By COLlive staff
Photos by Levik Hertzel
Hundreds of art lovers and collectors descended on the Betzalel art gallery in Crown Heights for its grand opening and inaugural Art exhibition displaying the drawings and watercolors of renowned Jewish artist Itshak Holtz.
The crowd represented the full spectrum of the New York metro area’s orthodox community. Satmar Chasidim from Williamsburg, Modern Orthodox Jews from Long Island and local Lubavitchers amongst others enjoyed fine kosher wines and cheeses as they admired the paintings and the new gallery.
Nachman Hellman of Monsey, a Jewish art collector for 15 years, was among the attendees, and loaned two of his Holtz pieces to the gallery for the exhibition.
Hellman, like many others at the exhibition, collects mostly Judaic art. “It speaks to my neshama,” he explains. He believes that Crown Heights is a suitable location for the gallery because of the local Lubavitch community’s reputation for being both deeply religious as well as cultural.
The star of the evening was unquestionably the artist himself, Itshak Holtz. His drawings and water colors hanging on the walls captured scenes spanning a lifetime of Jewish history and change, his earliest painting on display was drawn in 1962. The most recent, half a century later in 2012.
It was a nostalgic evening for Mr. Holtz, who recalled one of his earliest memories of when as a 6 year old in his native Poland he sat on the sidewalk and sketched the mustached Polish Prime Minister with chalk as an amazed crown gathered to watch. “It was a good likeness, too,” he reminisces.
His love for art and his artistic proficiency only grew as he studied first in the Bezalel Art School of Jerusalem, where his family moved before the war, and then in New York where he mastered his craft under the tutelage of such personalities as Robert Brackman and Robert Philipp.
But to Itshak holtz his craft has always been more than just technique and colors, as a deeply religious orthodox Jew he seeks to depict scenes of Jewish spirituality and tradition. This drive has brought him back to Jerusalem again and again where he paints for months at a time.
The zigzagged streets of Jerusalem and Tzefat, the interiors of synagogues and shops, old men and women, are all magically transformed by his brush. His portrayals of shoemakers and scribes capture the essence of his subjects with empathy and affection. “You have to live that religious life to fully capture it on canvas,” he explains.
The exhibition attendees responded positively to Holtz’s paintings, hundreds waited on line as he signed Exhibition catalogs for more than 3 hours.
The operators behind the Gallery are Crown Heights businessman Dovy Andrusier, and Boro Park Art dealer Shmuel Pultman. Andrusier has been buying art from Pultman for 20 years and they eventually decided to team up together to create this high end Hasidic art gallery.
“Art has been my long-time hobby; this is taking my hobby to the next level,” explains Andrusier. “I believe Crown Heights is ready for a place like this and I believe the Jewish art world is ready.”
Pultman lives in Boro Park, and since opening his first art gallery almost 20 years ago, he has been at the forefront of the meteoric rise of Chassidic art. He has seen the prices of the finest paintings jump tenfold at the same time as contemporary representational art has declined in popularity.
“20 years ago, the most a Judaic artist was able to command for a painting was $20,000-$30,000. The Betzalel Gallery’s most expensive painting has an asking price of $175,000 although there are also paintings starting from $3,000,” says Pultman.
Mr. Pultman says that his goal is to educate the Hasidic community about fine art. The opening of the gallery leads one to believe that his dream is getting ever closer to reality.
The exhibition will run till June 10th.
The Betzalel Gallery, 567 Empire Blvd Brooklyn NY 1122
Hours: S-M-W-TH, 11:00 AM-7:00 PM Tuesday by appointment