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Golem Magic

Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM

Martina Lüdicke

How can a ritual of Jewish mysticism—the creation of an artificial being and bringing it to life with the help of letters of the name of God—be incorporated into a work of art? Artist David Aronson accomplished something unique in his painting. He gives artistic form to the transcendence, dynamism, and intensity of the mystical experience without resolving its enigmas and secrets.

The medieval Kabbalists created golems in an attempt to get closer to God. The process, and not the creation itself, was the focus of the act. Aronson breathed life into this image in a crowded room full of accouterments. A figure, probably Rabbi Loew, hovers enraptured over a recumbent golem. Three magician’s assistants are wearing amulets around their necks. In front of them lies the contorted golem in a box; the process of the creative act can still be clearly seen in the figure. The feet appear grotesquely enlarged. A parrot spreads its colorful wings above the golem. Is this an allusion to the ability of the parrot to imitate language, the essence of humanness? Or to the dove as a symbol of divine presence in Christian art? All human figures in this scene are framed by coded messages: sketches, letter fragments, a torn drawing of a bird. The scene is extremely condensed; just one moment in which the golem is alive. There is special significance to the painting’s technique. Encaustic is an ancient method of painting with a mixture of color pigments and hot wax, in which a peculiar illumination and a three-dimensional texture unfolds, allowing the viewer to visualize the processual nature of the work. On the potential of encaustic, Aronson himself says, "I found a very meaningful fusion of technique and message. The luminous, waxy colors offered a deeply religious aspect to the proceedings, like a stained glass window in a church that thrusts you into a mood or state of mind."1 The creative act is linked with the practice of medieval Kabbalists. A golem appears. From letter permutations or brush strokes.

Martina Lüdicke majored in Literature Studies and works at the Jewish Museum Berlin, where she has curated the exhibitions Chrismukka, How German is It?, The Whole Truth... Everything you always wanted to know about Jews and Snip it! Stances on Ritual Circumcision.

Translated by Allison Brown

  1. David Aronson, Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture (Boston: Pucker Art Publications, 2004), 13. ↩︎

David Aronson's artwork <cite>The Golem</cite>

The Golem
David Aronson, USA, 1958
Encaustic on panel, 144.8 x 162.6 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Judith Aronson Webb, Ben Aronson N.A., and Abigail Aronson Zocher

Citation recommendation:

Martina Lüdicke (2016), Golem Magic. Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM.

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Chapter 2 - Jewish Mysticism: Selected Texts (2)