Counting Omer

April 18 - October 22, 2006

Count the omer with this interactive version of Saphyr, the omer calendar by Tobi Kahn.

This multi-part installation, Counting Omer, takes place both in the gallery and on-line. Artist Tobi Kahn’s work, Saphyr, is installed in the contemporary gallery of the Jewish Museum’s permanent exhibition, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey. An interactive version of Saphyr is available to visitors in the gallery on a laptop computer and on the Jewish Museum’s web site.

Saphyr is a 7 x 7 sculptural grid with 49 pegs that mark the 49-day interval between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot, between the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. This 49-day period begins on the second day of Passover—when an omer, or measure of barley, was offered at the Temple in Jerusalem—and ends on the day the wheat harvest began. Symbolically, the time between the two holidays traces the path from physical freedom (the Exodus) to spiritual freedom attained by the acceptance of the law.

Special calendars are used to count off the seven weeks of the omer. Painter and sculptor Tobi Kahn has created an evocative version of the omer calendar. Individually carved pegs are set into a frame-like holder, and each is numbered to follow a particular sequence. The pegs were conceived as miniature houses, each with a unique shape. The interior of each of the compartments, designed to hold the sculpted counting pegs, is painted gold to symbolize the spiritual journey embodied in the interval between the two holidays. The tactile nature of the pegs and the constantly changing composition involve the user in the performance of the ritual.

The interactive version allows visitors to “count” the omer in two ways either by virtually dragging that day’s peg onto the board, adding the pegs one by one until the board is complete, or by placing that day’s peg on top of the board, highlighting the peg. Video interviews with Tobi Kahn further illuminate his artistic decisions.

Tobi Kahn is a painter and sculptor whose work has been shown in over 40 solo exhibitions and over 60 museum and group shows. For thirty years, Kahn has been steadfast in the pursuit of his distinct vision and persistent in his commitment to the redemptive possibilities of art. In paint, stone and bronze, he has explored the correspondence between the intimate and monumental. His work is in the collections of the Jewish Museum, New York, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Skirball Cultural Center and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Born in 1952, Tobi Kahn received an M.F.A. from the Pratt Institute and lives in New York.

The interactive version of the omer counter, Saphyr, was made possible by grants from Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, and Daniel and Elizabeth Sawicki. High resolution photographs by Ardon Bar Hama were provided through support from George S. Blumenthal.