WE ASKED CURATORS OF LEADING TWENTIETH-CENTURY AND CONTEMPORARY DESIGN COLLECTIONS TO DISCUSS ONE OBJECT THAT THEY FEEL IS PARTICULARLY NOTEWORTHY. HERE IS A GALLERY OF THEIR CHOICES.
In the biblical story of Exodus the prophetess Miriam is often associated with water. She placed her baby brother, Moses, in a basket in the Nile River to save his life, celebrated the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea by playing her timbrel, and provided her people with water from a miraculous well that followed her throughout their long desert sojourn. In the 1970s a group of women decided to create a ceremony to honor Miriam at the Passover seder. A new ritual object was soon envisioned—the Miriam Cup. Appropriately filled with water, it would be placed at the seder table, complementing the cup of wine traditionally set for Elijah.
Architect and designer Amy Klein Reichert created this work for a groundbreaking 1997 invitational exhibition of Miriam Cups by women artists. Exploring her own spiritual connection to Miriam, the artist conceived a ritual object that is both beautifully crafted and highly poetic. While its form is thoroughly new and contemporary, the sounds emitted by its cymbals as the cup is lifted are reminiscent of an ancient past. In Reichert’s words: “What are the sounds of freedom? The wind rustling through grasses, the murmuring of exiles, desert sounds, a joyous song with a tambourine. Miriam’s cup is a restless vessel, like her ancient well accompanying the people of Israel along their journey. It is heard as well as seen, its cymbals dancing in response to the slightest vibration of the table.”
CLAUDIA J. NAHSON
Morris and Eva Feld Curator
Jewish Museum, New York