Picture perfect

When Diti Almog decamped permanently for New York in the mid 1990s, Israel lost one of its most sensitive and inventive artists of the younger generation.

October 5, 2006 09:54
diti almog art 88 298

diti almog art 88 298. (photo credit: )

When Diti Almog (b. Haifa, 1960) decamped permanently for New York in the mid 1990s, Israel lost one of its most sensitive and inventive artists of the younger generation. Since then her paintings have gone through several pictorial metamorphoses, a journey that began with polished mixed-media panels of wonderfully decorated ships plying moonlit seas and silhouetted cut-out dresses surrounded by sparkling gems floating in three-dimensional frames. During the past decade Almog has completely refashioned her art, the results of which are currently on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. From the quixotic surreal images of sea and seam (1988 to 1991), her about-face led to paintings based on mathematically designed, concrete mannerisms. Men's Shirt and Suite (1994) and Untitled (1995) are two transitional series of minimalist geometric abstractions in muted matte blues and mauves based on a line and field interaction that could be associated with pinstripes and serge. The limited hues describing vertical stripes negate any reference to void, space and matter but also fail to create surface tensions or visual idiosyncrasies that are at the foundations of geometric abstract art. Nevertheless, with the simplicity of design and a consideration for proportion and cadence, they do continue her theoretical feelings for seduction and splendor that she presented in her last Tel Aviv show of jewelry paintings in 1992. Within a year these linear designs were transformed by Almog into perfectly symmetrical non-objective rectangles cut into same-size maroon and deep leaf green panels separated by thin gold lines. Being the thinking artist she is, Almog understood that a continued development of these simplistic paintings would lead to an undemanding dead-end. And so, codifying her new works with names like SMAA, MLAA and GPPL, she extended the viewing experience by adapting the purity of the single panels into a more comprehensive analysis of the basic motif. After duplicating the original into a trio of facsimile pictures, she placed them on larger panels and proceeded to classify them into a progression of visual stimuli culminating in various size paintings hung on an ersatz wall then hung again on a real wall. Several sequential installations of this sort lasted until 2000 when Almog recycled the divisional rectangles into a window through which reductive landscapes and seascapes of two or three smoothly brushed rectangles could be imagined. But the purity remained. Flat planes, no visible brushstrokes, muted powdery colors were without void or substance yet, being placed on a deeply toned background, they attain a sense of poetic place. As if standing in a darkened room looking past the rectangular frame one can envisage, but not accurately identify, an open sky bordering a body of water or the brown earth of a rural community. In a matter of months, Almog broke the mould of non-objective idioms and initiated a series of paintings whose surfaces began to shine with a mysterious illumination. Her impenetrable rectangles opened up into negative spaces, bringing in light and with it a sense of reality. Remaining textureless, but containing rectangles of different sizes all at 90 degrees to each other, the picture plane began to take on a semblance of an architectural structure: a wall, a floor and a windowpane. See FF2, 8:00 AM (2001), a beautiful study of pictures in a gray gallery environment. The Tama exhibition hits a high spot with Almog's works from 2005 and 2006, a series comprising interior views that fall under a style of painting called mise-en-ab me, literally an image that contains itself. She leads the viewer through a series of paled desolate galleries whose foreground or middleground, constructed from walls, doors and a window frame parallel to the viewing surface, contain a rendering of an interior scene that resembles, and at times mirrors, the larger work being viewed. The architectural plan of compositions like Main Room, 10:00 AM (2003), Main Room and Terrace, August 17th (2005) and Entrance, May 28th (2006) is based on a perfectly balanced illusion of receding spaces that culminate in a finale of daylight or an opaque wall of color. The refined earth colors, mostly tints of warm gray, pale mushroom and gunmetal green, are highlighted by an occasional red rectangle or the recurring representation of light and deep blue, symbolic of sea and sky. Among the last pictures on view are Bedroom, March 24th and Bedroom, May 8th. Both, expanding on ideas developed in the picture-within-a-picture concept, are skillfully rendered perspective views of a building's exterior in brilliant sunshine, revealing long swaths of Almog's ubiquitous blue rectangles through two open windows. The ambivalent surreal elements are in strong evidence and in a way return to her starlit gems of the 1980s. Almog's mise-en-ab me pictures are easy to interpret because they transmit visual data related to things we know or places we have seen. Other than that, her impressive body of work, whether minimal, literal, metaphorical or illusionist, thrives on the purity of color, balance, symmetry and geometric design. What makes this exhibition special is Almog's obedience to Apollonian clarity, radiance and pictorial logic. Looking at either individual paintings or serialized installations, the display in its entirety projects a sense of contemplation and inner reflection. And together with her intelligent grasp of steps and stages, of where she was and where she wants to get to, the entire enterprise falls into place. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd.) Till October 28. Hebrew-English catalog. AN ISOLATED playground marked by an aging slide, seesaw and two jump toys, a horse and a lion, is Jan Rauchwerger's recurring subject in a disappointing exhibition entitled Child's Play. Looking at his dappled oils and glossy pastel renderings, rendered during all hours of the day and evening in stark local color, one can only recall that he is a much better painter than his current fare indicates. Scratchy, overworked and haphazardly rendered, these are attempts to project traces of an emotional condition through the seasons of a natural environment. The painter has surrendered the immature psyche of a child's innocence to an empty enclosure, falling leaves, long shadows cast from trees and two empty park benches. If this recreational area and varied sources of light become metaphors for something lost, they do not congeal artistically nor tell a lucid story. (Alon Segev Gallery, King Saul Blvd.) Till October 8.

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