Half a century or so ago, if you had told Teddy Kollek that the Israel Museum would become one of the world’s leading repositories of valuable artifacts, dating across numerous millennia, across expansive historical and cultural domains, he probably would have smiled with delight, but may not have been entirely convinced of the accuracy of the vision.
But, 50 years after the iconic mayor’s dream became a corporeal reality, as a relatively modest facility atop a Jerusalem hill, the museum is the toast of the globe. The place has grown and grown, and expanded incrementally, particularly since Anne and Jerome Fisher Director James Snyder took over the directorial reins a full 18 years ago. The place took a giant leap just over four and a half years ago, with the completion of a $100-million campaign to renovate the museum and double its gallery space.
But, enough of history. Snyder and his staff of curators, backroom staff and other employees are all into the here and now, and looking forward to rolling out a slew of intriguing exhibitions to mark the jubilee year.
The new shows will be presented to the public under the mathematically compact title of 6 Artists, 6 Projects, with the lineup covering a diverse range of artists and works.
The featured exhibitors include photographers Uri Gershuni and Roi Kuper, video artist Dana Levy, multidisciplinary creator Tamir Lichtenberg, iconography-oriented artist Ido Michaeli and Gilad Ratman, who roams across all manner of disciplinary fields but tends toward site-specific offerings.
The artists’ works capture snapshots of the rich spectrum of artistic perspectives emerging from Israel’s flourishing contemporary art scene and explore themes ranging from personal and collective histories to power and economic structures. The works, as the museum’s official description has it, present “the diversity of creative practice in Israeli art today.” The exhibitions will be on view until August 29, 2015.
Gershuni’s The Blue Hour is a thought-provoking affair through which the artist continues his voyage back to the roots of his craft and explores the life and work of 19th-century British inventor of photography Sir William Henry Fox Talbot.
Paradoxically, Gershuni adopted a non-photographic approach to the project, in which he takes the viewer for a virtual tour of the byways of Talbot’s village of Lacock, in southern England, using Google Street View. Using early photographic techniques to manipulate screenshots of the site, Gershuni creates haunting pictures that prompt questions about the differences between the material conditions of painting and photography, and between visual histories of the West and the present state of local contemporary art. This project extends Gershuni’s continuing examination of contemporary photography in the context of its history and the abstraction that occurs throughout the photographic process.
Meanwhile, Kuper presents images from much closer to home, offering us an unusual perspective on Israel’s southern border in his Gaza Dream creation. The work comprises photographic panoramas of the Gaza Strip from various directions. In his signature style, Kuper captures images of plowed fields, pale blue skies and the dusty, pinkish-gray horizon of the distant city, as landscapes that are both familiar and foreign. Taken from the border, the visual perspectives are designed to resonate with the Israeli public which by and large envisions Gaza from afar, and references some of the region’s recent, violent history. The series feeds off Kuper’s approach of creating philosophical and existentially charged photographic works that resonate with Israel’s political landscape and national identity.
Michaeli’s Bank Hapoalim Carpet employs a complex network of symbols and historical references to depict an allegory of the social structure in these here parts. The woven work is a sort of “image bank,” and incorporates specimens of early Israeli art from the Bezalel period, archeological artifacts, socialist imagery and Renaissance art as a means of depicting social hierarchies. Bank Hapoalim Carpet was, intriguingly, woven clandestinely in Kabul, Afghanistan. The extensive journey the carpet made – from a letter-sized sketch all the way to Afghanistan and back to Israel as a finished object – is documented in a video as part of the installation.
Like Gershuni, Dana Levy also makes good use of advanced technology. Her Literature of Storms is a video installation embedded with a collage of imagery that links disparate times and places. In this work, Levy projects Internet- found footage of Hurricane Sandy onto original 1920s interior design magazine pages.
By superimposing references to a North American storm over symbols of European modernist ideals – which Levy associates with the background of Zionism and the development of young Israel – the artist grapples with the environmental and political aftermath of local and global “progress.” This critical approach is complimented by another, large video-art piece, in which Levy samples sounds of recent oil drilling technologies over phosphoric close-ups of shrubbery in the endangered Everglades National Park in Florida. Levy is known for her work in video, video installation and photography, through which she investigates socio-political issues and explores memory, identity and the relationship between nature and the man-made.
Lichtenberg’s Package Deal takes a brave potshot at the economic machinations of the art world. The creation is the sum total of the artist’s output over the course of one year, divided into monthly segments. For the project, Lichtenberg pre-sold a month’s work to collectors, patrons and institutions for the equivalent of an average monthly salary in Israel. In return, the buyer received a package containing unknown art products that Lichtenberg created during one month, such as video clips, drawings, poems, sound works, and ready-made artifacts).
Package Deal the 12 installments of the full creative process to produce an installation infused with poetry, humor and nuance. Lichtenberg’s oeuvre is informed by conceptual frameworks that blur the boundaries between art and life and examine the interface between “human nature and the nature of things.”
Ratman’s Five Bands from Romania is probably the most left-field of the lot, at least in conceptual terms. It is a complex audio-visual installation featuring five Romanian heavy metal bands playing outdoors with amplifiers buried in a pit dug into the ground. What could be more anti-music than that? “This exhibition continues the Israel Museum’s 50 year tradition of supporting the art of the ‘now,’ positioning works by some of the most engaging artists in Israel today within the timeline of world culture featured throughout our universal holdings,” observes Snyder. “Although common practice today in museums worldwide, presenting contemporary art in an encyclopedic museum setting was a pioneering concept in 1965. The Museum’s 50th anniversary this year offers an opportunity for reflecting on the continuing evolution of the arts in Israel, and, in this display, specifically through the lens of six thought-provoking artists whose works stand out both in concept and in their unique use of materials and mediums.”