Emotions were running high yesterday in the Museum at Eldridge Street, as the beautiful new stained-glass window designed by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans made a formal debut. The permanent installation marks the end of the epic restoration of the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, after more than two decades.
Executive Director Bonnie Dimun was not the only one shedding a few happy tears while speaking with reporters yesterday (museum founder Roberta Brandes Gratz and Deborah Gans did the same). “The new window is a beautiful symbol of renewal,” Dimun said. “It represents the future by being the only new artistic element in this building.” She also noted it presented a unique opportunity for the museum – “a place where we could bring together contemporary art, architecture, history and of course, preservation.”
According to Smith and Gans’ artist statement, “The new stained-glass window uses the features and motifs of the existing synagogue in a new way so that the mind and eye reflect back on the interior space as they are drawn in to the space of the window.”
Sitting in what was once the women’s gallery for the congregation, which offers the best view of the window, I was struck by the beauty of the shimmering sunlight streaming through hundreds of cracks in the design. The “cracks of light” were created by using silicone to hold the 4,000-pound piece together, instead of traditional black lines of lead. The light continuously changes and reflects from different angles all throughout the day.
There are some final touches still being added (hence the visible scaffolding still behind the window), including a three dimensional center star that will be added to the very middle of the design and a giant storm window to protect the installation.
The Smith-Gans proposal was selected after “extensive and rigorous review” by the Museum’s board in November of 2009. The museum will celebrate with a free public opening on Sunday from 11a – 4p, a benefit honoring Smith and Gans on October 13th and a conversation with the two of them on Nov. 17th.