Contemporary Israeli art at AU Museum, DC

                                 Still from Sigalit Landau’s DeadSee

It’s been about eleven years now since I left Israel, yet my connection with the exhibition of Israeli artists at the American University Museum was immediate. Contemporary Israeli art is out-of-the-box, cutting edge, and in-your-face. Pretty representative of the country as a whole, I would say.

All the works belonged to the Donald Rothfeld Collection of Contemporary Israeli Art, just gifted to the Museum. Many of Israel’s better known artists were represented – Moshe Kupferman, Yael Bartana, Tsibi Geva, Michal Rovner, Sigalit Landau and Moshe Gershuni  to name but a few of the heavy hitters. ( Click here to read my interview of the latter’s exceedingly talented son, Aram Gershuni).

                            A typical work by Moshe Kupferman

The themes expressed by the artists convey the preoccupations of the young nation – the Holocaust that hangs over it like an ominous shadow, the continuous wars, the soul-searching over the Palestinian issue. One gets a sense of a country that is by necessity closing in upon itself yet struggling to claw itself out of its predicament.

One of Tsibi Geva's works from the Kaffiyeh series One of Tsibi Geva’s works from the Kaffiyeh series

TWO MUST-SEE VIDEOS (One of these days I will figure out how to embed videos into the blog…) :

Israeli artists were amongst the first to embrace video as an art form. Two works that left a lasting impression on me were video works: The first was Tamy Ben Tor’s video trilogy of the artist in various disguises spewing verbal diarrhea that is really quite disturbing. Watch this one called Yid. The second is Dana Levy’s lyrically named video Departures/50 ways to leave your lover. Just LOVE this one and hope you do too. Shalom for now!

(PS. Back to the subject of portraits from previous blogs, obviously I am not the only artist fascinated/obsessed with portraits – here is Switzerland-based Chinese artist Qui Jie at his first major solo exhibition in Singapore. Does the grid look familiar…?)

VIDEO: Qiu Jie — Recluse from a Distant Land

Curatorial debut

Yours truly at the opening of You, Me and Everybody Else

Considering that not even one of my own works was on exhibit at the You, Me and Everybody Else show at MOCA DC , why am I looking so pleased with myself? That’s because I was the guest juror and curator -an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. Friday night’s grand opening was the culmination of several months of hard work. Setting out to jury and curate a show requires a lot of time and energy, most of it in front of a computer screen. When David Quammen of MOCA DC asked me to help him revamp his lobby space and curate the inaugural juried show, I accepted the challenge.

I came up with a theme that reflects our eternal fascination with people – whether it be looking at ourselves or at others. The first step was to hit up the sites advertising Calls for Entries. However I soon discovered that the best and most visited sites are great resources for artists looking for calls, but expensive for galleries and institutions. On a shoestring budget I spread the word on free sites and art blogs, and received some wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) submissions for You, Me and Everybody Else (my call encouraged artists “to consider broad contemporary interpretation of the figure”). Here are some examples of the works I selected for the exhibition. Also please note Jayne Matricardi-Burke’s multi-media Family Portraits behind me in the top photo.

John Norris ‘Manufacturer’

Michael Berkowitz ‘High Priestess’

The works began arriving from artists within the United States, France and Israel. With a push for new lighting, fresh paint, carpet cleaning and removal of unnecessary ‘stuff’, the space was ready to do the works justice. Then there were press releases to write, bloggers to contact, labels to prepare, postcards to design and artworks to unpack (Note To Self: make sure to specify NO styrofoam peanuts in the future!). The opening night arrived and the turnout was larger than expected and the response to the works was very rewarding.

As a curator, I made the decision from the start not to request artist statements from artists. I surprised myself, because when I am wearing my Artist Hat, I tend to expound and over-explain my work. As a curator, I found that I was more interested in what the work conveyed to me directly, without the artist’s input. I have forgotten which famous artist balked at writing any statements, claiming that if he were required to do so, he may as well hang an essay on the wall rather than a piece of art! Brings to mind the early conceptualist Mel Bochner’s word portraits (see Self Portrait below).  How do other artists and curators feel about artist statements? I’d love to hear different takes on this subject.

This curatorial experience has whetted my appetite for more curatorial opportunities and I already have some exciting ideas. You can also check out an in-depth article about the curatorial process which has been published in The Great Nude. But for now I need to get back into my studio and get ready for my own solo show in August!

Israel’s art scene – something for everyone

 Mural at Jaffa Port, Israel

Sometimes what happens around art is more interesting than the art itself. Take for instance the event I recently attended in Tel Aviv, Israel at a gallery on Allenby Street, one of Tel Aviv’s busiest and grungiest commercial streets. The word-of-mouth invite mentioned some sort of performance marathon. After the cab dropped me off, I practically had to risk my life avoiding speeding buses and manic taxi drivers to get to the gallery on the other side. The storefront of the art space was in dire need of funds and/or aesthetic rehabilitation. Several rows of folding metal chairs had been set up on the grimy sidewalk in front of the gallery’s vitrine where a video was playing back the street scene superimposed with a rapidly blinking eye.  A set of drums squatted mutely on the pavement.

The seated guests represented a wonderfully bizarre cross section of Israeli society – old babushkas with headscarves waiting for the free booze sat beside artsy women sporting mannishly cropped hair and severe glasses. Ponytail-coiffed Israeli men chain-smoked next to hip-looking mothers watching their children chasing a smattering of the notoriously independent breed of Israeli dog.

The proceedings began with the gallery’s owner reflecting on the past year, though his efforts were challenged by barking dogs and accelerating buses. To mark the occasion of their first anniversary, shots of an unidentified strain of alcohol were passed around, causing a frenzy of serious elbow jostling.

Then the interior lights were dimmed and the night’s first performer stepped into the darkened storefront window dressed in a black suit punctuated by red LED lights. Taking his cue from the beating drums the ‘artist’ embarked on what looked like a series of slow-mo downward dogs and alternating ninja moves. After about ten minutes I took my leave, more out of pity than sheer boredom. The whole scene played like a Woody Allen movie in which Woody finds himself in a ludicrous social situation trying to think of something polite to say, and failing miserably. I must admit I expected more from the Israeli alternative art scene.

Gallery performance

Israel is bursting with creative energy and I met the most amazing artists in my research for my next feature article on Israel for The Great Nude. So please stay tuned for the winter edition which will feature my article The Holy Land laid bare. In the meantime you can browse my article on what’s going on with the nude in the Paris art scene.

Art poster, Jaffa port Israel