Monday, July 29, 2019

Rembrandt Cyberangels Ascending from the Land of Israel: 1669-1989-2019

Rembrandt cyberangels begin their flight to museums around the globe from the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem that exhibits ancient Bible scrolls.  
They gain momentum by continuing their flight from the tallest building in Israel, Tel Aviv’s 85 story Azrieli Sarona Tower, home of Facebook’s R&D Center, until construction is completed for the 91 story Azrieli Spiral Tower with the shape of a Bible scroll.

The digitized Rembrandt angel ascending from the Land of Israel in the artwork above is based upon artist Mel Alexenberg's serigraph below that he created in the Israel Museum's affiliated graphics center in Jerusalem to honor the great master on the 320th anniversary of his death.  It is now coming alive to honor Rembrandt on the 350th anniversary after being dormant in the collection of the Israel Museum since then.  

It shows cyberangels ascending from a NASA satellite image of the Land of Israel.


The cover of Alexenberg's 2019 book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media shows the Rembrandt cyberangels ascending from the NASA image displayed on a smartphone screen and disseminated worldwide through social media.  It explores the conceptual background for the Global Tribute to Rembrandt events as it updates the faxart technology of thirty years ago.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Hebrew Letters in Rembrandt's Paintings

Belshazzar's Feast is a major painting by Rembrandt housed in the National Gallery, London. The painting is Rembrandt's attempt to establish himself as a painter of large, baroque history paintings.

The painting tells story of Belshazzar and the writing on the wall from the biblical Book of Daniel. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar looted the Temple in Jerusalem and has stolen the sacred artefacts such as golden cups. His son Belshazzar used these cups for a great feast where the hand of God appeared and wrote the inscription on the wall prophesying the downfall of Belshazzar's reign. 

The text on the wall says "mene, mene, tekel, upharsin". Biblical scholars interpret this to mean "God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; your kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians".

The Hebrew letters on the wall is an interesting element in this painting. Rembrandt lived in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam and derived the form of Hebrew letters from a book by his friend and neighbor, the learned Rabbi and printer, Menasseh ben Israel. It was the only book that Rembrandt illustrated. One illustration is an etching of angels going up and down on the ladder in Jacob’s dream.   

The Digital Homage to Rembrandt artworks of Mel Alexenberg in thirty museum collections worldwide show Rembrandt inspired cyberangels. The biblical words for angel (mem, lamed, aleph, khaf) and food (mem, lamed, aleph, khaf) are written with the same four Hebrew letters to teach that angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life. Perhaps it is spiritually significant that most museums offering art have cafes offering food.

Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law is a 1659 painting of the prophet Moses by Rembrandt. It depicts Moses about to break the original two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. It is now in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Applauding the Great Master

The Global Tribute to Rembrandt is a year of digital homage to Rembrandt in museums around the world beginning on the 350th anniversary of his death, October 4, 1669. The biblical tradition on which Rembrandt’s angel artworks are based honors people on the day they complete their lives rather than on their birthdays. It is like applauding after seeing a great play instead of when the curtain opens.

The top image is the façade of Rembradthuis Museum in Amsterdam where Rembrandt created his angels.  The bottom image shows artist Mel Alexenberg, dressed as Rembrandt’s friend Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, receiving a cyberangel from a fax machine on Rembrandt’s etching press in his studio in 1989. (See Rembrandt Inspired Cyberangels Circle the Globe via AT&T Satellites)

The cyberangel image in Rembrandt's studio is on the cover of Mel Alexenberg's latest book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media. See praise for the book at Israel365.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Cyberangels Go Up From Israel and Go Down Throughout the World

“Jacob had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground, its top reaching up towards heaven as Divine angels were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28:12) 

The angels ascend from the Land of Israel and come down throughout the world to transmit spiritual messages to enrich everyday life. Rembrandt’s etching of angels on Jacob’s ladder illustrated a book exploring biblical thought by his friend and neighbor Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel. 

Cyberangels begin their flight to museums around the globe from the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem that exhibits ancient Bible scrolls.  They gain momentum by continuing their flight from the tallest building in Israel, Tel Aviv’s 85 story Azrieli Sarona Tower, home of Facebook’s R&D Center, until construction is completed for the 91 story Azrieli Tower with the shape of a Bible scroll.

Midwest Museum of American Art, Elkhart, Indiana: Digital Rembrandt

This is the first response received to the invitation to participate in the Global Tribute to Rembrandt.

Each participating museum will have a designated blog post that will be updated as photos of museum facade and museum food are linked by cyberangels flying between them ready to ascend from the Land of Israel on a digital flight back to the museum. 

Those museums that have a"Digitized Homage to Rembrandt" serigraph, lithograph, or etching by Mel Alexenberg in their collections can make them come to life after lying dormant in storage for decades by juxtaposing it with composite images created in today’s language of smartphones and social media.

These artworks created in the 1980's were acknowledged as pioneering exemplars of computer-generated printmaking. In 1987, Gary Kulik, Chairman of the Department of Social & Cultural History at the Smithsonian wrote: "It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge, on behalf of the National Museum of American History, the receipt of 'Digitized Homage to Rembrandt: Day Angels.'  This Lithograph from a computer-generated image is a most valuable addition to our collection."  

Perhaps there is spiritual significance that museums that offer art also offer food.  

Below is correspondence from Brian D. Byrn, Director of Midwest Museum of American Art, in 2019 and 1986.

July 3, 2019. It is good to know you are actively working and reaching new heights of technological acclaim. I remember when you donated the work in 1986. It was a groundbreaking moment since it was the first computer-generated image acquired by MMAA. I have been Curator for 38 years and was recently appointed Director in 2017.

Your artwork is listed in our permanent collection as:
 ALEXENBERG, Mel, (b. 1937- ),“Digitized Homage to Rembrandt: Day Angels”, 1986, computer generated lithograph, (86.36.00), Gift of Pratt Graphics Center, Brooklyn, NY

I will take time and study all the materials you have sent more closely. In the meantime I have attached some images of MMAA. We do not have a cafeteria on site but we do sponsor some amazing catered receptions for members. You can see more of our activities at our website: www.MidwestMuseum.US. You can also see us on Instagram and Facebook.

It was really good to hear from you. Brian D. Byrn, Director of MMAA

December 12, 1986. Thank you for your interest in our collection. Your lithograph will be a welcome addition to our growing contemporary print collection.  I look forward to further information on the “High Tech/High Touch” exhibition in the future. Enclosed please find a gift agreement for the donation of "Digitized Homage to Rembrandt: Day Angels." By our records, we received the gift as of November 13,1986.

Sincerely, Brian D. Byrn, Curator of Exhibitions/Education

"Digitized Homage to Rembrandt: Day Angels" serigraph by Mel Alexenberg, 1986

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Rembrandt Inspired Cyberangels Circle the Globe via AT&T Satellites

Working with Rembrandt’s angels, reminded me of the small etching he had made as a book illustration showing angels going up and down the ladder in Jacob’s dream.  It was in the only book he had illustrated, Piedra Gloriosa/Even Yakar (Glorious Stone in Spanish and Hebrew), a book written by his friend, Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel.  

I wanted to do something to honor Rembrandt.  On October 4, 1989, it would be the 320th anniversary of his death.  Jewish tradition honors people on the day they complete their lives rather than on their birthdays.  It’s like applauding after seeing a great play instead of when the curtain opens.  It dawned on me that I could applaud Rembrandt best by having his winged angels wing their way around the world.

Cyberangels ascending from AT&T Building in New York

I phoned AT&T.  I asked if I could use their telecommunications satellites to send a cyberangel on a circumglobal flight.  “You have what to send around the globe?” was the usual response as I was transferred from office to office.  Incredulity was turned to interest when I reached the director of the Infoquest Center, AT&T’s technology museum on the ground floor of their postmodern building designed by Philip Johnson.  I took a clangorous subway train across the Manhattan Bridge to present my proposal.  The public relations people liked the idea and AT&T agreed to sponsor my memorial faxart event.

I flew to Amsterdam to meet with Eva Orenstein-van Slooten, Curator of Museum het Rembrandthuis, the artist’s home and studio.  With trepidation, I proposed having a fax machine placed on Rembrandt’s 350-year-old etching press to receive the angel that would fly there from New York.  She thought it was a wonderful idea.  It would make her museum, a quiet place, come alive as Rembrandt’s angel rematerialized in the place he had originally created it. 

Artist Mel Alexenberg receiving cyberangel on  Rembrandt's etching press in his studio 

On the morning of October 4, 1989, his angel ascended from the Chippendale top of the AT&T building in New York.  It flew to Amsterdam to Jerusalem to Tokyo to Los Angeles, returning to the former New Amsterdam on the same afternoon.  It took an hour in each city to receive 28 pages of angel fragments and fax them on to the next city.  After a five-hour flight around the planet, the deconstructed angel was reconstructed for the fifth time at its starting point.

Mel Alexenberg preparing to send cyberangel on circumglobal flight from AT&T building
When it passed through Tokyo, it was the already the morning of October 5th.  After the line printed out on the top of the fax “Tokyo National University of Arts and Music, 5 October 1989” was the line “Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 4 October 1989.”  Cyberangels can not only fly around the globe, they can fly into tomorrow and back into yesterday.  They reshape our concepts of time and space in ways that correspond to the vision of kabbalists centuries ago.

The cyberangel was received at Rembrandt’s house seconds after it left New York.  It came as 28 sheets, each with an abstract fragment of the angel image.  Ms. van Slooten feed the sheets back into the fax machine on Rembrandt’s etching press and dialed the fax number of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  She then assembled all the fragments into a whole 4 x 6 foot angel.

Jerusalem was the appropriate next stop since it is an angel from a biblical scene.  It was evening when the cyberangel arrived.  Amalyah Zipkin, Curator of European Art at the Israel Museum, sent me a description of the angel coming and going.  She wrote:
“There is something appropriate in the illogic of the event: here we were in Jerusalem, the Holy City of 4000 years of turbulent history, huddled next to a fax machine in the mail room of the Israel Museum.  It was a few days before Yom Kippur.  Somewhere out there in technological space, a disembodied angel – computerized, digitized, enlarged, quartered, and faxed – was winging its way towards us from Amsterdam.  This angel had been drawn in the 17th century by a Dutch artist with the instantly-recognizable mass-media name of Rembrandt van Rijn, and had undergone its electronic dematerialization 320 year after the artist’s death as the hands of a New York artist and technology freak who had the audacity to make the connections: Rembrandt, the Bible, gematria, the electronic age, global communications, the art world, and the fax machine.  Like magic, at the appointed hour the fax machine zapped to life and bits of angel began to materialize in Jerusalem.  Photographs and the attendant PR requirements of contemporary life were seen to, and the pages were carefully fed back into the machine. We punched in the Tokyo phone number and the angel took technological flight once more.”

Cyberangel in Tokyo, Japan

It was almost dawn on October 5th when the angel arrived in Tokyo in the Land of the Rising Sun where fax machines are made.  Ikuro Choh of Tokyo National University of Arts and Music received the angel and revealed its full image by assembling the 28 sheets on the ground among the ancient pillars in Ueno Park.  He then disassembled them and attached all the sheets end-to-end in a long ribbon ascending the stairs and entering into a centuries-old religious shrine built in traditional pagoda style.  The old Tokyo site was selected to carry a spiritual message of electronic age homage to tradition.  Ikuro Choh laments, “not only in Tokyo but everywhere in Japan, the traditional and the old are being destroyed at a ferocious speed, making the culture of paper, wood and bamboo evaporate like a mist, allowing the ugly demons of concrete to appear in its wake.”  With the sun rising over Japan to begin a new day, the faxart angel rose over the Pacific Ocean to fly into yesterday.  It arrived in the City of the Angels at 2:40 p.m. on October 4th.  The angel came together once again at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles on the day before it had visited Tokyo.

Cyberangel returning to New York featured in AT&T Annual Report

The cyberangel returned to New York five hours after it had left.  It had entered tomorrow before flying forward into yesterday.  Camera crews for all the major television networks welcomed the cyberangel’s return from its circumglobal flight.  It was broadcast on the national news from New York that evening.  After having flown around the world, the cyberangel simultaneously visited millions of homes across North America.  Associated Press covered the faxart event, too, sending the angel image and story over its wire services.  Sixty newspapers carried the AP story, each with a different headline.  It even made the front page in Billings (Montana), Marion (Ohio), and Selby (North Carolina).  AT&T made it the feature of their annual report.  They distributed three million copies showing me, a gray-bearded Jewish artist, welcoming the cyberangel on it return from its high tech flight around our planet.

Lucy Lippard’s words in Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America best summarizes the postmodern concept behind the computer angel story: “I am interested in cultural dissimilarities and the light they shed on the fundamental human similarities,” as well as “art that combines a pride in roots with an explorer’s view of the world as it is shared by others.”

Text above is from Prof. Mel Alexenberg's book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press).
See more photos of the event at  

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