To Go: New Designs for Jewish Ritual Objects

  • judaica
  • art
  • film/video
  • design
  • textiles & clothing
  • decorative arts
  • religion
  • contemporary art

Designers and artists from around the world were presented with a challenge: to create a collection of objects together with a case — essentially a travel set to accompany a Jewish holiday or lifecycle event. Such portable kits containing groups of cleverly stored items have been in use since the 16th century, and remain relevant today with the prevalence of travel in our modern lives. Now, as then, these kits hold the items necessary for the religious rituals one is obligated to perform even when far from home. To Go highlights the fascinating intersection of Jewish art — which most of the designers had not previously explored — with 21st-century design.

The wide range presented here attests to the shift in recent decades from a Modernist design perspective that views the object’s form as a direct extension of its purpose to contemporary artistic design in which the emphasis is on the creator behind the object, with a lesser focus on functionality. Although the kits were designed to be used by another person in a religious ceremony, many of them are infused with the designer’s personal history and worldview. Some designers examine a specific Jewish ritual, emphasizing its spiritual significance or adding their own interpretation — at times covertly — while others reflect contemporary design movements, from ecological, nature-based design on the one hand, to cutting-edge production techniques on the other.

Jewish law places few limitations on the design of ritual objects, and the need for portability naturally invites a simple design using durable and lightweight materials. And yet all the kits submitted reflect a desire to enhance the religious experience while also valuing holiness, beauty, and ingenuity — even at the expense of the ease with which the objects themselves are used. This exhibition presents innovative and diverse versions of ritual objects rooted in ancient tradition, while also revealing the designers’ unlimited creativity.