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. ↩︎

Painting: A distorted yellow figure lies in a crib or box. The figure is surrounded by four other yellow figures and a parrot.

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.
URL: www.jmberlin.de/en/node/4687

Golem as action figure (detail)

Online Edition of the GOLEM Catalog: Table of Contents

The Golem in Berlin: Introduction by Peter Schäfer
Chapter 1
The Golem Lives On: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
My Light is Your Life: Text by Anna Dorothea Ludewig
Avatars: Text by Louisa Hall
The Secret of the Cyborgs: Text by Caspar Battegay
Chapter 2
Jewish Mysticism: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Current page: Golem Magic: Text by Martina Lüdicke
Golem, Language, Dada: Text by Emily D. Bilski
Chapter 3
Transformation: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Jana Sterbak’s Golem: Objects as Sensations: Text by Rita Kersting
Crisálidas (Chrysalises): Text by Jorge Gil
Rituals: Text by Christopher Lyon
A Golem that Ended Well: Text by Emily D. Bilski
On the Golem: Text by David Musgrave
Louise Fishman’s Paint Golem: Text by Emily D. Bilski
Chapter 4
Legendary Prague: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Golem Variations: Text by Peter Schäfer
Rabbi Loew’s Well-Deserved Bath: Text by Harold Gabriel Weisz Carrington
Chapter 5
Horror and Magic: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Golem and a Little Girl: Text by Helene Wecker
The Golem with a Group of Children Dancing: Text by Karin Harrasser
Bringing the Film Set To Life: Text by Anna-Carolin Augustin
Golem and Mirjam: Text by Cathy S. Gelbin
Chapter 6
Out of Control: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Golem—Man Awakened with Glowing Hammer: Text by Arno Pařík
Dangerous Symbols: Text by Charlotta Kotik
Be Careful What You Wish For: Text by Marc Estrin
Chapter 7
Doppelgänger: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
From the Golem-Talmud: Text by Joshua Cohen
Kitaj’s Art Golem: Text by Tracy Bartley
The Golem as Techno-Imagination?: Text by Cosima Wagner
See also
GOLEM: 2016, online edition with selected texts of the exhibition catalog
GOLEM: 2016, complete printed edition of the exhibition catalog, in German
Golem. From Mysticism to Minecraft: Online Feature, 2016
GOLEM: Exhibition, 23 Sep 2016 to 29 Jan 2017

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