עמוד הבית
The End of Days
and New Beginnings
     

About the Exhibition
The End of Days
and New Beginnings
Highlights
The Exhibition
Credits
Sixty Seconds of Real Time
 


The End of Days and New Beginnings
Reflections on Art in Israel, 1998–2007
Amitai Mendelsohn

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Your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 3:1)


Any attempt to identify the main directions and influences in Israeli art over the past decade requires a perspective that is simultaneously detached and immediate: an immediate, close look perceives things in real time, near the moment of their creation, while taking the long view makes it possible to consider them from a distance and identify, amid a multitude of works and trends, those that distinguish the art of this decade from what came before.1

On the world scene, the years that saw the turn of a millennium will be remembered, above all, for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq. In Israel, too, the decade that began in 1998 witnessed momentous events: the failure of the Camp David talks, the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Qassam rocket fire on Sderot, disengagement from Gaza, and the Second Lebanon War. Yet very little of the groundbreaking art created in Israel responded directly to these events, either because artists felt powerless to change a harsh reality, or because they chose to adopt a universalist stance in an attempt to rise above the purely local.2 Many works in Real Time express dread of global catastrophe, alongside a yearning for escape to distant borders, real or imagined – to fantastic, mythological worlds; to wild, primordial, or sublime landscapes. And at the same time, the choice is often made in the conscious knowledge that real escape is impossible. Those works that deal with local contexts do so either as if from above, framing the political present in mythical time, or by revealing hidden currents beneath the impassive, self-satisfied surface of Israeli society.

Now that theoreticians and philosophers have declared the “end of ideology” and even the “end of art,”3 artists the world over are grappling with the question of how to confront a complex and multi-layered reality. Many leading artists appear to be engaged not so much by theoretical issues as by art’s connection to idiosyncratic worlds that are often fantastic and even neo-Romantic. They have reinstated a belief in the possibility of spiritual exaltation by visual means, without worrying that this may lead to merely “retinal art.”4 Figurative and narrative art and aesthetic values, once attacked by artists and critics alike, have returned to center stage.5 Nourished by a wide range of influences, artists such as Mariko Mori, Bill Viola, Antony Gormley, Olafur Eliasson, Ron Mueck, and Matthew Barney take their work towards a total, spectacular visual experience, through the use of grand scale, technical sophistication, theatricality, emotion, and religious pathos. In the work of Bill Viola, for example, the result approaches the overwhelming effect intended by such Baroque masters as Caravaggio and Velázquez.6

This worldwide trend has found its way into the work of Israel’s young artists, who keep abreast of what is happening in art centers and are more involved in the international scene than ever before. They take part in international exhibitions, and many of them pursue further studies abroad, exhibit in major cities around the world, and are represented by galleries in these cities. Newly established Israeli galleries are well aware of the latest developments and have adopted new methods, maintaining direct links with art centers abroad and promoting the work of the artists they represent at international exhibitions and fairs, while the older, established galleries have followed suit.7

The renewed preoccupation with producing a powerful visual experience has had an effect on the attitudes of many Israeli artists towards aesthetic qualities in works of art and the visual impression they make.8 The “Want of Matter” trend that was so strongly felt in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, when artworks in crude materials were created with deliberate negligence, became less dominant beginning in the early 1990s. In the work of Nir Hod, Hila Lulu Lin, Gil Shachar, and others, “want of matter” was replaced by a high level of meticulous finish in photography, painting, sculpture, and video art.9 Young artists who became active in the mid-1990s have continued these trends, and have moved on to works on a large scale that create an overpowering experience.

A Beautiful Catastrophe
The beginning of the third millennium was preceded by hope, and by fear. The late 1990s saw Christian fundamentalist expectations of the Second Coming and the Judgment Day, as well as panic about an anticipated technological apocalypse: the millennium, or Y2K, bug. Worldwide processes of environmental change, political strife, and the spread of diseases such as AIDS heightened the sense of dread. Most dramatic and memorable of all, and most symbolic of the threat to the West’s inviolability, was the moment that can be regarded as the true dawning of the third millennium: the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. These cataclysmic processes and events did not fail to leave their mark on art worldwide, Israeli art included.

In September 2000, the exhibition Apocalypse, Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art opened at the Royal Academy in London, focusing the spotlight on the anxiety and sense of impending doom that characterized the end of the twentieth century.10 Among the participating artists were Mariko Mori, Maurizio Cattelan, Mike Kelly, and Jake and Dinos Chapman. All shared a preoccupation with turn-of-the-millennium disaster and fear, but this was not the only thing they had in common. Many of them proposed flamboyant, theatrical portrayals or highly polished works of seductive beauty. Dramatic visual qualities, albeit tempered with irony and amusement, characterized Maurizio Cattelan’s notorious sculpture The Ninth Hour (1999), which shows Pope John Paul II being flattened by a meteor. The works by Mariko Mori offered sensual beauty and a futuristic, enchanted dream world. This combination of doom-laden anxiety, escapism, aesthetic awareness, and visual power was characteristic of other works in the exhibition.

With the collapse of the Twin Towers, a spectacular catastrophe penetrated the inner core of the most sheltered civilization in existence, and, via the television screen, homes throughout the world. Beyond the death and destruction, the reasons for the attack and the consequences it unleashed, there was also the visual dimension: the fearsome “beauty” that riveted viewers to their TV screens and produced some of the most powerful images of the dawn of the millennium. It is hard to think of a more potent event. This may be what the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen meant when he said that the disaster was the greatest work of art ever (a statement which upset so many people that he was forced to apologize). In Welcome to the Desert of the Real, culture critic Slavoj Žižek compared one of the emblematic images from the disaster to “the spectacular shots in catastrophe movies, a special effect which outdid all others.”11

In contrast with the unique enormity of September 11, Israel appears to have been locked for the past decade in a vicious but routine cycle of attack and reprisal. As Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi points out in her essay, 12 this frustrating routine of cyclical time dulls sensibilities and obscures the uniqueness of each event, grave though it may be. But for many young artists, the pattern of disaster is translated into another kind of time: a mythical and prophetic chronology marked by epic moments at which time appears to stop in its natural course. Dread of a global disaster and fears of approaching doom have been expressed in Israeli art in the past,13 but it is only in the last decade that overwhelming apocalyptic spectacles – in keeping with the prevalence of spectacular, all embracing installations at art centers around the world – appear to have entered the Israeli creative arena.

Calamity and a sense of impending doom formed the principal motif in Sigalit Landau’s unforgettable exhibition The Country, which opened in Tel Aviv in the fall of 2002 and was hailed as one of the most powerful installations in the annals of Israeli art. Critic Philip Leider referred to the exhibition – a nightmarish vision of the end of the world as observed from a Tel Aviv rooftop – as “Israel’s Guernica.”14 The Israeli, political dimension of this work was expressed in its title and its components: the pieces of papier-mâché fruit scattered about and carried by the tortured figures were constructed from pages torn from the newspaper Haaretz. (The word ha-aretz means the country, but is used in Hebrew to refer to one country in particular: Israel.) These pages carried constant reports of bad news and violent incidents – notably those of the Second Intifada (these “fruits” began to accumulate on September 28, 2000, the day the Intifada broke out, and continued to pile up over a period of twenty-two months). The total installation immediately drew spectators into a nightmare world, a sick distortion of the idyllic images of the early Zionist period – Nahum Gutman’s citrus groves and Reuven Rubin’s pioneers laden with luscious fruit, symbols of future promise that were the complete antithesis of the toxic blood-soaked fruit in The Country.15 Nevertheless, despite these associations and the immediate political context, Landau’s work seemed to be more concerned with universal issues of destruction and human survival, as its deliberately foreign title – always “The Country” written in English, instead of the Hebrew equivalent – suggests. In this powerful installation the survivors attempt, literally, to pick up the pieces of human existence.16

The three sculptures in Real Time were first presented in The Dining Hall, Sigalit Landau’s recent exhibition in Berlin. (pp. 116-17) 17 There, as in The Country, she dealt with apocalyptic visions and employed the image of poisoned fruit. In The Dining Hall, visitors progressed from a family meal with warmth and cohesiveness to a gluttonousfeast leading to death and devastation. The works seen in Real Time look as though they are made of raw meat; on one of them, a sinewy human figure seems to be sculpting, carving pieces of flesh out of the structure on which it stands. This sculpture recalls Brancusi’s Endless Column, 1938, and its groundbreaking three-dimensional exploration of the sublime; another, in the form of a flower, is reminiscent of an atomic mushroom. The possibility of transcendence and the beauty of the flower become intermingled with bloody flesh and the threat of destruction.

War, destruction, and apocalypse are also central themes in the paintings of Eliezer Sonnenschein during this decade. His large-scale, intricately detailed Landscape and Jerusalem, 2007, recalls depictions of the Day of Judgment or the Triumph of Death by such medieval and early Renaissance artists as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Sonnenschein’s works are also reminiscent of the intricate, morbid contemporary works of the Chapman brothers, which are saturated with violence and sexuality. He combines the grotesque, the surrealistic, and the sexual in a celebration of death and eros; his art is crammed with symbols and motifs from Christianity and mythology, and also from today’s world – comic-book characters and advertising images – to produce the nightmarish yet sardonic visions of a prophet come to warn the world of impending disaster. The result propels this painting into another realm beyond the here and now.

Uri Nir’s 2004 installation Lost Herbs also presented a splendid scene of destruction, in which nature fights a rearguard action against man-made structures.18 Unlike Landau’s The Country or Sonnenschein’s work, however, it contained no human presence. In an installation reminiscent of an urban landscape, something like an abandoned factory, synthetic materials mingled with organic substances such as sea shells to create structures submerged in the depths of the ocean, evoking the lost city of Atlantis. The technological world has destroyed itself, and in its place nature, rather than humankind, has reassumed control.

Many of Gal Weinstein’s works deal with the tension between scientific attempts to study natural phenomena and the inherent chaos of nature, which occasionally makes a broadside attack on human existence. In Cross-Section, 2006, Weinstein used layers of processed wood to create an enlarged model of a geological representation of an earthquake.19 Above these strata, which were covered with artificial turf, stood a small golfer poised to swing at a ball. In this way the work, despite its humorous edge, conducted a dialogue with the Romantic tradition’s juxtaposition of the natural world and Man, who may be able to accumulate knowledge about nature but cannot tame its unpredictable forces.

Weinstein, like Landau, mediates between local reality and a much wider context. Environmental disaster and the remnants of a world destroyed by volcanic eruption are the theme of Weinstein’s 2007–8 Slope in Real Time, which quotes from Close to the Ground, a work from 1999 in which he covered the entire floor of The Kibbutz Art Gallery in Tel Aviv with a red roof tiled in European style, a metaphor for Israeli bourgeois aspirations that deny the reality of the Mediterranean environment.20 The focus on the roof in isolation, with no walls to support it, made its presence more pronounced and turned it into an object, the symbol of an unrealized utopia. In 2007 Weinstein returned to the roof image, this time placing roofs inside what appears to be a heap of soot that has hardened and buried the buildings underneath it. We are reminded of the fate of Pompeii, its glory covered in ashes by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius – although with his usual detached humor, Weinstein chose to evoke a tourist site rather than a real ancient city. The synthetic materials he used in the installation remind us that we are looking at a contemporary “take” on ancient grandeur, similar to the tourist illusions of Las Vegas. The red-shingled roof, Weinstein’s symbol for an Israeli fantasy of a Swiss chalet, finds itself buried beneath the ruins of the dream.

Beyond Time
Artists who deal more directly with Israeli life, such as Barry Frydlender, Adi Nes, and Yael Bartana draw on everyday reality, but they create a wider contextual environment, in which the daily passage of time is suspended: time expands and is transmuted, becoming mythical. Frydlender photographs from the distant vantage point of an observer. He does not attempt to capture the critical moment, the one frame in which a drama takes place. Quite unlike snapshots, his reworked digital photographs conflate scenes, figures, and times so as to turn the finished work into a series of continuous presents that seem to enfold both past and future.21

In Yael Bartana’s Trembling Time, 2001, time stands still. This work documents in slow motion the moment when the siren sounds to mark the beginning of Israel’s national Memorial Day for fallen soldiers. All along the busy Ayalon Highway that crosses Tel Aviv, cars pull up and people emerge and stand at attention beside them. As though they had been trapped in a time capsule for one minute, the figures return to their cars when the siren falls silent, and continue on their way. This shift in the flow of time, in response to death and memory, was captured from a bridge above the road, from a distance that eliminates individual identity and situates the artist beyond time.

A broad perspective allows what is immediate and political to become metaphor and take on a much wider significance. The photographs of Adi Nes, who staged scenes of soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces as though they were going about their daily life at the base – sleeping, eating, and resting – move beyond the Israeli political situation to connect with the religious and the mythological. On one level, his works deal with the male body in military and homoerotic contexts, challenging stereotypes of Israeli masculinity. On another, echoes of Christian artistic tradition and Greek mythology combine with the obviously contrived scenes to elevate the everyday routine of typical Israeli soldiers to a new symbolic plane. The characters and the scenes assume moral, universal overtones, part of a discussion on death, desire, and destruction. In Untitled, 1999, the portrayal of soldiers eating a meal quotes directly from Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, and as soon as this identification is made, the viewer transcends the everyday world for the spheres of the sublime. The scene depicted is the moment when Jesus reveals that he is about to be betrayed by one of his own disciples. The disciples’ astonishment and the uproar that breaks out around the calm figure of Jesus are the overture to the crucifixion of Christ, the redeemer whose death saves the world. By transferring this scene to Israeli military surroundings, the artist makes a trenchant political statement on sacrifice and betrayal, while simultaneously translating daily routine into timeless divinity: the earthly meal will culminate in an ascent to heaven.


Realms of Flight – Esc
Places of refuge and alternative worlds, real or imagined, have attracted artists through the ages. Socially and politically committed art has long coexisted – not always peacefully – with art that seeks out the realms of imagination, fantasy, and dream. In a world beset by regional strife, menaced by international terrorism, and troubled by the destructive influence of globalization, these two forms of art seem to be becoming ever more polarized. Many artists all over the world deal with conflict, war, poverty, and the unjust suffering of nations and populations that international indifference allows to flourish unchecked. At the other extreme are those artists who are primarily concerned with ways of escaping a brutal reality. It seems to be the case – though, naturally, there are always exceptions to this rule – that the farther an artist lives from the eye of the storm, the more he is drawn to depict it in his work22; the closer he is, the harder he tries to escape it. And, indeed, much of contemporary Israeli art seems to be drawn towards the quirky and idiosyncratic, to dream worlds or primal wildness. This search for alternate paths need not be interpreted as an expression of general apathy; rather, it may be seen as a political statement and a critique of the insensitivity that seems to prevail in Israeli society.

The transition from explicitly local, political, and social subjects to alternative, sometimes fantastic and romantic, worlds also reflects the improved fortunes of aesthetic values since the early 1990s, a trend that has culminated in the larger-than-life installations of the new millennium. Enigmatic portrayals of nature, multi-layered symbolism, precision, and a meticulous finish all characterized the installation Guardians of the Threshold which Yehudit Sasportas exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale (pp. 56-57).23 In this work modernist architectural elements were juxtaposed with detailed depictions of forests, caves, and marshland, creating a space rife with tension between memory and reality, the rational and the fantastic. Sasportas’s preoccupation with mysterious landscapes, woodland, and caves – themes with deep roots in the Romantic tradition and the hallowed relationship between Man and Nature – aligns her with artists who regard nature as a means to spiritual exaltation. The Japanese aspects of the work – its graphic power and detailed rendition of vegetation – take it even further away from the Israeli landscape and context, into personal realms of the spirit.24 A mysterious landscape revealed through a thicket of trees was projected onto one wall, tentatively inviting viewers into a shadowy, wondrous other world, both menacing and seductive.

Zoya Cherkassky is likewise influenced by Japanese aesthetics, and especially by Japanese manga comics. Cherkassky, who was born in Kiev, draws on Russian constructivism, Jewish imagery, and antisemitic symbols in her work. During the past decade she has become known for her provocative critiques of Israeli life and treatment of Holocaust related themes, as well as for her powerful graphic style. In her 2002 exhibition Collectio Judaica she redesigned the yellow star as an eye-catching piece of jewelry, removed it from its sinister context, and transplanted it to the world of kitsch and advertising, where immediate visual impact is all-important.25 In Aachen Passover Haggadah, 2001–3, Cherkassky illustrated the Hebrew text with bird-headed figures (based on the medieval Birds’ Head Haggadah) and elements from early-twentieth-century Russian art, such as Malevich’s Black Square and El Lissitzky’s Had Gadya illustrations. The graphics, which combine modernist minimalism with a decorative figurative style, emphasize the violent elements of the narrative, such as the Ten Plagues, and human helplessness in the face of natural and divine forces.

Other works from recent years focus on alternative lives outside reality, while showing awareness of their own inability to offer any true form of escape, and even revealing the underlying futility of the proffered illusion. Miri Segal’s BRB (a common web-language abbreviation for “Be right back”), 2007, is a documentary film about the artist’s journey into the Second Life website, an alternative virtual world where hundreds of thousands of internet users visit imaginary locations under assumed names and identities. Visitors are invited to determine the use of spaces, change the landscape, and even create virtual works of art.26 At the end of the film the imaginary world disintegrates, as the camera the artist is using to document events enters the body of her SL alter ego and reveals the emptiness inside. As the camera withdraws, the expanses of this alternate space seem to be suspended in a black void. Another work by Miri Segal, Place de la bonne heure, 2005, literally swung the observer (who was sitting in a swivel chair) between worlds – between the escapism offered by the Place de la Bonne Heure, a derelict and little known spot in Tel Aviv, and the harsh realities of the Qalandiya checkpoint, a point of friction between Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers. The cultural tension between “here” (as represented by Tel Aviv or Jerusalem) and “there” (Paris or New York), which used to be at the heart of the Israeli artistic debate, and the more general tension between one “here” (quasi-European Tel Aviv) and another, less visible, “here” (Qalandiya, the Middle East) is converted in BRB into the tension between real life and a virtual existence in cyberspace. In this sense, flight is revealed as a pointless and amoral act.

Another alternative identified with youth culture that has flourished in Israel since the mid-1990s is the world of night life and clubbing. Michal Helfman’s work focuses on this world and the glamorous illusion it offers, employing aesthetic techniques to expose its failure to create any real alternative to genuine experience.27 She combines pristine, idyllic, mythical modernism with an artificial world of kitsch that promises instant gratification. The Owl, 2003, contrasts this mysterious nocturnal bird and ancient Greek symbol of wisdom, here fashioned in the style of Canaanite art from desert-inspired synthetic materials, with the glittering nightclub world. The owl’s eyes and the background against which it stands have the sparkle and flashing lights of a club, but the bird’s stern gaze is pregnant with foreboding.28 Just Be Good to Me, 2007, was a dramatically lit, sophisticated installation that sought to create a total experience.29 It took viewers through a form of rite of passage from childhood to maturity, juxtaposing a tidy domestic interior with wild desert expanses evocative of solitary retreats and spiritual enlightenment. Helfman’s alternative worlds – the primalism of the desert, the dark eroticism of the nightclub – seem to simultaneously proffer and negate the possibility of escape.

Tardemon, the brand name of a narcotic used on animals, was the title Adam Rabinowitz gave to the installation he created in 2006.30 The center of the space was filled with large balls floating above platforms amid dense smoke, like the set of an old-fashioned sci-fi movie. On the opposite wall Rabinowitz constructed a room in which a white ball was suspended against a deep blue background. This night-time décor was observed by a figure of a monkey who, at regular intervals, turned his head sharply in the viewers’ direction. The scene would have been appealing were it not for the disturbing incongruity of the monkey, which resulted in the ominous atmosphere of a pre-human or post apocalyptic landscape. Flight into this enigmatic and extraordinary world was yet another attempt – its futility known from the outset – to escape political and other local realities by seeking refuge in a mysterious realm where fantasy and dreams can become nightmares.

The Heart of Darkness
Untamed, shadowy, subversive spaces that are far from “normal” civilization, as well as seemingly familiar places that somehow trigger fear and unease, have been the subject of a number of major works in recent years. The artists responsible for them have felt the need to tackle head-on the worst aspects of Israeli society through critiques that expose the country’s darker side.

In the 2002 Helena exhibition, Avner Ben-Gal, Ohad Meromi, and Gil Marco Shani explored the boundaries between civilization and savagery, the urban and the natural, the flagrantly sexual and the safely concealed.31 Meromi installed a structure resembling a border-crossing barrier at the entrance to the exhibition, and next to it, presiding over it and observing the exhibition from above, he placed an enormous statue of a black adolescent: The Boy from South Tel Aviv. This African giant had made his way from the city’s southern neighborhoods, home to many of Israel’s third-world foreign workers, to the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion located in the heart of a cultural precinct frequented by the city’s well-fed, white bourgeoisie. The erotic image of the naked boy – his air of childlike innocence notwithstanding – dominated the center of the museum space like a fantastic dream (or a nightmare) come true.

The powerful, primal figure of the young Middle Eastern male engaged many early Israeli artists, providing them with a role model and an object of admiration. Nimrod, Yitzhak Danziger’s iconic sculpture of a slender young hunter, symbolized both indigenous Canaanite culture and the idealized New Jew of Zionism. Meromi’s youth, however, arrived in this land as an illegal foreign worker from the Dark Continent and grew enormously, reaching a colossal size that threatened to bring the entire building down on the heads of all the museum-goers and culture-vultures inside. His nominal connection to southern Tel Aviv – the periphery that allows the center to live in comfort – suggests the complete negation of the early socialist dream of Israel, today a society that tends to neglect its weaker members and exploit foreign workers. The tension between the modernist, i.e., civilized, architectural structure whose purpose is to mark borders and the figure of the youth who can cross any boundary with ease relates as well to the frontier that separates nature from civilization, and to what the West perceives as mysterious, tempting, and, at the same time, mortally dangerous.

In the same exhibition Gil Marco Shani displayed Safari, which consisted of a building (a
oarding school, or perhaps a motel) situated in the midst of an artificial tropical forest. Inside, in a room furnished with beds, visitors could leaf through booklets containing a variety of images, among them homosexual erotic photographs and pictures of dead parrot hatchlings. The sexual encounters that may have taken place here appear to have been barren couplings rather than erotic acts of fertile creation.32 Shani’s paintings and drawings of the past few years deal with the tension between culture, order, and discipline on the one hand, and wild abandon and personal, gender-related “deviance” on the other. They can also be regarded as a comment on an idealistic culture with utopian aspirations that has collapsed into a world of empty convention rife with concealed barbarity and immorality.

On the lower floor of the exhibition Shani and Meromi juxtaposed genuine ethnic artifacts with pseudo-ethnic sculptures reminiscent of the fakes found in flea markets. These objects were placed in museum display cabinets and made up a simulated exhibit that illustrates the West’s fascination with the wildness and uninhibited sexuality of the Other. At the same time this “ethnographic” display exposed the Western incapacity to relate to the magical dimension of the world these objects represent.

The dialectic of the urban and civilized versus the natural and savage is prominent in Gilad Ratman’s work, with the balance between these two poles weighted in favor of the untamed. Ratman situates his films in marshland, woodland, deserts, and other peripheral areas. Alligatoriver, 2006, recounts the story of a tribal society rejected by urban civilization and living in swampland on the edge of a town. Glamim (Chrysalises), 2005–7, depicts human forms hatching from the arid soil of the desert and crying out in despair with the effort of transition from the pupa to the short life of a butterfly, or perhaps in pain at their emergence from the womb-like safety of the endless desert into consciousness and self-discovery. This scorched desert landscape is not necessarily Israeli; rather, it is a primeval place, the scene not just of death and termination but also of birth and a new start: a vision of both end and beginning.

Although most leading young artists do not deal directly with the reality around them, they do react to it, either with prophecies of approaching doom, by means of a return to wild primeval worlds, or by conscious flight into alternative realms that offer a form of spiritual redress, however illusory. Amid the ruins of the past, out in cyberspace, or deep in the beast-infested swamp, the artist roams like the Romantic wanderer of old, and, from these materials, tries to construct his or her place in the world. This place does not have to be in Israel, nor does it necessarily have any connection with Jewish issues or Israeli identity. Artists in Israel today strive to be part of the artistic global village, and so are more concerned with universal contexts than with defining the local and relating to it. They appear to be searching for a way out of the limitations imposed by their surroundings and the rules of here and now. But the swamplands and deserts of these alternative realms swarm with all the fantastic imaginings and monsters of our own world, mirrored in a glass that darkens and transforms.

Translated by Carol Sutherland


 

1
Regarding the selection of works for the exhibition, see page 9 of the exhibition catalog.
2
That said, political and social activism has always been evident in Israeli art and especially in photography, particularly since the outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987. A notable example of this was the exhibition Act of State at the Minshar for Art Gallery (curator: Ariella Azoulay), one of the cultural events marking forty years of Israeli occupation, which presented hundreds of photographs taken in the occupied territories between 1967 and the present day. Many artists are politically active, and exhibitions concerned with political and social protest have been mounted at, among others, the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon, the Umm El-Fahim Art Gallery, and the Museum on the Seam, Jerusalem, and have formed part of the Heara (Comment) events in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, political events were not the explicit subject of most of the work produced by leading young artists in the last decade.
3
Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991); Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).
4 The term was coined by Marcel Duchamp, who claimed that his use of readymade objects was a form of struggle against the emphasis on the visual in art. He ridiculed the “retinal” aspects of art and emphasized the conceptual. See Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, trans. Ron Padgett (New York: The Viking Press, 1976, c1971).
5

On the 1990s return of aesthetic values, see Arthur C. Danto, “Beauty for Ashes,” in: Regarding Beauty, ed. Neal Benezra and Olga M. Viso (exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1999); Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty (Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1993); and Bill Beckley with David Shapiro (eds.), Uncontrollable Beauty: Toward a New Aesthetics (New York: Allworth Press and the School of Visual Arts, 1998).

6 Please note that the page numbers for illustrations refer to the Hebrew section of the book, paginated from right to left.
7 There also has been a real rise in the acquisition of up-and-coming Israeli art both in Israel and abroad. While this trend reflects global developments in the art world, it is also indicative of young Israeli art’s increasing visibility in the international market.
8 Sometimes the focus is not on visual appeal as such, but on the illusion it creates, and the message is an ambiguous one in which visual seductiveness reveals an underlying emptiness. On the aesthetic revival, see Amitai Mendelsohn, “The Rebirth of Beauty in Contemporary Israeli Art,” in the Hebrew on-line periodical Protocols of History and Theory, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, No. 3 (2006).
9 There has also been a rise in figurative painting. In 1998 the realist painter Israel Hershberg opened the Jerusalem Studio School, which approached the study of art via the observation of nature and inspiration from classical sources; his students and other artists who identify with this approach have recently become more noticeable on the Israeli art scene.
10 Apocalypse, Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2000. Curators: Norman Rosenthal and Max Wigram.
11 Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates, (London and New York: Verso, 2002).
12 See Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, “The Decade of Indifference: 1998–2007” in this catalogue,
especially.
13 See Tami Katz-Freiman, Postscripts: “End” Representations in Contemporary Israeli Art (exh. cat., The Genia Schreiber University Art Gallery, Tel Aviv University, 1992).
14 Philip Leider, “Israel’s Guernica,” Sigalit Landau: The Country (Jerusalem: Spartizan, D.K. Graubart Publishers, 2003). This publication appeared some time after the 2002 exhibition at the Alon Segev Gallery, Tel Aviv
.15 Gideon Ofrat, “At Roof Top Height”, in: Ibid.
16 Images of destruction and rebirth after a disaster were also the central motifs in Landau’s large installation of 2005: Sigalit Landau: The Endless Solution, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, 2005. Curator: Mordechai Omer
17 Sigalit Landau: The Dining Hall, Kunst Werke – Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2007. Curator: Gabriele Horn.
18 Lost Herbs, Herzliya Museum, 2004. Curator: Dalia Levin.
19 See Cross-Sections: Gal Weinstein (exh. booklet, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Ticho House, curator Timna Seligman, 2006).
20 Curated by Tali Tamir; see “Roof (the space underneath),” Gal Weinstein: Roof (exh. cat., The International Biennial of São Paulo, 2002).
21 Zvi Shir, “Digital Proximations: Time, Narrative and History in the Work of Barry Frydlender,” Barry Frydlender, Down Here (exh. cat., Tel Aviv Museum of Art, curator and editor Moshe Ninio, 2007).
22 For example: At documenta 12 in 2007 German artist Peter Friedl exhibited a stuffed giraffe from Qalqilya Zoo; the animal had been killed when the IDF bombed the refugee camp. In 2005 the young Swedish artist Johanna Billing made a documentary film about a group of children at a music lesson in a community center in Zagreb after the civil war in Croatia. This film, entitled Magical World (the name of the song sung by the children), inspired reflections on childish innocence amid the bloody reality that adults had wrought. Belgian artist Francis Alÿs showed a film at the Israel Museum in 2005 documenting his journey all along the 1948 Green Line in Jerusalem carrying a can from which green paint dribbled.
23 Guardians of the Threshold, 52nd Venice Biennale, 2007. Curator: Suzanne Landau.
24 Japanese culture has had a remarkable influence on leading Israeli artists in this decade, as was demonstrated in the 2006 Israel Museum exhibition Far and Away: The Fantasy of Japan in Contemporary Israeli Art. The works in the exhibition were characterized by flatness, a polished
decorativeness, and a striking visual message. The influence of Japanese comics (manga) is very much in evidence in these works, while the approach to nature might have been taken directly from Japanese art. Yehudit Sasportas, Roee Rosen, Tal Shohat, Doron Rabina, Zoya Cherkassky, Aya Ben Ron, and the other participating artists were not motivated by a desire to become part of Japanese art or culture; rather, their intention was to distance themselves as far as possible from the realities of Israeli life and the familiar hallmarks of Israeli art. For them Japan is a symbol of everything that is not “here,” the ultimate fantasy of all that is distant and Other. See Mira Lapidot, Far and Away: The Fantasy of Japan in Contemporary Israeli Art (exh. brochure, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2006).
25 Collectio Judaica, Rosenfeld Gallery, Tel Aviv, 2002. Curator: Diana Dallal.
26 One of the works exhibited by Miri Segal in the gallery she constructed on the SL website was an enlarged representation of the “Escape” (Esc) key on the computer keyboard.
27 After she finished studying in the mid-1990s, Michal Helfman belonged to a group of young designers responsible for creating the décor of the Jerusalem nightclub HaOman 17, the first club in Israel to offer a total experience of music combined with visual and theatrical effects.
28 In a poem about this sculpture, poet and artist Roy “Chicky” Arad describes a mythical owl watching over a gleaming shopping center. At the end of the poem the bird brings disaster upon the mall and the shoppers. See Michal Helfman (exh. brochure, Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, n.d.),
29 Michal Helfman: Just Be Good to Me, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2007. Curator: Amitai
Mendelsohn.
30 Tardemon, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, 2006. Curator: Ori Dessau.
31 Helena, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, 2002. Curator: Ellen Ginton.
32 Ori Dessau, “Silent Treatment,” Helena (exh. cat., Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2002).

 

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