Exhibit of photos by Stuart D. Klipper offers chance to contemplate the contested holy ground
By DORIS RUBENSTEIN
The Harold and Mickey Smith Gallery of Judaica at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts requires the visitor to wander through many rooms and hallways in order to reach its small exhibit space. In the case of Stuart Klipper’s photography showÂ On Sacred Terrain, it’s worth the trip.
Klipper’s photographic work is well known to most in the Twin Cities (9-3-10 AJW). He specializes in landscapes, a genre that generally lacks controversy. On the surface, the scenes depicted inÂ On Sacred Terrain also seem noncontroversial: there are but eight large photographs that compose the exhibit, and all are part of the permanent collection at the MIA. They were all taken in the mid-1980s, mostly in and around Jerusalem — the sacred terrain. And that is one of the points the artist makes; this locale is sacred to three religions, all represented in different ways in the show.
The first two photos show fortifications used by two different groups who attempted to protect what they considered their patrimony from those whom they considered a threat to their religion and its sacred ground.
- This color coupler print from Stuart Klipper’s exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is titled “Temple Mount, Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel, 1985.” (Photo: Stuart D. Klipper / Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts)
Klipper’s view of Masada’s walls is shot from an angle not generally seen in postcards and coffee table books. To Masada’s defenders, however, the walls were the most important part of their fortress. They present themselves today, as they did nearly 2,000 years ago, as impressive barriers, hiding the art treasures that still reside within, although they failed to protect the final group of soldiers and Jewish inhabitants who died there fighting Rome.
Believers in the religion based in Rome that grew from Judaism, Christianity, also built fortresses to protect its sacred ground in the Holy Land. The “Ruins of a Crusader Fort” are seen from a distance, nearly disappearing — like Brigadoon — in the rising mists. Closer examination of the scene, however, reveals some very solid and careful stonework that constitutes the fort’s towers, walls and ramparts. Their efforts eventually were in vain, and so their fort crumbled like their hopes.
The central photographs address Jerusalem’s Old City, certainly the most sacred ground on Earth. The panoramic view of the “Old City, Jerusalem” shows many identifiable landmarks, seen from a distance, with the city walls and empty terrain between the camera and the buildings.
Visitors to the gallery might ask themselves, “Is this the same view I saw on my last trip to Israel? What has been built on this close-to-sacred ground since this picture in 1985? What struggles have taken place there? Or has it merely succumbed to traffic?”
The “Ancient Tombs and Cemeteries” that are the subject of the next two pictures are rich in subject and in visual interest. Extravagant tombs and mausoleums are built into the hillside, sporting classical columns and other fine architectural details. These are surrounded by thousands of tumbled, broken headstones that look, at first glance, like gravel strewn haphazardly across the hillside.
Whether the denizens of these tombs were aristocrats or plebs, all of them today are forgotten. Were they all Jews? Who will remember those who died defending Israel today?
“Western Wall” is less panoramic than the others and is more of a still life of some Jewish men reading, praying or simply abiding at HaKotel. Looking closely, we see that there is quite a variety there: haredim in their black hats, young Ethiopians, or anyone you might see walking into a shul in St. Louis Park. For the moment here, while on sacred ground, there is no conflict, no tourist groups, no invaders; all are Jews with but one goal: prayer.
“Temple Mount, Al Aqsa Mosque” and “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” are interior landscapes. The mosque photo shows a courtyard scene with worshippers walking away after, the viewer may assume, performing their ablutions at a small fountain prior to prayer. The interior of the church has patches of sunlight illuminating the floor between marble columns, standing like trees in a forest. Again, like the Kotel, these are holy spaces that, for the moment, are true sanctuaries on sacred ground.
It is in art museums, public spaces here in America, that religious art can be viewed asÂ ars gratia artis — apart from the divisions and conflicts that divide the three religions in Israel. We can appreciate this fact as we walk through the many galleries of medieval Christian art that lead up to the Smith Gallery and Klipper’s photographs. Viewing these photographs is not quite as good as a trip to Eretz Yisrael, but it offers an opportunity for quiet thought that brings us closer to understanding the conflicts over that sacred ground.
On Sacred Terrain, an exhibit of photographs by Stuart D. Klipper, is on display in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Harold and Mickey Smith Gallery of Jewish Arts and Culture through Feb. 20, 2011. For information, go to: artsmia.org, or call 612-870-3000.
(American Jewish World, 12.24.10)