Glass ceiling of Frank Lloyd Wright's Beth Shalom Synagogue, where artist David Hartt is staging an exhibition
Photo: © Darren Bradley Photography

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Only Synagogue Gets a Major Art Installation

David Hartt’s installation The Histories blends flowers, film, and music
Portrait of David Hartt. Photo: Ryan Collerd/Courtesy of the Pew Center for Arts Heritage

The Frank Lloyd Wright–designed synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, Beth Sholom, will be transformed this September 11 by music, film, and exotic flowers for David Hartt’s work The Histories (Le Mancenillier), which explores the intersection of the black and Jewish diasporas. “What I find exciting,” says Hartt, “is to renegotiate how we experience the building and our experience of art.”

For the installation, which was curated by Cole Akers and is on view through December 19, Hartt plans to hang planter beds filled with orchids that capture leaking rainwater in the main sanctuary as a way to explore the relationship between the natural landscape and the built environment. Hartt made films in Haiti and New Orleans that, when presented in the room, will conjure “the beautiful slippage between one cultural space and another.”

“Beth Sholom is an active space of faith that is just beginning to engage with contemporary art,” says Akers. “This project aims to provide new ways for the public to experience the Frank Lloyd Wright building and push the boundaries of its interpretation in ways that are resonant for congregants and new visitors alike.”

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Ethiopian pianist Girma Yifrashewa’s score will be reinterpretations of compositions by 19th-century American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was known for incorporating African-American and Afro-Caribbean vernacular music into his classical pieces. “Gottschalk became a cipher through which to explore the cultural histories and the movement of people through different kinds of landscapes,” says Hartt.

Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Photo: © Darren Bradley Photography
A film still from David Hartt: The Histories (Le Mancenillier). Photo: Courtesy of the artist/David Nolan Gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Galerie Thomas Schulte
A film still from David Hartt: The Histories (Le Mancenillier). Photo: Courtesy of the artist/David Nolan Gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Galerie Thomas Schulte

A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2019 Fall Issue in the section “The Artful Life.” Subscribe to the magazine.

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