Jewish women artists are not, thank goodness, an apologetic breed. But that does not mean that they are all aggressive didacts. Beth Grossman’s latest small show, “All the Rest is Commentary,” is a firm but gentle reminder of what’s most important in life: taking it’s name from Rabbi Hillel’s legendary dictum “Love thy neighbor as thyself, all the rest is commentary.”
Featuring 12 tablecloths on the wall, the show embraces the domestic setting that is the stereotypical domain of femininity. The mottos printed on the tablecloths, though, are much less confined in scope, being experessions of the golden rule from 12 different cultures. The Jewish statement of this basic humanity is present in the title and location of the show, but the show itself is designed, through workshops, talks and planned out lessons to be universal.
I first heard about Beth Grossman in 2006 when I edited Sarah Glover’s piece “Remembering Miriam: Beth Grossman’s ‘Our Mother Mary Found’” for Zeek and I was impressed by the commitment to the beauty of objects, the importance of religion and the unwavering confidence in the woman’s perspective that Grossman seemed to have. (The same journal now has Arlene Goldbard’s essay inspired by the current show.)
The current show, informed by the work of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, is less beautiful than her first two important shows (“Passages” and “Our Mother Mary Found”) but no less provocative. The show is obviously not provocative in the sense of an elephant-dung painted Jesus, but by foregrounding the substantial question: “What is important?” A question which — the subtext implies — is answered by the golden rule in each culture, but ignored daily by those cultures.
The rules are surprisingly similar — Hillel’s phrase is run through different shades of “respect” and “esteem” and figuration: “The heart of the person before you is a mirror, see there your own form.” My favorite is the Yoruba saying which provides, essentially, a midrash on the golden rule. With all these wisdom sayings in the world, Grossman seems to be saying, why are we not wiser?
“All the Rest is Commentary,” is on display until July 30, 2010 at The JCC in Manhattan, New York.
Watch Beth Grossman’s slideshow below.