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Archie Rand's colossal painting project gets museum debut and first appearance outside of New York City
Archie Rand, To Love Converts. (Deuteronomy 10:19), part of The 613, 2001–06, serial painting composed of 613 panels, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in. each. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Mary Faith O’Neill. The 613 by Archie Rand. On view July 20–October 22, 2017 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Starting in 2001, Archie Rand (b. 1949), a painter and muralist from Brooklyn, New York, spent five years creating The 613, a monumental installation of 613 twenty by sixteen inch canvas paintings (plus one additional title painting) arranged in a huge grid comprising 1700 square feet. The massive work reflects on the 613 requirements (mitzvot in Hebrew) for a Jewish person to live a righteous life, as synthesized from various sources in the Hebrew Bible—all rendered in a style described by Peter Steinfels of The New York Times as, “comics and pulp fiction book jackets, a dash of Mad Magazine, a spoonful of Tales from the Crypt, some grotesques, some superheroes, always action, emotion, drama.”

An astronaut drifts above an alien world with a neon pink moon for Exodus 20:2, “To know there is a God.” A female swimmer plunges through bright blue and yellow liquid for Exodus 30:31, “To blend the anointing oil.” The wall of images is held together not only by the style and the palette but also the formal gold edging of each painting with the Hebrew number of the commandment.

Displayed only once on a warehouse wall in New York City for just four hours in 2008, the extremely brief showing attracted one thousand people.

Menachem Wecker, writing about Rand for Jewish Press, stated that, “He has effectively revolutionized the way the rest of us view Jewish art …” Much of Rand’s work involves paintings in reaction to or including essential Jewish texts. The paintings are not literal illustrations, but are emotional and intuitive responses, “that would be counterproductive to even try to explain,” says Rand. In a parallel respect, Rand continues to be deeply aligned with contemporary poetry, having collaborated with many of our major poets such as John Ashbery and Robert Creeley. He sees the cumulative historic gift of Jewish textual scholarship and the poetics of Scripture as his inheritance to interpret and utilize for his own aesthetic practice, thus pushing an unwilling Judaic content into the larger cultural discourse. His use of the 613 is not, therefore, to be understood as an endorsement of its content but as a respectful and deliberate reuse of found material.

There is a digital kiosk in the middle of the gallery so that visitors can access each of the 613 paintings in close up, along with the admonition translated into English. A film engaged with the Yom Kippur prayer Kol Nidre, directed and animated by Tatiana McCabe and utilizing images from Rand’s The 613, also is on view in the gallery. At the special invitation of CJM Executive Director Lori Starr, a new painting by Rand, on what some consider to be number 614: remember, is included in the exhibition, displayed separately in the gallery.

“The 613 represents a lifetime’s meditation by Archie Rand about being a painter and a Jewish artist in America in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,” says Starr. “We are honored to present the museum debut of this significant work by one of the most important and original mavericks of the art world.”

The 613 by Archie Rand is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco and Joan Brookbank Projects in collaboration with the artist Archie Rand.

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