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Mad dogs chase an unidentified intruder through the halls of a fabricated museum and a female mass murderer wields a chain saw amid the blood and gore of a dismembered public. And, to the consternation of several onlookers, a picture gallery is filled with an enormous pile of human waste.
These are the kind of narratives presented by Zoya Cherkassky (b. Kiev, 1976, here since 1991) in an exhibition entitled Action Painting, her virulent attack on museum culture.
Violence, brutality and mutilation in both religious and secular camps have been on the world's cultural agenda for generations. Think Goya and Sweeney Todd to Hollywood horror flicks. One should not be surprised by Cherkassky's pounding of the domicile of contemporary art, an edifice transformed into the new cathedral for our time, and the artworks are icons that set the postmodernist spaces into motion.
To mount her offensive, Cherkassky has altered her acerbic doll-like sculptures into the two-dimensional figures that ply her artificial museums. The newborn characters, a calculated cross section of society, including an intellectual, spinster, student, tourist and mother and child, have lost the sarcasm and biting wit that made them outstanding social comments. Instead they merely play on an ersatz stage. Every frozen mise en sc ne is viewed from above as if being spied upon by a divine spirit.
The exhibition gets its title from three works, Action Painting No. 1, 2 and 3. Each composition includes the same group of people, though placed in different positions in a gallery that includes works by Anthony Caro, Clyfford Still and Damien Hirst. But on the canvas's surface, covering parts of the gallery activities as if through a pane of glass, Cherkassky has created an abstract pour and drip image in grimy mustard, black and powder blue that is as much industrial as it is Jackson Pollock. If we agree with Cherkassky's position that the museum is a postmodern place of worship, then these particular works are her most iconoclastic.
Another bizarre painting, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (a spinoff from the pulp film of 1958), presents gallery-goers ogling a gigantic naked figure who, according to curator Ellen Ginton, is an object of veneration and whose presence elicits panic, wonderment and awe. Seeing only her gigantic buttocks and genitalia, with panties hugging her thighs, the museum visitors are not looking at the art on the walls simply because they are confronted by something much more mesmerizing.
Cherkassky's axiom is that once presented with a more luscious alternative to misunderstood high art, low art takes preference. But by relying on her implausible cutout figures and ultra-simplified art works, Cherkassky somehow loses any sense of legitimacy in her message.
AT THE same venue, Inge Pries (b. Germany, 1958) shows Instincts of Innate Coquetry, oil and tempera paintings devoted to women, either dressed up as primates or primates imitating women. As with Cherkassky, her canvases are narrative studies with a strong allegorical and at times humorous bent.
Using local color and fashion accessory props, Pries investigates the relationship between the homo sapiens female and the animal kingdom. Influenced by medieval and early Renaissance art, her bestial imagery, chimpanzees in the main, is callous and stiffly rendered. When she moves into other areas, young women are rendered lying down with crocodiles or associating with spirited American cowboys, the optimum male partner.
As curator Ginton points out, entering the skin of an ape provides refuge and release from the tyranny of social competition over human and feminine beauty.
IN THE downstairs gallery, Barak Ravitz Sings to a Jackal is a self-indulgent piece of video art in which Barak Ravitz (b. Israel, 1982), a wanabee country troubadour, sits in a pleasant enough landscape and serenades a white dog (no jackal here) to the strings of City of New Orleans. Ginton, in her introductory remarks, has had to reinvent the analytical wheel to justify this truly mediocre work. (Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, 6 Tarsat, Tel Aviv). Cherkassky catalog only.
THE TWO dozen canvases of varying size by Vered Gersztenkorn (b. Israel, 1964) that pack her Artists Wall are radiant expressions of color describing, in a raw and youthful manner, the physical joys of painting, drawing and collage. Most works are laden with one or two whimsical figures characterized by large heads and spindly appendages incised into pigment or sketched in graphite.
Surrounded by a number of veiled abstract shapes and lines supporting bits of pigment embedded in crusty surfaces, the self-taught Gersztenkorn's spontaneous and unstructured acrylic compositions seem to embrace the unconventional canvases by the late Jean-Michel Basquiat as well as Jean Dubuffet. The humor ignited by the cacophonous palette and uncultivated lopsided images in paintings like Wild Dance (see photo) carries with it deeper psychological meanings, one that emerges with figures and birds disguised in primitive masks and feathers.
If there is something more ominous below the surface of Gersztenkorn's paintings. the innocent quality of the picture-making pushes it to the side. Basically what she shows are amusing pictures that one can smile at without embarrassment. (Stern Gallery, 30 Gordon, Tel Aviv). Till February 5.
SELF CRITICISM is a difficult undertaking for an artist, especially for one whose creative output has been controversial. In his current exhibition of works from the past year, David Wakstein assembles, paints, draws and scratches on canvas and plywood a range of obtuse images related to politics, past and present, his personal psyche and themes Jewish. In many works Wakstein has returned to the "Want of Matter," a concept initiated by Sarah Breitberg-Semel in her exhibition that dealt with issues related to second-generation Tel Aviv painters and the physicality of materials as a source of invention.
Using treated photographs, photocopies and old lithographs (Jewish New Year cards and the Third Reich), Wakstein maps out panels whose surface handling is more compelling than the images. It is the purity of a vivid ultramarine wash or scumbled olive field that makes one want to look deeper into the frame to discover the secrets he has embedded in the pictorial surface. The occasional photo transfer or dubious portrait also adds an air of ambiguity to the show, a display that meanders from one painterly idea to the next without a trace of combining the entirety into a single scheme. However, in this small, but appealing exhibition Wakstein, once again, provides the goods. (Kibbutz Gallery for Israeli Art, 25 Dov Hoz, Tel Aviv). Till January 5.