As part of Central Synagogue’s ‘Get Inspired. Get Connected. Get Shabbat’ initiative, the Synagogue has opened its sanctuary to a new site-specific installation, Where Lines Converge, created by Brooklyn-based artist Nell Breyer. The temporary installation adds a new, visual dimension to a place of prayer, offering a unique opportunity for individual, communal, and spiritual reflection.
Below, hear more about the artwork in the artists’ own words, in conversation with Central’s own Rabbi Sarah Berman
About the artwork ~ Nell Breyer: Where Lines Converge, 2022; String, brass ~ is a site-specific installation created for the Central Synagogue sanctuary. Plumbed lines of string delineate the soaring verticality of the space and appear to converge towards a vanishing point in the sky beyond the visible confines of the deep blue expanse of ceiling.
The piece offers a choreographic score through which members can experience the sanctuary space anew. The anchored lines of string measure the true vertical of the space along the building’s central axis. The lines are anchored by symmetrical, brass plumb-bobs: an ancient instrument of human measurement used, since the Babylonians, for architectural construction of a perfect vertical, marking an imaginary line that runs straight to the center of the earth.
The anchored lines remain distinctive human acts of measurement while collectively building a choral gesture that invites viewers to consider the enormity of activity overhead – the vibrations, light, color, air, temperatures, sounds, matter, and movements – within the space and beyond it.
The piece draws upon iconic choreographic works for public spaces, such as Trisha Brown’s “Man Walking Down the Side of a Building” (1970) and Elizabeth Streb’s “One Extraordinary Day” (2012); as well as minimalist and conceptualist ideas from artists such as Fred Sandback, who noted, of his own work, “A line of string isn’t a line. It’s a thing….It’s not a demonstration of an idea. It’s an actuality.” Where Lines Converge also points towards contemporary and culturally-consumed images of cosmic time and interstellar space, such as those vividly depicted in the “Pillars of Creation” – a photograph originally taken by the Hubble Space Telescope (1995) and reseen by the Herschel Space Observatory (2011) and the James Webb Telescope (2022) capturing a site of interstellar gas and dust activity that is in the process of creating new stars whilst simultaneously eroding into eventual destruction.
*  Draft notes from the artist are intended for the exhibition catalog published by the Kunstraum, Munich, in 1975. First published in Fred Sandback. New York: Zwirner & Wirth, Lawrence Markey, 2004.
“As the oldest synagogue in New York City in continuous use, it is thrilling to see a place with such a deep and rich history like our Sanctuary come to life in a new way with this installation. Nell’s installation has changed the way we see and move around our synagogue,” said Rabbi Sarah Berman, Director of Adult Education and curatorial lead for Central Synagogue. “Like the pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites through the desert, these columns of string give us new focus and help redefine our relationship to the space, to one another, and to the Divine. We unveiled the work as part of our Get Inspired. Get Connected. Get Shabbat. year of programming, as it represents a physical manifestation of how we can find inspiration in a shift of perspective.”
Public visiting hours are Wednesdays from 12:30 to 2:00 pm, and during Shabbat services on Fridays, 5:30 ~ 7:30pm until June 2023.
About Central Synagogue ~ Central Synagogue a thriving Reform congregation in Midtown Manhattan, that works toward a world in which Judaism is central to our lives and is a profound and positive force for humanity. As an inclusive and welcoming community, Central encourages participation from all who seek a connection to Jewish life and want to be part of our sacred community regardless of religious background, race, ethnicity, gender, ability, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Built in 1870-1872, it was designed by Henry Fernbach in the Moorish Revival style as a copy of Budapest’s Dohány Street Synagogue. Fernbach was known as New York’s first prominent Jewish architect. In 1966, Central Synagogue was named as a New York City Landmark, and in 1975 it was named a National Historic Landmark.
About the Artist ~ Based in Brooklyn, Nell Breyer is an artist who works at the intersection of media, movement, and the public domain. Her work has been showcased in public spaces, art institutes and galleries internationally and in the United States, including the Museo del’arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto in Italy, Sadlers Wells in the United Kingdom, Cankarjev Dom in Slovenia, The Bangladesh National Museum in Bangladesh, The National Academy of Arts & Sciences, and more.
Take a look-back at Nell Breyer’s 2022 exhibition entitled ‘The Infinite Land of a Thousand Dances’ in the Kaufman Arcade Building, NYC.
Follow the artist on Instagram.