Line of Fire: Hanukah Sculpture as Pedestal for Antiquities

17 Nov

BY SUDINmag | November 17, 2010

On November 19th, 2010, the Jewish Museum will present to the public “A Hanukah Project: Daniel Libeskind’s Line of Fire,” an exhibit featuring a modern sculptural work by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, in conjunction with select pieces from the Museum’s prized menorah collection.

Menorah display atop The Line of Fire

This single room show combines a modern gallery approach with classical fixtures. Libeskind’s sculpture, a bright red zig-zagging block, sits centrally positioned in the rustic wood-trimmed room. An array of select menorahs, mostly antiques, rest in a progression atop the sculpture.  Bright blue panels repeat the modern motif on the walls, displaying stark white quotes that inspired the work.

The Line of Fire

The contemporary format, as well as Libeskind’s work, allows the Museum to engage viewers
while inviting them to see their antique menorah collection. The artist says, “Line of Fire embodies the central ritual of Hanukkah, the kindling of flames in commemoration of an ancient victory for religious freedom.” The hard sculpture is a “metaphor for the spiritual and regenerative power of fire” and represents the “continuity of Jewish existence though sudden changes in circumstances, some of them catastrophic,” which occur throughout Jewish history. The theme of Line of Fire is that no matter what, Jews survive. This idea is also reflected in the variety of menorahs displayed, demonstrating the diversity of Jewish culture.

The exhibition is dramatically lit, utilizing gallery lighting to highlight stunning historical works. The light also helps describe the form of the Line of Fire piece. The menorahs are all placed on the same level, like candles on a traditional menorah. The arrangement of menorahs is varied, not placed according to style or timeline.

Menorahmorph by Karim Rashid (NY, 2004)

The only 21st century menorah in the selection is Menorahmorph by Karim Rashid (NY, 2004) which utilizes a singular plastic form which appears as if the candles have melted onto the surface. The design is not halachically (by Jewish law) kosher, because the candles are not placed in a row when looked at straight on. Instead, they are in a series of rows that block the different candles. Besides the fluorescent plastic construction, there is nothing characteristically contemporary about this piece.

Hanukkah Lamp, Amit Shur (Israel, 1986)

One menorah of particular interest is contemporary artist Amit Shur’s Hanukkah Lamp (Israel, 1986) which is constructed of a single sheet of metal laid flat with 100 punctures in a grid. Wicks are then strung through 8 holes in the grid, hanging down into what would be oil below. The innovative aspect of this piece is not the material it is made from, or the way which it houses the light, rather the way it connects to the 21st century mentality of individual choice, interactivity, and multiple possibilities.  Instead of 8 vessels for oil, this piece lays out 100 possible places for the light. This piece is a beautiful metaphor for the chances for vitality that are in our everyday world.

As balanced as the menorahs in their environment may be, the show really doesn’t do justice to what these items are purposed for. A menorah is a vessel for light. Its purpose is to be something substantial that allows for something of transcendence to occur. In this show the light is represented by the Line of Fire yet, it casts no light, reflects none, and frankly is a large red squiggle.

The line itself does not evoke a new way of thinking about light. It is more of a three-dimensional timeline that zigzagged its way off a flow chart than a physical light metaphor. The design is thoughtful, well balanced, and the construction is purposeful. But you don’t actually see the zigzag very well unless you are perched from above, and below the whole structure could be mistaken for a mere display case.

to Line of Fire: Hanukah Sculpture as Pedestal for Antiquities


Sheldon Meyer

November 22nd, 2010 at 7:27 pm

While the menorahs are themselves beautiful, am I the only one offended by the dubious need of the “artist” to try to overwhelm the exhibition’s content? It’s sadly typical of the ego-tripping, self-serving Daniel Libeskind that he saw fit to append his name to the exhibition. Not satisfied with “Line of Fire”, he had to appropriate the the very title of this exhibition as personal marketing tool. It’s the latest in a series of tasteless attempts to position himself first, his client’s needs second.

As for the statement, “The hard sculpture is a metaphor for the spiritual and regenerative power of fire” …. well good luck to anyone who buys into THAT pretentious allusion. The menorahs can stand on their own merits. Libeskind’s attempts at profundity demean the items on display and the spirit of Hannukah itself.


Davar Pappo

November 23rd, 2010 at 7:24 am

Daniel Libeskind’s trite rationale for the ragged shape forming the “Line of Fire” (“it represents the continuity of Jewish existence though sudden changes in circumstances, some of them catastrophic,”), is no more than a feeble attempt at post-facto justification for a form he would have used regardless of the show’s content or meaning. So concerned is he about promoting himself, his “brand”, that he is incapable of seeing beyond his one-line gimmick. It’s all he knows.

If Daniel Libeskind was asked to design a ruler, he would force his “trademark” zigzag shape for this purpose, ignoring, as he usually does, practical or aesthetic concerns. Unfortunately in this case it is the menorahs which suffer from his ill considered and ultimately meaningless presentation.

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