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Tel Aviv has an energy all its own. It even has its own river, the Yarkon, a muddy and polluted stream for the occasional boater, stroller or songwriter looking for inspiration.
In its exhibition On the Banks of the Yarkon, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art attempts to position it as an important icon in the city's cultural history.
A theme show only works if its curator has the capacity to maintain strict control over the depth of exposure. But in most cases the search goes on until the storerooms are emptied and the commissions ordered.
From the springs of Tel Afek in the east to its Mediterranean estuary in the west, the Yarkon has provided material for artists for generations. The current exhibition, dismal as it may be, has turned on all the taps commencing with dozens of idealized paintings by the early pioneers including Reuven Rubin, Sionah Tagger, Arieh Lubin and photographers Avraham Soskin and Shlomo Narinsky. A pair of Dufy-inspired watercolors by Joseph Kossonogi and a dreary Fisherman on the Yarkon by Yohanan Simon could have been left in the storeroom.
An exhibition about Tel Aviv could not happen without a representative exposure by New Horizons, supplied here by a few gloomy canvases and works on paper by Yehezkel Streichman.
The younger generation fares somewhat better. Eldar Farber's detailed representational views convey romantic secrets of the river; photographers Daniel Tchetchik and Hana Sahar investigate the textural qualities of surging water and the hushed natural beauty of trees and birds from behind a hazy lens. Several participants provide generic views that could be anywhere, while others create dioramas like Shalom Flash, whose realistic painting captures the environs of the Reading power station and the Yarkon as it spills into the sea.
Among the few video presentations, best in show goes to Atar Geva who, with several friends, has turned back the clock. Raft is an act of memory, retelling a story of youth when life was simpler and pleasures were easier to come by. Nostalgia flutters in the wind as Geva's flag-draped platform with a crew of five sails down the mighty Yarkon. Huck Finn couldn't have been happier.
The museum's Mizne Gallery is showing El Hama'ayan, The Yarkon Stream as a Cross Section in the Israeli Metropolis. This is an exceptional didactic experience in which concerned contemporary artists have created videos, installations, projection booths, interviews with local cognoscenti, maps, architectural drawings, multi-media presentations and colossal photographs all dealing directly with the symbiosis between population centers and the natural environment.
Anthropological studies and architectural problems of the Yarkon region are advanced via subjects like restoration of parklands, renewing ecological balances, installing site specific public installations, reviewing natural enclaves and investigating archaeological tels.
Mostly idea driven, the various themes promote a dialogue between the past and the present and although several productions are excessively mundane, this exhibition has been mounted as an act of devotion and respect for Tel Aviv's natural heritage. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd.)
RAFFI LAVIE has always been an impetuous painter, and the impulsive characteristics of his art continue to expand in Arab - Violet Moustache, a group of mixed-media works on unprimed plywood panels. Lavie's pictures are unfocused activity pieces, for once the brush or graphite marker hits the surface, it is embedded and left to simmer until revived in the next painting.
The diminutive elements and abstract passages are highlighted by an indolent male contour smoking a cigarette surrounded by a barrage of animated swaths of pink, yellow and red. These prominent markings are sustained by lightly penciled scribbles and darker graphite swipes that roam the wooden surfaces with abandon.
The combined elements of color, line and negative space with underlying political metaphors (warped Star of David, Arab profile, smoke and ashes) provide the picture planes with a physical and emblematic energy that some may find visually enticing, while others, untouched by his self-conscious childishness, may read them as misdirected and callously sensational.
Each Lavie work is a statement in real time, a single expression without reversal or recall. And when finished, he shunts it aside and moves on to the next one. (Givon Art Gallery, 35 Gordon, Tel Aviv.) Till February 3.
UNLIKE LAVIE, Michael Rapoport (b. Kazakhstan, 1948, in Israel since 1990) is an academic painter who works according to an agenda. From concept and preliminary sketches to photography and final paintings, Rapoport maintains a grip on every pragmatic stage of his art. The results are exceptional.
His current exhibition, Witness, includes a group of double portraits, several individual renderings and, at the apex of the show, an incisively menacing self-portrait. Using a broad range of local color tied to a definitive use of his brush, Rapoport works in a thoroughly realist manner with a passion for fact. Without costume, props or mythological interventions he articulates skin tones, garments and furniture superbly, with an elevated sensitivity for substance and texture. Like the great 19th-century American realist Thomas Eakins, Rapoport strives to describe the structure and nature of the world in purely empirical terms.
Emerging from dark, neutral, backgrounds his subjects look simultaneously at the painter and at the viewer without offering any pretense or affectation for their condition. Rapoport probes sympathetically to assure that objective truth will prevail. (Rosenfeld Gallery, 147 Dizengoff, Tel Aviv.) Till January 28.
A series of miniature oils by Ben Tritt (b. Brooklyn, NY, 1972) entitled Guys and Dolls illustrates a lasciviously naked Barbie in bawdy poses to tumblers and heroes on a rich viridian playing field interlocked in mortal battle.
Tritt, a graduate of the Jerusalem Studio School, has gone past that institution's directives related to academic representation by advancing a manner of painting that takes us beyond the obvious into a realm of psychological miasma and the unexpected. This unique touch, having borrowed bits from Francis Bacon, forces the viewer to look into the metaphorical substance of the work. Hazy blotches and diluted passages alternately reveal and contain segments and scraps of human anatomy, but not reality.
Can a viewer see pink plastic erupting into sexual fantasy? When do toys mark an adult's hidden perversities? Is the rough and tumble physicality inherent in contact sport anything close to male homosexuality? Although Tritt does not address these questions directly, his art is a trigger that produces a smoking scholastic gun. (Gallery 33, 33 Yehuda Halevy, Tel Aviv.) Till February 15.
THE MAJOR space of Eliezer Sonnenschein's three-part exhibition is occupied by an ersatz city constructed from playing cards whose probable significance is an attempt to instill the idea of the fragility of urban life. Practically, however, the work is a tour de force craft exercise of pasting cards together and making them stand upright without falling.
A second section hung in an all-black room comprises a quartet of nasty acrylic paintings that have been influenced by both computer games and the sturm und drang of northern art he was exposed to while living in Berlin this past year. Embedded in a panorama of fire and brimstone, his fantastic images, unlike the slick commercial graphics he produced in the past, are laced with coded references to fascism, cannibalism and fundamentalism. Nestled among illustrations of tanks, wild dogs, burning cities, flying ghouls, a tattooed self-portrait and assorted imaginative vegetation, is a pinkish female nude pleading (in a text balloon) in harsh pornographic language to service her sexual needs. If Sonnenschein could only draw and paint to the same degree that his imagination conjures up these bombastically corrupt landscapes, these pictures would be somewhat more accessible.
The last section is devoted to a rifle painted in his familiar red, black and white and entitled Kill God Gun. Clearly a form of political poster whose ammunition takes the form of words rather than bullets: burn, redemption, data, system, free and resurrection are powerful statements, either as stand-alone testimonials or interconnected proclamations. (Sommer Contemporary Art, 13 Rothschild, Tel Aviv.) Till January 27.