By Julia Olson
Frank Stella’s Had Gadya: Illustrations After El Lissitzky opened last Thursday, March 23, at the Cincinnati Skirball Museum on the campus of Hebrew Union College. The exhibit features a series of twelve large lithographs, now on display on the museum’s second floor in the Mayerson Hall Auditorium. The room has been transformed from its usual organization into a gallery featuring Stella’s lithographs and detailed labels and QR codes for further interaction.
The prints are on loan from Elissa Oshinsky, who acquired the series after several works were displayed at her Park City, Utah synagogue. According to Skirball Curatorial Consultant Abby Schwartz, Oshinsky “has held leadership positions for the Anti-Defamation League, both in DC and Utah, is Chair Emeritus of the DC Avodah, has been active with The Jewish Service Corps, and has been on the boards of Jewish Family Services, Washington Hebrew, and Temple Shirat Ha Yam. She has coordinated a summer camp program for the past eighteen years, sending hundreds of DC inner-city kids to sleepaway camp. [Oshinksy] learned about HUC many years ago when she was on the Board of Washington Hebrew Congregation. Several Board Members decided to honor a wonderful couple who were pillars of the Washington community with a scholarship in their name at HUC. Through the scholarship, Elissa learned the importance of HUC.”
Frank Stella (b. 1936) is known for his paintings, sculpture, and prints that focus in the areas of minimalism and post-painterly abstraction. However, Stella was inspired by Eliezer Lissitzky’s 1919 series of eleven paintings illustrating the poem Had Gadya (One Little Goat) when he viewed them in 1981 at the Tel Aviv Museum. According to the gallery catalog, which is available to visitors upon entering the exhibition, “Stella was profoundly inspired by Lissitzky’s simplistic, minimal narrative, spatial experimentation, and abstraction through which he symbolically expressed freedom over persecution as a consequence of the Russian Revolution of 1917.”
Each of Stella’s twelve works builds on the one previous to it, just as the stanzas of Had Gadya build on one another. He was inspired by Lissitzky’s work and wanted to develop his own series of sequential works that utilized similar elements to build on its predecessor.
The exhibition runs until Sunday, July 2, 2023. There is a good deal of programming surrounding Stella’s works. Upcoming public programs include “The Chaser and the Chased: Stella and the Poetry of Had Gadya,” during which Anne Hromadka Greenwald, HUC-JIR Los Angeles curator will discuss the exhibition’s deeper themes, which takes place Thursday, April 13, at 4:30 p.m. Cincinnati Skirball Curatorial Consultant Abby Schwartz will also lead a lunch and learn, occurring Tuesday, May 9 from 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Finally, fifth-year cantorial student Ella Gladstone Martin will provide a multi-media presentation of Had Gadya in “One Goat: Countless Perspectives,” which will be held Wednesday, June 7 at 7:00 p.m. All three events listed above take place on the Cincinnati campus in Mayerson Hall. The Greenwald and Martin presentations will also be available to livestream.