Shedding a Special Light on Hanukkah at the MFA

 

 

It was beginning to feel a lot like Hanukkah at the Museum of Fine Arts last Wednesday when the Shapiro Family Courtyard was transformed into a large-scale celebration for the senses. The oversized interactive menorah cast its magic light over the crowd as some swayed to Ezekiel’s Wheels Klezmer Band, some created their own menorahs at the nearby crafts table, and some checked their official program guide, trying to fit as many of the evening’s overlapping art, music and storytelling offerings into their time schedule as possible.

menorah-making

Young and old gather in the Shapiro Family Courtyard to create one-of-a-kind menorahs.

 

Harriet and Jeff Brand of Marblehead were among the more than 1,000 attendees. At the third annual event “It’s just so festive and wonderful to see all the families here,” said Harriet, as a group of toddlers scrambled past. “It’s exciting the MFA is recognizing the joy of Hanukkah,” added Jeff.

 

“Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights” was presented by the MFA in partnership with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (CJP) and the newly formed Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts), with support from the Consulate General of Israel to New England.

menorah2

The large-scale, interactive menorah changes whose flames change color as visitors approach.

 

This year’s celebration featured “Inworlds”, a cutting-edge mixed reality short performance created by Secret Portal in association with Dudley Square Studios that was as experiential as experimental. A live actor and a volunteer who wore a virtual reality headset interacted on a stage bathed in projected visuals that mirrored what the volunteer was seeing. The first-of-its-kind exploration told a story of loss, miracles, friendships and discovery, meant to reflect the miracle of Hanukkah itself.

 

For Laura Mandel, JArts Executive Director, this was the highlight of the 2016 event, and not just because her husband is part of the creative team behind it. “I have loved watching the evolution of our virtual reality endeavor. The end result is a beautiful look into the most current technology out there,” she said. “It excites me that we can inspire artists to push these boundaries in innovative ways, all tying us back to the miracle and illumination of Hanukkah.”

 

JArts was launched last December when the Boston Jewish Music Festival and New Center for Arts & Culture joined forces to create a bold new initiative to share the history, artistry and universality of Jewish Culture. Joey Baron, who co-created the Boston Jewish Music Festival with Jim Ball, is JArts Creative Director.

 

Baron’s selection of the evening’s musical events included a Hanukkah sing-a-long with cantor and klezmer clarinetist Becky Khitrik, the klezmer band Ezekial’s Wheels, a group Boston Jewish Music Festival helped introduce to Boston audiences, and the award-winning Nigun Chamber Ensemble.

nigun

The award-winning Nigun Chamber Ensemble perform Jewish songs from pre-war Eastern Europe.

 

Baron was most enthusiastic about Wendy Jehlen’s performance. Jehlen is founder and artistic director of Anikaya Dance, which weaves together music, dance and storytelling from disparate traditions and different ways of understanding.

 

“I’m not all that much of a dance fan, but there’s nothing like experiencing a dancer performing to live music in such an inspiring setting as a museum gallery setting. I think it could be magical,” he said.

 

Throughout the evening, “Spotlight Talks: Judaica” explored works of Judaica in four galleries with 15-minute talks that featured exploration of one or two specific pieces. A panel of curators, artists, Rabbis and educators discussed Judaica and Judaism at the MFA, in Bosoton and beyond.

 

No Hanukkah festivity would be complete without gifts, and the MFA celebration was no exception. The crowd eagerly awaited the unveiling of the just released 2016 Hanukkah stamp, its official party favor of the evening. The United States Postal Service’s official representative did the honors with great flourish to the sounds of snapping cameras and cell phones and robust claps and cheers.

 

usps

A United State Postal Service representative officially unveils the 2016 Hanukkah stamp.

But it was the installation of the giant menorah that really stole the show. The unique art menorah installation, “Step To Hanukkah Lights”, uses advanced technology to enable visitors to “light” a menorah by stepping on a platform with nine, free standing 8-foot candles. When they approach each candle, their proximity changes the menorah’s colors. The number of people close to the menorah and to each other alters the intensity and the color of the “flames.” It is quite something to behold and even more amazing to experience.

 

The menorah will remain on display at the MFA for two weeks and was created by a team of three local artists: Saul Baizman, Fish McGill and Andrew Ringler.

 

Neil Wallack, chair of CJP Board of Directors, was one of eight who offered remarks prior to the candle lighting. He referred to the evening as illustrative of “our combined efforts to repair the world. The light in our community gets brighter when we are together.”

 

After the menorah was lit, everyone joined in singing the Hanukkah prayers. “I get goose bumps every time I see 1,000-plus people singing Hanukkah blessings in the courtyard. That moment is the definition of community to me,” said Mandel, holding her squirming 18-month old.

Get in the Pink at the MFA

Pink brings out the worst in me. I chafe and cringe, feeling trapped in a sorority I never pledged. Blame it on my vestigial 60’s feminism, or the resentment I still harbor over the pink butterflies wallpapered to my bedroom ceiling without my knowledge or consent when I was seven. Whatever. Just bring me pink as undiluted red.

My spousal equivalent, on the other hand, is as keen on pink as I am not, especially when it comes to flowers. Only recently he finally gave up the challenge of changing my mind with a bouquet of the right shade of pink. He, like me, was convinced that it simply didn’t exist.

Until, that is, the MFA’s gender- bending “Think Pink,” an exhibit devoted to exploring design and gender with a wide range of all things pink from the 17th century to today.

The compact but sprightly show traces the evolution of pink with clothing, jewelry, accessories, graphic illustrations and paintings drawn from the museum’s collections. The fashions are stunning, with examples from Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta. The hats, in particular, are whimsical and striking.

We learn that both males and females claimed pink as their own, until the 19th century when men started wearing dark business suits and pink took on a feminine identity. Over the centuries, cultural, artistic and technological changes have swung the pink pendulum from rose to magenta to shocking pink and back again. Artificial dyes inspired neon, nervy, shocking pink, a color sometimes surrealist in application. Since 1992, pink has come to symbolize the global effort to fight breast cancer, thanks to the efforts of Estee Lauder and former SELF Magazine editor Alexandra Penney.

Pink HatWoman’s hat Flo-Raye, New York 1945–55 Plaited straw and artificial flowers * Gift from the Collection of Violet Manno Shumsky through her estate


Amidst the yards of charmeuse, feathers and sequins, the most eye-catching is a sleek, pink, wool twill man’s suit, designed in 2013 by Ralph Lauren for Vogue International editor-at-large, Hamish Bowles. The ensemble is intended to copy Robert Redford’s costume from the 1974 film version of “The Great Gatsby.” It would look great on David Bowie, too.

Another standout is Kenneth Paul Bock’s “Model in Sweeping Pink Coat,” a watercolor illustration for an Oscar de la Renta W Magazine design.

 Pink PaintingFemale model in sweeping pink coat by Kenneth Paul Block (American, 1925– 2009)1980sWatercolor and black marker on paper * Gift of Kenneth Paul Block, made possible with the generous assistance of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

 “Think Pink” is informative, thought-provoking and for some, transformative. As society embraces more fluid ideas of gender and color, perhaps it is time for this stubborn holdout to do the same.

Photographs­ MFA, Boston