‘The Dead Are Here’ (detail), 2009 521.
(photo credit: Yulia Tsukerman)
‘Lovely” is generally not a word associated with contemporary art. In fact, the
word might be anathema to the large majority of today’s working artists, and to
art world commentators and critics.
Nevertheless, Izhar Patkin’s current
exhibition, on display at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, is just that:
Titled “The Wandering Veil,” the exhibition is organized
thematically and is billed as a career survey, a glance at the artist’s oeuvre
over a period of 30 years.
It includes paintings, sculpture and examples
of the artist’s occasional works in porcelain. The center of the exhibition, a
group of large-scale works, is referred to as The Veiled Suite.
initial idea for the exhibition came from the museum’s curator of Israeli art,
Ellen Ginton, and with the coordination of the museum’s former director, Moti
Omer, and the artist, was eventually brought to fruition. The exhibition extends
to the Open Museum at Tefen Industrial Park in the Galilee, which features
Patkin’s sculpture Don Quijote Segunda Parte, originally shown at the Venice
Biennale in 1990.
Patkin was born in 1955. At school he was considered
talented, but did not make the effort necessary to excel. Due to the influence
and advice of sculptor Itzhak Danziger he began studying lithography at the
Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and then left for New York in
According to Patkin, Danziger said, “Go forth from here, from Tel
Aviv and from Raffi Lavie, before they get their hands on you and won’t let you
be what you are. Skip Europe, it is no longer the place.”
no doubt, to the ears of an impressionable 22-year-old.
Patkin fared well
in New York; after a period of study he began exhibiting and met with some
success. He explored various media and in 1982 began experimenting with tulle –
a light but durable netting material often used for veils and gowns. It is the works executed in
this material, as well as his sculptures, that he is best known
Patkin’s subjects revolve around the themes of history and memory
and tentatively explore family attachments and childhood
Commenting on his work processes in a recent interview in
Haaretz, the artist said, “I cast the images and actors. I invent a place, a
stage and a context that deepen the narrative.”
On display in this
exhibition are a series of works done in collaboration with Agha Shahid Ali, an
American/Kashmiri poet who died in 2001. Patkin undertook to create a visual
realization of some of Shahid Ali’s poetry and translations and render his ideas
on tulle hangings.
The works are hung throughout four gallery spaces;
each space presents a painting that Patkin has themed around a poem. The
paintings stretch from floor to ceiling on each of the gallery’s four walls,
almost enfolding the viewer in a theatrical scene. The effect is impressive, and
at times magical.
The works, subtitled “illusions,” appear to be a world
unto themselves, a series of interwoven, staged settings with a host of
characters that conjure up both faded and idyllic visions of an old Europe and a
Patkin enacts his dramas by contrasting scenes of
splendor, of ballrooms and horse-drawn carriages, with barren landscapes peopled
with lone characters and travelers.
In the work titled Violins, done
after a translation of a Mahmoud Darwish poem, we see historical figures such as
Kennedy and the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, famous for his
renditions of the Bach cello suites.
Kennedy and his e n t o u r a g e
appear to be in an elegant ballroom and are in full evening
Portraits adorn the walls.
Patkin has lightly sketched out
the figures and the scene, the colors are muted and everything seems spectral or
In close vicinity is a battalion of soldiers, either coming from
or going to war. The grit and harshness of everyday life are not far from the
grandeur of the ballroom and its blessed personages.
Making our way
further into the Suite, we enter a work titled The Dead Are Here.
the title, the work is anything but bleak. The hangings present a panoramic
vista, resembling an arcadian scene of classical statues, a lake and fields of
white graves, all set against vibrantly colored, rose-blossomed trees.
girl sits beneath one of the statues, a birdcage by her side.
is beautifully rendered, the colors as vivid as those of Matisse or the
Impressionists. Yet as with the other settings it is tinged with melancholy; the
gravestones cast no shadow on such a glorious scene; rather, it is the
realization on our part that this is simply too lovely, too unreal and so
removed from our present-day life.
The four gallery spaces given over to
these hangings can only be fully taken in by being present in the space – even
photographic reproductions do not capture their effect. This is possibly because
each work essentially creates a setting on a four-walled space, but also because
of Patkin’s technique, partly achieved through his use of tulle, of never fully
revealing his characters, who appear as apparitions in ill-defined
The Veiled Suite is the high point of the exhibition, but
there are other works on display that, taken as a whole, contribute to a show
that, at times, seems like a paean to a distant past, or at least to have left
the 21st century behind.
The soft folds of a porcelain sculpture of the
Virgin Mary are offset by a striking, jagged glass sculpture titled The
Messiah’s GlAss. Portraits of family members, ballet dancers and a series of
paintings influenced by Middle Eastern mosaic patterns, all continue the
historical theme, which is at times nostalgic, but not sentimental.
exhibition closes on December 1.