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Kabbalah: The Art of Jewish Mysticism

29 March 2019 - 25 August 2019

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From 29 March to 25 August 2019, Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter is immersed in the esoteric ambience of a major exhibition about the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah. Different aspects of its ancient teachings are presented – even pop stars like Madonna and David Bowie have drawn inspiration. This is the first exhibition to showcase the many sides of Kabbalah in surprising combinations of historical objects and modern works of art.

The term Kabbalah was coined in the Middle Ages to encompass the centuries of scholarship through which Jewish mystics have sought to understand the mysteries of our existence in the world. Kabbalah means ‘receiving’. It is founded on a belief in an ‘original knowledge’ about God, Creation and humanity. In the twentieth century, Kabbalah began to reach a far wider audience, inspiring artists, writers, filmmakers and contemporary pop icons, both Jewish and non-Jewish. 

Many people who have heard of Kabbalah are unaware what this mystical Jewish tradition is really about. Spread across all the Jewish Cultural Quarter locations, Kabbalah: The Art of Jewish Mysticism is a show that attempts to rectify that. The main presentation in the Jewish Historical Museum introduces Kabbalah with displays of ancient texts alongside work by modern and contemporary artists. The exhibition starts in a kind of decompression chamber in which visitors are transported from the familiar everyday world into the mysterious realm of Kabbalah. Works by artists such as Barnett Newman, R.B. Kitaj, Marc Chagall and Anselm Kiefer reveal how they were inspired by Kabbalah.

From left to right: © Marc Chagall, Synagoge in Safed, 1931, Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. C/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2019 I Unknown manufacturer, Fragment of a kabbalistic scroll (ilan), 18th century, Handwriting, ink on parchment, Library Ets Haim Livraria Montezinos, Amsterdam I Abraham Cohen de Herrera (ca. 1575-ca. 1630), Puerta del Cielo, Copied by Samuel de David Curiel, illustrations by Benjamin Godines, Amsterdam 1675, Handwriting, ink and watercolor on paper, Library Ets Haim - Livraria Montezinos, Amsterdam I Moshe Castel (1909-1991), Cabbalistic Magic, Israel 1953, Oil paint on canvas, Jewish Museum, New York. Donated by James N. Rosenberg
From left to right: © Marc Chagall, Synagoge in Safed, 1931, Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. C/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2019 I Unknown manufacturer, Fragment of a kabbalistic scroll (ilan), 18th century, Handwriting, ink on parchment, Library Ets Haim Livraria Montezinos, Amsterdam I Abraham Cohen de Herrera (ca. 1575-ca. 1630), Puerta del Cielo, Copied by Samuel de David Curiel, illustrations by Benjamin Godines, Amsterdam 1675, Handwriting, ink and watercolor on paper, Library Ets Haim - Livraria Montezinos, Amsterdam I Moshe Castel (1909-1991), Cabbalistic Magic, Israel 1953, Oil paint on canvas, Jewish Museum, New York. Donated by James N. Rosenberg.

In another part of the museum, the secrets of traditional Jewish Kabbalah are revealed in ancient manuscripts, amulets, Kabbalistic scrolls and votive plaques from private collections, international museums and the Vatican. In the art cabinet and museum café presentations feature work by installation artist Belu Simion Fainaru, while in the Children’s Museum visitors can read Kabbalistic children’s books by Madonna to each other. Minor presentations about Kabbalah are also shown in the Portuguese Synagogue and the National Holocaust Museum. 

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive programme of events, including a lecture on Kabbalah for Dummies, a Kabbalah Festival and a series of films at Amsterdam’s Kriterion cinema. Also accompanying the exhibition, compiled by curator Mirjam Knotter and guest curator Alexander Gorlin jointly with Vienna’s Jüdisches Museum, is a richly illustrated English/Dutch publication: Kabbalah. 

[Credit photo]
Steve Schapiro, David Bowie In Diagonal Stripes © Getty Images

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With special thanks to:

Levi Lassen 
Daniel L. Nir and Jill E. Braufman Family Foundation 
The Foundation for the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, Inc.
Tim Uppelschoten Fonds
Hans Ham Fonds
Jetteke Frijda Fonds
J.D. Meijer Fonds
 

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