613 Duke Gallery

In addition to the exhibition, Duke Hall Gallery of Art will host lectures, a reception and an artist conversation.

When people think of the Torah, Hebrew text and the Old Testament, they might not think of Archie Rand’s, “The 613” art exhibit. Begining Thursday, 613 art panels will cover the walls of the Duke Hall Gallery of Art to create an immersive experience for the veteran gallery visitor or a first-timer learning about Judaism. Viewers can experience a blend of ancient text with pop art.

While using contemporary art forms such as pop art, children’s book illustrations and pulp fiction graphics, Rand connects ancient Hebrew Commandments to modern art for viewers to understand how each of the 613 panels represents a commandment in the Torah. Rand’s interpretation creates a modern image that relates to a larger audience. 

On display through Oct. 13, “The 613” will be the first exhibition of the school year in the Duke Hall Gallery of Art. It’s inspired by the 613 Jewish Commandments of the Old Testament.

The Brooklyn-based artist, Archie Rand, is allowing Duke Hall to display “The 613” for the third time to the public.  Rand is “a generous studio visitor and amazing artist,” according to Director and Chief Curator John Ros. Rand will be meeting with art students through various events such as lectures and classroom visits. 

After growing up in a Jewish community, Rand was influenced by the ancient text to connect with pop culture artistry. 

“Rand drew inspiration from art history, pop culture, literature, music and life itself to connect these things a way an artist can,” Ros said. 

Rand connected the influence of his childhood with the contemporary art form to create the “The 613”. It was first on display in his studio in 2008, then in 2017 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, California. This will be “The 613’s” first time on display in a large scale institution. “The 613” has the ability to connect a wide variety of people and introduce JMU students to Judaism. 

“[As chief curator] I want to shape the image of the space and to help my students understand the larger message, and to understand different ways of looking at this world,” Ros said. “I help create a curatorial vision, to add a cutting edge to the space.” 

Ros emphasizes he couldn’t do it without the help of volunteers, gallery assistants and contractors. Through social media posts, installing the art panels and preparing for Rand’s visits, they’re able to prepare the gallery for the public.

“[The Duke Hall Gallery of Art] exposes art that we normally don’t see. It’s nice to feel a connection and to feel like part of the community. It brings the community together as a whole,” Art Handler Liz Goble said. 

The staff members emphasized the importance of connecting with the community and how a wide variety of people will be influenced by Rand’s work. Duke Hall offers many opportunities for students to have a hands-on experience in working in the gallery. Senior Gallery Assistant Oumaima Azzat works on the design process of marketing the new exhibits, focuses on the social media and helps install and uninstall any of the exhibits.

“I am looking forward to learning about and discovering more about the commandments and to meet the artist,” Azzat said. 

Ros previously worked with Rand as his student at Brooklyn College while Ros was pursuing his M.F.A. Ros knew when he saw the studio and the space that “it was too good to say no to.” Ros expressed how “The 613” can connect the students, staff, faculty and the Harrisonburg community by Rand’s artwork using pop art to connect to Judaism. 

According to the website, the Duke Hall Gallery of Art will be hosting a lecture Sept. 11, from 5-6 p.m., an artist reception Sept. 12 from 5-7 p.m. and an artist conversation with the gallery director Sept. 13 from 1-2 p.m.

The gallery staff at Duke Hall hopes that art can influence, impact and introduce the JMU students to connect with the exhibit. Art can connect with a wide variety of people and, according to Ros, “is a lifelong journey.” 

Contact Kate Harwood at harwooke@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.