Zeva Oelbaum: Hand to Hand
March 22nd - April 21st 2007
 
 

Hand To Hand: Photographs by Zeva Oelbaum, the artist’s second solo exhibition with Hirschl & Adler Modern, opens on March 22, and will remain on view through April 21. The exhibition features 18 toned gelatin silver prints that Oelbaum photographed in 2005-06, depicting fragments of endpapers from old Hebrew books passed down through generations.

Hand to Hand is a body of work literally taken from the pages of history. Having grown up with stacks of Hebrew books relegated to her family’s basement, Oelbaum was always fascinated by the various scribbles and markings she found in their endpapers. With paper being a rare and expensive commodity in the 19th century, a books’ endpapers were often used as “note pads” –– to jot down lists, practice spelling, and record purchases.

As a girl, Oelbaum recognized the writings in one book as Hebrew, but otherwise was unable to decipher their meanings. In her young imagination, the words themselves transformed from language to pure form. Embellished flourishes, laid one on top of the other, danced across the pages and obscured text from the past. These layers of calligraphy served as a palimpsest of languages, alphabets, and unimaginable worlds. As Oelbaum writes, “These orphaned tomes connected me to a time and place far beyond my Missouri upbringing. I imagined how they had traveled from hand to hand for centuries, like portable identities.”

Years later, as a photographer fascinated with found objects, Oelbaum revisited her childhood preoccupation. Manipulating imagery from her families’ books and others sourced from the Jewish community, Oelbaum creates a body of work that transforms markings written in multiple languages –– Latin, Russian, German, Polish, Aramaic, and Yiddish –– into a coherent visual story. With her camera, Oelbaum immortalizes the inherent lyricism in a word, a scribble, and even something as seemingly insignificant as an ink blot. Intended to give the viewer the sense of scanning over a page, some of the photographs are presented as diptychs and triptychs. These narratives, composed of positive and negative images stand in as metaphors for life and death.

A New York-based photographer, Oelbaum is represented in numerous private and public collections, including The Museum of the City of New York, The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Jewish Heritage, The National Museum of the American Indian, and The Polaroid Collection, as well as the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and The Southeast Museum of Photography, Florida. She teaches at The International Center of Photography in New York, and is the author of two books, Flowers in Shadow: A Photographer Rediscovers a Victorian Botanical Journal and Blue Prints: The Natural World in Cyanotype Photographs, published by Rizzoli International Publications.

Hand To Hand: Photographs by Zeva Oelbaum will remain on view at Hirschl & Adler Modern through Saturday, April 21, 2007. Located in a landmark townhouse, Hirschl & Adler is open Tuesday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. For additional information, please contact Shelley Farmer or Debra Wieder at 212-535-8810. By email, shelleyf@hirschlandadler.com or debraw@hirschlandadler.com. Please visit our website for a preview of the exhibition: http://www.HirschlAndAdler.com.