A new art gallery opened to much acclaim this spring in Brooklyn, a venue with a decidedly Hebrew twist. The Betzalel Gallery in Crown Heights is something of a Jewish treasure trove, offering up clients and spectators a taste of Hassidic art from the past to the present.
Jspace recently caught up with Shmuel Pultman, director at Betzalel, to get the inside scoop on how the Jewish art world operates.
Jspace: What makes this gallery unique compared to other Jewish galleries?
Shmuel Pultman: The art we carry and the artists we represent. It’s basically fine art Judaica, or as some would call it, hassidic art. And there are not that many of those around, for sure, and not at the level we’re trying to represent. I’ve been in this business for almost 20 years. The idea is to give it a venue of a beautiful gallery, the correct light, and to represent it correctly and to promote the work.
Sometimes, we see exhibits of classic Jewish art that move from place to place. This is a permanent, beautiful way to appreciate the contributions the Jewish community has made to the art world.
Where do you find the artists you’re showcasing?
From all over the world. From Israel, from New York, from different places in Europe, everywhere. Judaica doesn’t come from just one place, it’s much more broad than that. That’s what we’re trying to show.
What do you think is so special about Hassidic art?
Jewish art was traditionally utilitarian, things like candelabras, a Kiddush cup. It was utilitarian, it was usable. That could be for a few reasons, including that Jews are always on the run and so forth. At this point, now we’re settled into America people want to have beautiful houses, what better way than to fill the walls with things that are dear to them, as opposed to other scenes that have no religion to them? That’s what makes it unique and what people are seeking, usually.
Does your gallery focus on contemporary Jewish art or is it more antiquated than that?
Mostly it is contemporary. However, there are times I do sell non-contemporary, famous Judaic art, such as [Isidor] Kaufman and so on. There will always be a market for that, but people also want to see what’s new in Judaica.
What made you decide to open an art gallery in Crown Heights?
I had a gallery previously in Brooklyn and the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. And I had a large clientele here in Crown Heights. It was a natural extension to open it over here. This was something I was planning for a few years, it took more than a year to finish the place and to get it up to the standard we wanted.
What’s the reception been like so far in the community?
We had an opening night for an artist called Itshak Holtz, one of the most famous contemporary Judaic artists. And that was in conjunction with our grand opening. We had more than 400 people that night and it’s been very positive.
Who does this art appeal to?
I’ve sold over the years to a wide range of different levels of observance. Some want memories of their parents or grandparents and some just like the idea of having this net culture that was almost decimated by Hitler, to keep that going in their house. And then there are obviously ultra Orthodox Jews as well, there’s a large gambit of customers.
Visit the Betzalel Gallery at 567 Empire Blvd, Brooklyn, NY. For more information call 718-307-1005.