He came near to where I was standing,
and as he came I was terrified, and fell prostrate.
He said to me,
Understand O man, that the vision
refers to
the end of days. (Daniel 8:14-18)
Gabriel hardly orients his terrified viewer
to an accessible, familiar space to observe his vision,
but he does give him permission to anticipate
a reality based on the seemingly incomprehensible vision.

instructs that the future will reflect the image,
rather than the image reflecting the present natural world.
Unlike the Renaissance masters
who held up a work of art to nature,
our viewer must await a reality
that will one day conform to his vision.

Gabriel conveys a prophetic world in its use
of the symbols of
the fiery Bull of the Chariot and the shofar,
but startles in its use of
the silky quilt-like texture and bloody background scheme.
The perverse harmony of the work
with its recurring motifs and symmetrical layout
insists on a visual order that we do not intrinsically feel.
If this angel is to be our guide
to the work of Avi-Yonah and Lederberg,
then indeed these are images that refer to the end of days.

The challenge for Lederberg and Avi-Yonah
is how to express in material form
that which is spiritual: messianic yearning,
a relationship to one's
and the breadth of human
The works of Avi-Yonah and Lederberg
open our eyes to an intangible world of the future.
As their works move towards envisioning
the Jerusalem described by the prophets,
Avi-Yonah and Lederberg face
the challenge of conceptualizing a Messianic Jerusalem
in a Jerusalem that is no longer in ruins.

Their home
in the neighborhood of Shaarei Chesed
was designed
almost a hundred years ago
during the Ottoman Empire
by Jewish philanthropists hoping to reestablish
Jewish life and culture
outside the Old City of Jerusalem.
Today, their home serves as its own artists' colony,
with Yael working in her studio upstairs
her husband Dov working in his space downstairs.
Avi-Yonah was born in Jerusalem
and is
a graduate of Bezalel Academy of Art,
an institution that
envisioned art
as integral to the rebuilding of a Jewish state.
From its founding in 1906 by Boris Schatz,
Bezalel workshops stressed
living, thriving, and contemporary Jewish artistic tradition
in the effort to establish Jewish life and culture
Eretz Yisrael.
For this reason, the Bezalel School
was as much about the means of production
as about the final product,
a concept that both Avi-Yonah and Lederberg
have taken to heart.
For Lederberg, process is the art,
and the canvas is the product of the creative act.

Dialogues series, for example,
include a work entitled

Dialog #18 - Birthing
40 x 40 (Dialogues & Anti-logues)

The image however is not the birth of the body,
but of "becoming".
The primal matter that is actively evolving

never forms into a material product.
The individual works within the series of
Dialogues is, therefore,
not a visual object as much as the process of creation.
Lederberg never describes a work as "finished"
but as a version or edition of a new technique.
On the cover of Schatz's Utopian work,

Yerushalayim ha-Benuya (Jerusalem Rebuilt)
Schatz receives instruction on the roof of the Bezalel building
from the Biblical architect
of the
mishkan and the menorah, Bezalel ben Uri.
In his artist's manifesto, Lederberg writes,
I regard myself as a Jewish visionary artist,
continuing in the tradition
of the Biblical artisan, Bezalel,
whose name means "in the shadow of G-d,"
which implies being essentially
a "receiver" of spiritual vision.

Yerushalayim ha-Benuya, Schatz writes
of the redemptive process of artistic creation
and goes on to claim that his museum of Jewish art
will become part of the Third Temple.
A century later, the artists live in a thriving, urban city
where the ancient city confronts the demands of modern life.
It is no wonder, then, that Lederberg
in his
Visions of the Holy Temple objectifies
the narrative elements from our ancient sources
abstract illusionist art
created mainly with the contemporary technique
of the air-brush, a modern technique popular
with science fiction and fantasy illustrators.

From his experience in
experimental film-making
in the Sixties as an active member
of the
New American Underground
and the N.Y. Filmmakers' Co-op
Lederberg synchronizes
a basic architectural template of the Holy of Holies
to the mounting waves of repetitive reds and yellows
reminiscent of musical composition.

26 x 35.5 (Visions of the Holy Temple)

In creating a sensation that emanates from
the central architectural figure in the center,
Lederberg maximizes aural,
rather than the visual effects of the Temple
and the future Temple service performed
to the majestic music of the Levites.
Although Lederberg's treatment
of architectural forms
calls upon our auditory senses
in what might appear a break with tradition,
he draws from the Ch
asidic transformation
of the visual prayer experience
to the experience of aural prayer and meditation.

In reviewing the work of post-Impressionists
Cezanne, Van Gogh, and
critic Maximilian Voloshin claimed
that one heard art before one saw art.
The Russian artist
Wassily Kandinsky
tried to paint music,
specifically the compositions of Arnold Schoenberg,
an experiment that resulted
in the creation of pure abstraction in art.
But if music has a face,
then the service in Lederberg's Temple
would hardly sing a chasidic
or an upbeat
klezmer ditty from the shtetl.
The songs in his Temple compositions
are techno,
modern, and mesmerizing.

26 x 35.5 (Visions of the Holy Temple)

Holy City transforms
her native city of Jerusalem stone
to a majestic
world of precious gemstones.

Future City #8
30 x 40 (The Future City)
Using her anaglyphic technique, Avi-Yonah
combines two different images of the future city,
while preserving a thematic unity.
Her vision innovates in so much
as it describes the end of days
but it is also vaguely familiar in the sense
that it creates a skyline with both
skyscrapers and low buildings,
city blocks and intersections,
and the urban beauty of maximized space.
The compositional angle
chose for her vision of the future city
is the burial ground of the Mount of Olives (
Har HaZetim),
where Lederberg's parents
and great, great grandparents are buried.

She divides the canvas
with the flowing waters of the four rivers
that cover the Valley of Kidron
in the apocalyptic vision of the
Book of Zechariah.

Avi-Yonah comes from a long tradition
of exploring and envisioning the city of Jerusalem.
father was the distinguished archaeologist
and art historian, Michael Avi-Yonah,
the creator of the model of the Second Temple
and its environs today housed at the Israel Museum.
After graduating from the Bezalel Institute,
she worked on reconstruction drawings
for archaeologists of Israel, including
Yigal Yadin, Nachman Avigad and Ruth Amiram.
Avi-Yonah incorporates her father's meticulous model
for her own images of Jerusalem
at the time of the Second Temple,
giving the edifice a sun-lit space in which to reside.
Avi-Yonah's background in archeology and Bible
instilled an unquenchable anticipation for a Jerusalem inhabited
once more by the Divine Presence and the Holy Temple,
and gave her the point of departure
to envision what such a Jerusalem
look like in the Third Temple period.
Her unique intellectual and spiritual background,
as well as her use of the anaglyphic technique,
has helped her maintain
a coherent and reconciled image
of the heavenly Jerusalem
and the earthly Jerusalem.

Future City #2
30 x 40 (The Future City)

In the early twentieth century,
Boris Schatz and his colleagues understood
that art would have to be part
of the rebuilding of Jerusalem,
but Israeli historiography has judged
his strict academicism harshly.
The New Bezalel School, which re-opened in 1935,
was far more committed
to the assimilation of modern
artistic trends and techniques.
Calligrapher Yerahmiel Schechter,
and sculptural designer Ludwig Wolpert searched
for new styles for Hebrew fonts,
a search that Lederberg
A scion of calligraphers, Lederberg experiments
with the ancient art of the scribe
with experiments in new Hebrew
lettering and graphic design.

Many of Lederberg's original paintings and prints
have been inspired by the "ktav stam"
or the Hebrew scribal style, including individual letters
of the Hebrew alphabet and seminal Hebrew words.

28 x 37 (The Sacred Letters)

video art, The Sacred Letters,
transforms static fonts into dynamic entities.
His letters consume their environment.
The eerie floating of the letters on the
video monitor
recalls the narrative
of R. Hanina ben Teradion's martyrdom.
The Romans wrapped the body of R. Hanina
in a Torah Scroll and kindled his pyre.
In the moment of his agony, his disciples asked him:
Our Teacher, what do you see? He replied:
"I see the parchment consumed by fire, but the letters
of the Scriptures are flying upward." (Avodah Zarah 18a).

For Yael Avi-Yonah and Dov Lederberg,
the holy and the material, or the soul and the body,
 reaches symbiotic relationship in art.
For these Jerusalem artists,
history may record the work of the destroyers,
their art will remember the work of the soul.


Link to excellent review in the Jerusalem Post 2018:

NY Times 2011:

The AACI Blog - Jerusalem 2011    

The Algemeiner Journal 2013

Israel2C - 2003

The Jewish Press:  JewishPress01.html

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