- April 23, 2012
"American conceptual artist Aylon was raised in Orthodox Jewish Borough Park, Brooklyn, the first girl born into a loving family who would have preferred a boy. In this richly evocative, captivating, and reflective memoir, Aylon describes her personal and professional evolution from her insular and traditional upbringing to living as an artist in Manhattan’s Westbeth artists’ residence and later in Northern California. Aylon’s writing is refreshingly energetic and conversational, vividly evoking the daily life of her childhood and the frequent conflicts she felt between her identity as a mother and daughter in Brooklyn and her emerging artistic identity in Manhattan. Her evolution into a thriving feminist artist and boldly experimental professor of art in 1970s and ’80s-era San Francisco demonstrates an inspiring reflectiveness, sense of self, and self-confidence. Most fascinating is this Jewish feminist’s creative integration of faith and culture into her art and how deeply her religious training informed and complicated her art and life. The inclusion of rare, evocative personal photographs and documents complete this revealing portrait, making it of great interest to anyone interested in Judaism’s intersections with art and feminism."
- July 13, 2012
"Aylon occupies a unique, sometimes uneasy place in the spectrums of Jewish art and feminism. She is more organic and less overtly political than other feminist artists, even as her work is more specifically Jewish and knowledgeable than that of most Jewish artists. She is not a maker of shtetl sentimentality, of wistful Shabbos scenes or reverential rebbe portraits. But her gaze is loving even when it is angry. This is what makes Aylon a compelling artist, and her memoir worth reading: Her ability to show the ways in which Judaism has controlled and confined her, as it has all Jewish women. And yet, to love it all the same." --Deborah Nussbaum-Cohen
- Summer 2012
"Artist, humanist, activist, Jewish feminist - Aylon likes to shake things up. And she does." --Judith Sokoloff
- Summer 2012
"An artist opens up." --Judy Batalion
- Fall 2012
"Helene Aylon, a visual artist whose work I came to know when we were fellows together at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, has influenced my work in many ways. Her process fascinates me. She is not afraid to deal with political and ecological themes, or to change the path her art takes. She is technically rigorous, yet continuously experimental." --Jane Ciabattari, book critic, LA Times
Published in The Literarian magazine issue Fall 2012
- October 5, 2012
"Aylon’s work is internationally recognized and has been featured in museums all over the world, from the Whitney
Museum of American Art in New York to the Jewish Museum of Australia. She has worked as a consultant for the HBI, in
addition to exhibiting her work (My Notebooks, 2010) in its gallery and receiving HBI support for All Rise (2010), an
installation at the Jewish Museum in New York that resembles a courtroom, highlighting the absence of women in the
"Despite such critiques, her deep passion for Judaism is evident. 'I, myself, I love Judaism, and I’m staying in it because
the rituals that are so important to me were all created by women. The lighting of the candles wasn’t written in the Five
Books of Moses, but it’s a major part of feeling Jewish for me,' she said.
"While Aylon shows no signs of slowing down at the age of 81, she often thinks about the newest generation of Jewish,
female artists. 'They will have to continue with the topics I started to address, but they will still contend with new
challenges,' she said. 'It’s also important that they understand what feminists have struggled for, because those are
--Article by Melissa Wolfish
Jewish Women's Archive
- October 11, 2012
"What I have yet to convey is Helène’s talent as a writer. She is an artist who knows how to write about
her work, and she’s a woman who knows how to write about life—with beauty, meaning, humor." --Gabrielle Orcha
Dr. Andrew Hottle
- November 14, 2012
"Ultimately, this is more than an autobiography. It is a testament to the author's mother and, more broadly, to her foremothers, without whom she could not have arrived in this time and place. In her pioneering feminism, bold challenges to tradition, and inspired memoir, Helène Aylon has honored those foremothers. She has also given us something extraordinary."
The Huffington Post
- December 18, 2012
"Aylon became a major driving force behind Jewish feminism. Sharing images from her Wrestlers series at her book reading, Aylon points out that these large-scale landscape photographs resembling the female anatomy, if looked at closely, reveal a minuscule figure (herself) scraping around in the sand of the desert, in quest of the unnamed matriarchs of the Bible. Aylon's work casts the foundational imprint of Jewish feminist art, one that echoes throughout Matronita and beyond. It is the quest of the elusive Jewish female, in quest of herself." --Sarah Lehat
The Jewish News of Sarasota-Manatee
- February 2013
"Seeking to reconcile Judaism and feminism through art" --Philip K. Jason
Also published in the Federation-Star and L'Chayim, published by the Jewish Foundations of Collier County and Lee/Charlotte Counties, Florida
TriQuarterly - Northwestern University
- May 13, 2013
I found Whatever Is Contained Must Be Released while browsing in a feminist bookstore in Chicago and have since been unable to put it down. It is a memoir by a visual artist that is a mixture of art, literature, and political manifesto, and it is unlike any book of contemporary nonfiction I have read in recent years. -Aviya Kushner
Woman's Art Journal
- November 2013
"Filled with humor and personal anecdotes, this unique autobiography communicates the struggle to reconcile Jewish tradition with feminism." --Stacy E. Schultz
WORKS FROM THE 70's
"Paintings With No Dominant School"
San Francisco Chronicle
- Thomas Albright July 24, 1975
"The most interesting of them, to my taste, is Helène Aylon, who, like many current artists, is into Process, but without
abandoning the traditional art "object." Aylon makes big objects of paper under plexiglas: behind the paper are globules and
rivulets of oil which stain and bleed through it so that the forms it creates undergo a slow, but continual change. These are by
no means entirely accidental works--each develops from a spare formal structure--a line, a shaggy spot in one of the corners--which
sometimes recalls the airy calligraphy of Motherwell, sometimes the raw, organic grandeur of Clyfford Still. As the forms expand,
grow and metamorphosize in response to the grain of the paper, to air bubbles and other physical forces, they crackle, form
rivulets, pockets and other shapes that suggest the face of the earth as it is altered by geological activity. The entire
performance beautifully combines strength with subtlety."
Paintings That Change
Catalogue for Susan Caldwell / Betty Parsons Galleries
Lawrence Alloway, 1975
"The dates given to paintings usually signify their termination, but this is not the case with Helène Aylon's new work.
The date on one of these paintings is like a birth-date, a starting point. She initiates a process, one that continues long
after she is in physical contact with the work. The term process is not new to art of course; one familiar use of the term is
in reference to a gestural artist like Jackson Pollock whose open-textured paintings record a route of the creative process in
making each work. However when Pollock concluded the picture remained as he left it; the furor was arrested at a definite point.
His technique was an extension of the aesthetic of drawing on the scale of major painting. Aylon on the contrary uses process as
an active factor in the formation of the works themselves. It is a passage of continuous change within the work itself. The
rate of change is gradual; my experience is to have seen that one has changed, but not to have seen it occur. The slowness of
the paintings change rather than the fact of their change is the crucial factor. They engage us in contemplation not analysis,
expectation not description."
Whitney Museum/American Century Show
Chrissie Iles, 2000
"Your impressive videotape, which shows the process of the Breaking
series, becomes about the very nature of process and making.
It will resonate strongly with the work of Mendieta and Wilke."
Seven Poems/Poetry Review - Jean Valentine
"I saw my soul become flesh
the linseed oil breaking over the paper
no one to catch it
my life breaking open
no one to contain it
pelvis thinning out into God"
"Paintings in Process"
- Joanne Dickson 1976
"Nature is measured by growth and change; Aylon's paintings are a lyrical metaphor for nature. The works are elusive and evocative,
Wind, rain, geological upheaval, germinating ponds--all are suggested. Kinesthetic energy choreographs the paintings; lines and
creases give a heightened sense of life's energy. Each state may be viewed and appraised independently, as movement is imperceptible.
Latent images emerge over the course of several months."
"Four Women Artists"
San Francisco - Knute Stiles 1981
"But with Aylon, process is the whole message, and finally she dared to make a whole picture in which she would really cooperate with
nature and with chance, and made this set of paintings which her action on the process was so minimal as to be almost non-existent. I
think she is right. The whole picture is luminously beautiful."
"Helène Aylon at Grapestake"
Art in America
- Knute Stiles - Mar-Apr, 1979
"Aylon, in allowing her work to gestate for long periods of time without interference, is engaged in a patient kind of cooperation
with nature. The influence of Ad Reinhardt, her teacher at Brooklyn College, is clearly evident in the quasi-mystical attitudes here,
and his interest in Zen seems to have reinforced her earlier experiences in her own Jewish tradition. There are also obvious parallels
to the processes of pregnancy and birth, both in the inevitability of the time span involved and the oceanic character of the materials
and imagery. When viewed as a single entity, these works have a portentous quality that ends by seeming almost metaphysical, even to
a cautious observer."
"Formations" at Grapestake Gallery
- Mary Stofflet-Santiago - Oct 14, 1978
"...there is a large puddle of oil which forms a sac with a skin. When the work is lifted, the sac breaks, leaving remnants of its
crusted edge in a curvilinear shape and the recently liberated, fluid oil to spread out from the sac/nucleus. In this sense, the
sac approaches the function of an ovisac, or egg-containing capsule, since it is the container from which all subsequent changes
"When Nature Takes its Course"
The Village Voice
- Apr Kingsley Apr 2, 1979
"When Pollock swung out on it, (relying on chance) he retained a good deal of control... Helène Aylon removes herself from
the work to prove 'there is something there by itself, of itself.' The artist is a catalyst; the materials react according to their
own laws...which she and her audience step back to observe. ...her Breakings
are vertical, and look like gargantuan torsos of
Mother Earth. The oil having spilled out of a centralized entrapment, leaving tattered remnants of skin in its downward path, these
paintings are metaphors for birth. The oil she poured onto these on March 10 is drying, forming a skin over itself and will gush out
of the fragile sacs that are momentarily formed when the panels are lifted on April 10."
The New York Times
- Roberta Smith July 30, 1999
"There are interesting cross generational echoes, for example, between the made-by-gravity paintings of Helène Aylon and Byron
Kim, executed 30 years apart."
- Andy Brumer Mar 14, 1981
"Aylon's three pieces are products of a performance titled Performance:
interim: Performance for which the artist poured a straight line of linseed oil onto large pieces of heavy brown butcher paper laid
out on the floor. As months passed, a skin-like layer formed which when pricked, reformed and dried into scars. The dialogue between
containment and release, relinquishment and control... are all given shape in this interesting multidimensional work. The resulting
images are highly suggestive of the human form, particularly of the torso and pelvic areas...The images themselves seem capable of
giving birth just as they were brought to life through the artist's creative process."
"Helène Aylon at Betty Parsons"
- Allen Ellenzweig Nov 1975
"Helène Aylon gives us paintings in flux, evolving at the slow, unobservable pace shared by the coastlines...The temptation to
compare Aylon's paintings to earthworks is irresistible, for though she paints in oil, Aylon has devised a process that yields temporal
"...Chance and a limited control combine to reveal a corpus that is part product, all process, and in tune with our present need to
make contact with elemental forces."
WORKS FROM THE 80's
"From Oil To Sand: Helène Aylon The Making Of A Political Artist"
- Suzaan Boettger 1980
"While she first received critical acclaim in New York for her poured-oil investigations of painterly process, she speaks of making
art as if bearing children. The imagery of veined patterns of spreading oil, bulbous organic shapes and membrane sacs of "skin"
forming over the oil is rich and fecund."
two sacs en route
Cee Scott Brown (Director, Art Matters / Sony Jumbotron) Berkeley Museum brochure 1995
"Challenging to the senses--visually stimulating, thought provoking and often dealing with politically sensitive subject matter.
Her work is representative of the risk taking forms of expression that Art Matters has supported over the past decade."
Moira Roth - "Connecting Conversations" (Book, 1986)
"For over two decades, Helène Aylon has been a counter-voice, a clairvoyant yet often rejected voice in both the Bay Area
and the New York City art worlds. She has been known as a process painter but has evolved into a ceremonial performance artist.
Her most recent pieces directly confront and revere the earth itself and bring together women from warring nations. In the finale
of a seven-year itinerary she went to Japan and collected dreams from survivors of the atomic bomb, written on their own pillowcases.
Students from Seika College in Kyoto placed miniscule resuscitative ingredients (for example, one seed, one kernel of rice) into two
which were then floated down rivers to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where they were filled with the sands of those
shores. Aylon has used the metaphor of the sac since 1978."
"Bridge of Knots"
Lawrence Rinder (former curator of the Berkeley Museum) Museum Newsletter 1995
"Aylon's pillowcase project has come to symbolize for many the communal, feminist ideals that developed within the anti-nuclear
movement. The museum is pleased to welcome this work back to Berkeley, its place of origin, and let it eloquently speak to the
tragic legacy of nuclear weapons and to the ongoing threat of their proliferation."
"Helène Aylon at the University Art Museum"
Peter Selz - Art in America
"Not only was the University of California at Berkeley a center of the anti-war movement in the '60s and '70s, but it was more
recently the bailiwick of I. Michael Heyman, who served as chancellor at the university for a decade, leaving in 1990 to become
the new secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. It was Heyman who capitulated to right-wing pressure and agreed to bowdlerize
the National Air and Space Museum's Enola Gay exhibition, which was to have been a scholarly reassessment of the use of the bomb.
Heyman is also reported to have obtained the resignation of the museum's director, Martin Harwitt. It seems proper, somehow,
that an art event questioning the morality of the 1945 devastations should take place at Heyman's former campus."
"Magic Ambulance Seeks End to
Benjamin Genocchio - New York Times
Jan 15, 2006
"...it now seems prescient and urgent. It is, you see, about saving the planet from warfare."
There are artists who seem to harbor a strain of cockeyed optimism. This has spawned, over the years, everything from Thomas
More's "Utopia" (1516) to John Lennon's 'Imagine' (1971).
"...Ms. Aylon may be counted among their number.
"...after weeks of very troubling newspaper headlines, it struck me that it might be time for the Earth Ambulance
back on the road."
Rules of Engagement"
Michael O-Sullivan - The Washington Post
Apr 28, 2006
"Approaching American University's Katzen Arts Center from nearby Ward Circle, visitors are met with the sight of ropes of
knotted pillowcases hanging from the building's exterior walls like the remnants of a recent prison break. Or maybe the aftermath
of a fire, from which the Katzen's occupants have barely managed to escape. But what metaphorical conflagration, or confinement,
awaits those who venture inside to see the American University Museum's latest exhibition, "Visual Politics: The Art of
Engagement," of which Helene Aylon's "Bridge of Knots II" is merely the most public part (as well as a tangible symbol of hope
"...It is worth noting that Aylon's poetic installation is made up of bed linens, in an evocation of dreams (in this case, of a
better world). It is also worth noting that -- after a reporter commented on how the length of Aylon's makeshift ladders did not
reach the ground, suggesting perhaps more despair than hope, or the impossibility of escape from the world's ills -- the artist
came back and retied them. They now hang slightly looser, and longer, hinting that there may, in fact, be a way out."
WORKS FROM THE 90's
"Yaddo Writers on Yaddo Artists"
Cullen Murphy (editor of Vanity Fair,
on Helène Aylon: The Book That Will Not Close
video, The Liberation of G-D
Hyde Collection Museum 2000
"One of my most stirring memories of Yaddo is that of a peaceable and spectral presence which could glide across ones field of
vision at any time. It might be at a moment of purple dusk, the figure emerging silently from the pines into a clearing, and
then entering the pines again. It might be on a bright morning after a fresh snow, the moving figure in dark raiment offering
a focus of relief against the glare. The figure is a woman, always clad in a flowing gown, her hair entwined in a woven wrap,
her face composed into serenity.
"This is Helène Aylon. I did not know it at first, but on those expeditions among Yaddo's trails Helène had been
collecting pine cones and cattails, oak leaves and wisteria pods and other fallen icons of the natural world, which she was
fashioning into a series of translucent panels as part of a work called Transparencies.
The effect was both humbling
and joyous. On a sunny afternoon Helène set the tall frames covered in tight muslin against the windows of her studio,
the light streaming through the delicate artifacts inside, one type of artifact to a panel. Helène's simple panels
transformed an ordinary workspace into a place of the spirit.
"Helène Aylon's The G-D Project,
an elaborate series of installations, only a
small sample of which can be shown here, is in some ways vastly different from Transparencies
but in one way profoundly
of a piece with it: in each case Aylon demonstrates the transforming power of a simple, honest act.
In The G-D Project
it is the act of highlighting-on parchment overlays, in delicate
pink-injunctions from the Five Books of Moses that give offense to the ideals of non-violence and of gender equality. 'In pain
you shall bring forth children.' 'You shall not covet your neighbor's wife...or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your
neighbor's.' The roots of Aylon's biography lie in Orthodox Judaism, and Aylon has struggled to come to terms with her
background. The path of angry rejection is, emphatically, not Aylon's way. By highlighting the many offending passages on
translucent sheets, she deliberately avoids doing violence to, or even altering, the original text. The gentle squeak of the
highlighting--the sound itself--becomes a relentlessly insistent Midrash. The pieces of parchment inserted between the pages of
text ensure that, as a simple physical matter, each book must remain open--just as each remains 'open' for purposes of
interpretation, commentary, and criticism.
"Aylon's G-D Project
occupies a place between 'too respectful' and 'not respectful
enough.' It is an uncomfortable place but also a place with integrity, and a place where many of those who think about Aylon's
work also find themselves."
Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, (creator of the PBS television series "Genesis" with Bill Moyers, and co-curator of The Liberation
"Helène Aylon has given us pearls of the purest pink...providing the first layer of what shall become a future feminist
Midrash. She casts a veneer of pink, a lens to (re)view the Sacred Text. She forces our engagement with the text, a physical
interaction that leaves our senses imbued with the sounds of Sinai...Writing about classical Midrash, the late Shalom Spiegel
explained, Just as a pearl results from a stimulus in the shell of a mollusk, so also a legend may arise from an irritant in
Norman Kleeblat (Curator, The Jewish Museum, New York) Catalog 1996, re:
The Liberation of G-D
"Like other feminist artists who insert themselves either through image (Cindy Sherman) or text (Jenny Holzer) into
representations of male authority, Aylon posits feminist concerns onto the ur-text of the Judeo-Christian tradition. [Yet]
within the realm of conceptual art, which has to date dealt with the intersection of art with science, knowledge, data or
philosophy, The Liberation of G-
D is, to my knowledge, the first conceptual piece to deal
with the intersection of art and religion."
Robert Berlind - Art in America
"The interplay of performance, documentation and installation in these works calls to mind artists as various as Hanne Darboven,
Hannah Wilke and Ann Hamilton. The use of text, interactivity and social activism connects Aylon to Suzanne Lacy, Mierle Ukeles
and Adrian Piper. The conflation of activist commitment, deep personal feeling and theological erudition makes
her G-D Project
persuasive and rewarding on all levels--that and her being an artist of
extraordinary instincts and perseverance."
Leslie Camhi - Village Voice
Apr 2, 1996
"Helène Aylon's monumental installation, The Liberation of G-D,
reaches a level
of spiritual sublimity....It's a poignant and powerful image of someone haunted by a tradition that would exclude her, and of the
ephemeral, infinite process of reading the Book of Life."
Christopher Knight - Los Angeles
Times Feb 4, 1997
"What sets her work apart from most critique-driven others...is its simultaneous embrace of worldly experience and tradition. In
the halls of Hammer's museum, Aylon's extemporaneous Midrash both passionate and respectful, made for the show's strongest and
most eloquent image."
WORKS FROM THE 90's-00's
"A Feminist's Conflict of Faith"
Jessica Dawson - Washington Post
Aug 23, 2001
re: My Bridal Chamber
"Aylon's use of art to examine the Jewish faith puts her in league with Jewish video artist Shimon Attie; her feminist spin places
her in a sisterhood of great women artists - from Carolee Schneeman...to sculptors Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith.
"...Perhaps it's her long simmering passions that give this simple installation its steely insistence. Hers is a quietly outspoken
artistry confronting what Aylon sees as deep rooted misogyny. Spend just a few minutes in the exhibition and the works dig right
...While Aylon's piece is ostensibly about Judaism, gentiles like me get it too. It speaks to any woman who has known oppression at
the hands of men - within her family or society at large.
"But perhaps the ultimate power of Aylon's art derives not from religion itself but from Aylon's relationship to it. Her work comes
from a personal and deeply felt double bind: Here she speaks out against the very beliefs she still holds dear even as they infuriate
"Of Cycles and Scriptures"
Dinitia Smith - New York Times
July 19, 2001
"The bed sits in the semi-dark in the Ann Loeb Bronfman gallery at the District of Columbia Jewish center, it is illuminated by a
spotlight and covered with a white handkerchiefs. Behind it is a Hebrew-English calendar, about 24 feet long and 5 feet high, that
chronicles the time from the wedding day of the artist, Helène Aylon, to the date her husband, Mandel Fisch, died, Feb. 15,
1961. The 12 days when her husband was near death and she couldn't have contact with him because she was impure are covered with
cloth. Three days before he died, her impurity ended. Only then could she embrace him. 'Five Days, Seven days,' Ms. Aylon chants
in the recorded sound track in the background."
"A Jewish Stitch in Time - Provocative Textiles"
Richard McBee - The Jewish Press
October 20, 2010
"Among the 40 artists represented some stand out with their conceptual urgency. Helene Aylon's The Foremother's Challah Cover struck with an uncommon force. A text is simply embroidered on linen in a passion that molds the Shabbos with the everyday work of women's hands:
"... Perhaps she braided
Her hair in the morning
Like she braided the havdala candle
For the end of the Sabbath
And surely she braided the dough
On Friday before
She put the dough in the oven
And when she laid the cover
Over the twin challas (as a mother gently covers her babes in the night)
I say she was the first to say
Who bringest forth bread from the earth."
The fabric is carefully embroidered with a deeply sensitive text, much as the braiding of hair, candle and dough impose an elaboration upon a primal element, a simple substance made wonderfully complex and beautiful by the work of an aishes chayil."
"At the Warhol, an artist delves into the patriarchal limits of the Torah"
Savannah Schroll Guz - Pittsburgh City Paper
May 26, 2011
"Ultimately, Aylon's examination does not challenge the sacred, but seeks to rescue it from imperfect human understanding and profane encumbrances. Such re-evaluation suggests the possibility of overcoming ingrained, text-perpetuated intolerances. And this unstated but praiseworthy objective fulfills the Warhol series' mission beautifully."
Full Text of Article
"Art Review: 'Rescuing God' Installation"
Mary Thomas - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
June 22, 2011
"After considerable thought, Ms. Aylon came to the realization that it was not God’s
voice that was exclusionary, misogynistic, militaristic -- but man’s interpretation over
time of that voice.
She saved the religion. But she challenged the patriarchy that she believes sullies it."
Full Text of Article
Article by Margaret Olin, Yale Review, featured in early 2012
IMAGES: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture
Included in The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization -
Volume Ten: 1973 - 2005. Spiritual and Religious Culture, page 1056
Edited by Deborah Dash Moore and Nurith Gertz
Published 2012 by The Posen Foundation and Yale University Press