Saint Louis University

Tobi Kahn: Avoda exhibition logo Tobi Kahn - Aron Kodesh (1987)
    Ceremonial art by Tobi Kahn

    September 2 - October 12, 2003

     Opening Day Events: September 2, 2003
     free and open to the public
       2 - 5 p.m.

       2 - 3:15 p.m.
opening reception with the artist

To Make Extraordinary: The Role of Sacred Objects in Life and Worship
an interfaith panel discussion
Click here for more information.

        above: Aron Kodesh: The ark that holds the Torah scrolls.
        Orah, 1987. Acrylic on wood. Image courtesy of the artist.

General Exhibition Information
Hours: Tues - Sun, 11 am - 4 pm
Directions and Parking information
Group visit information

Tobi Kahn - Hadahr (1992)

Etrog box: A container used to hold the etrog
(a specially harvested citron) on the Sukkot holiday.
Hadahr, 1992. Acrylic on wood. Image courtesy
of the artist.
Tobi Kahn is an internationally acclaimed painter and sculptor. His work has been shown in 30 solo exhibitions and over 60 group and museum shows since he was selected as one of nine artists to be included in the 1985 Guggenheim Museum exhibition, New Horizons in American Art. His work is found in the collections of major institutions throughout the United States, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Jewish Museum, New York, NY. His commissions include a large outdoor sculpture at New Harmony, IN, and two Holocaust memorial gardens, in Tenafly, NJ, and La Jolla, CA. A retrospective exhibition of Kahn’s painting and sculpture curated by Peter Selz, Metamorphoses, was shown at MOCRA in 1998.

"Avoda" is the Hebrew noun for "work," as well as for "prayer/worship," and the active mode implied by this title reflects Kahn's interpretation of the rising interest and active participation in spiritual expressions. The Avoda exhibition consists of 42 Jewish ceremonial objects that demonstrate Kahn's interpretation of old and new ritual observances, as well as his artistic commitment to natural forms. Those familiar with Kahn's paintings and sculpture will recognize common elements in the palette, textures, and organic forms of these works. Dr. Douglas Dreishpoon, Curator of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, notes that "Tobi Kahn’s involvement with Judaica is both a natural and inevitable extension of his painting and sculpture."

Yet these are highly personal works, created as they were for ritual moments in the life of his family: a chair created for his son's circumcision ceremony, child-sized spice boxes used in Sabbath observances. Exhibition curator Laura Kruger writes that these works are "strikingly contemporary in their refusal to allude to familiar and domestic conventions of Judaica. Instead, they point to a sacred and mysterious realm, beyond conscious knowledge, while retaining Kahn’s persisting commitment to the hand of the artist. For Kahn, these objects are fashioned not only to be used but to be handed down as embodiments of love and community."

To encourage reflection on the role of rituals in our daily lives and as part of the exhibition programming, Kahn and trained assistants will offer a series of workshops at MOCRA and at area schools. There is a particular interest in reaching out to high school and university students. Kruger emphasizes, "while the current interest in spirituality cuts across age, ethnic and economic lines, it is during the college years that most young adults define their moral and ethical identities." The workshops will include hands-on art making as well as discussion. Please contact MOCRA for details about educational programming.

Exhibition curator Kruger says of the works in Avoda, "In their spare, meditative grace, these devotional objects express Kahn’s conviction that art can be a means of exaltation." MOCRA is pleased to bring to St. Louis audiences this opportunity to enjoy and appreciate Kahn’s Judaica, with the hope that through these works visitors may come to a deeper understanding of their own faith traditions as well as those of others.

Avoda: Objects of the Spirit was organized by Avoda Institute, Ltd., and curated by Laura Kruger. MOCRA is grateful for the generous support of Spinner Global Techonology Fund, Ltd., in bringing this exhibition to St. Louis.

Tobi Kahn - Quya (1996)

          Menorah: A ceremonial lamp used on the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah.
          Quya, 1996. Acrylic on wood. Image courtesy of the artist.

Additional links

Artist website

Avoda Arts website

more about Tobi Kahn

glossary of Jewish liturgical terms (The Jewish Museum)

Avoda: Objects of the Spirit in the media