Shaping History

21 Mar

Painter Ward Shelley plays with the history of Judaism in ‘The People of the Book,’ a series of giant, whimsical flowcharts that tell a story

By Robin Cembalest for Tablet

“Now Shelley has taken on a subject that could be just as polemical, depending on the context. The People of the Bookwas inspired, the artist says, by Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, obsessively researched online, and vetted by a rabbi. Starting in Ur and Canaan, the painting traverses through Samaritans, Gnostics, Kazars, crypto-Jews, Karaites, the Bobov, and Jabotinsky, arriving in the present with the ba’al t’shuva renewal, Israel’s Meretz party, and the Kabbalah Center. Hanging on the wall of Pierogi Gallery’s stand at the Armory Fair in New York through this weekend, surrounded by a profusion of trompe-l’oeil people and stuffed animals by other artists, the orange-hued picture has yet to spark too much debate, though it did find a buyer. But the two other versions of the work, in Shelley’s current show through March 18 at the gallery’s Williamsburg headquarters, are still available. Depending on the setting, this could be quite the conversation piece.”

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