• January 14-16, 2008

International conference on: Jewish Art in Context: The Role and Meaning of Artifacts and Visual Images

Conference Program

Conference Summary

The conference took place at the initiative of the Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center as part of the Jewish Art and Visual Culture Research Project, in cooperation with the Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities, the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of Arts, and the Cymbalista Jewish Heritage Center.

The initial conclusion of the conference's organizers was that there is a great need to develop and nurture the broad, multi-disciplinary vision of Jewish art represented at the conference, and to recognize that approach as a historical discipline in every sense. The intention is to turn Tel Aviv University and the Jewish Art and Visual Culture Research Project into central players in the research of Jewish art and establish them as a hub of all future research approaches in the field throughout the world and serve as an academic forum for their further analysis.

The majority of speakers who participated in the conference were art historians, mainly engaged in Jewish visual art and culture, but a significant role was also played by scholars in the fields of Jewish history, folklore, and musicology, so as to promote a meaningful discussion and define anew the fields of research.

The hope of the conference's organizers was to reach an innovative, revitalized mode of thinking about the scope of Jewish art and visual culture, based on observation of the past and vision of the future. The conclusion arising from the conference discussions was that Jewish art should not be isolated as a solitary discipline in itself, but rather be viewed as a link in the chain connecting the accepted definition of Art History and Jewish Studies. In fact, this is a historical discipline in every sense, in which the object or picture is examined as a starting point with the aid of written sources. In this manner, we may bridge the gaps in the accumulated knowledge of researchers and illuminate time periods, events or phenomena that are not sufficiently well-known from other sources.

Participants and Attendees:

The conference was attended by forty-six lecturers from Israel and abroad. Moreover, fully half of the participants traveled from abroad in order to attend, arriving from Austria, Italy, England, the United States, Germany, The Netherlands, Greece, the Czech Republic, and France.

Among the participants were three winners of the prestigious Israel Prize: Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, Prof. Daniel Sperber, and Prof. Ziva Amishai-Maisels.

The lecturers from Israel hailed from some of the most well-respected institutions in the country: Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University were strongly represented, and representatives of Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion, Shenkar College, Talpiot College, Beit Berl College, the Israel Museum, and Beit HaT'futzot also participated.

The conference was impressively successful; each session was well-attended and included four participants who had traveled from abroad specifically to attend, even though not everyone was able to present a paper. The opening session was attended by around 170 people, and the subsequent sessions were each attended by 130-180 people. Twice the conference had to be relocated to the auditorium in Gilman 223 when the number of participants rose beyond the capacity of Drachlis Hall.

Major Achievements:

► Discussion on the current methodology in the field of Jewish art and visual culture.

► Turning the project into a central axis in the discussion of Jewish museology: The conference was attended by curators and designers from six Jewish museums around the world (New York, Chicago, Warsaw, Prague, Amsterdam, Vienna, Munich, and Erfurt).

► Following the conference, an international critical council was formed which will take upon itself the publication of the papers presented at the conference. Both Brill Publishers of Boston and Peeters Publishers of Leuven, Belgium have already expressed interest in publishing a book of this type.

► Exposing the attending researchers to new technologies: New technologies for studying ancient texts were presented at the conference, such as the use of infrared to expose layers of medieval illustrations, or the InscriptiFact Project which combines advanced digital photography and computer technology to decipher and reconstruct early texts (for example, the Dead Sea Scrolls), and thereby lead the study of antiquity to new horizons.

► The combination of young scholars alongside senior academics: Four of the conference's speakers were holders of Master's degrees who were given their first opportunity to present their findings in an academic forum and received very positive feedback on their work.



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