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(photo credit: The Israel Museum)
A charming little marble of two cupids fighting over a heart, carved by Jean-Batiste Pigalle around 1780, has been used to promote an Israel Museum exhibition of European art covering four centuries and loosely devoted to various interpretations of the theme of love, both sacred and profane. Curator Shlomit Steinberg has extracted several dozen oils and marbles from the museum's collection as well as a number of drawings that exploit various facets of this ever popular theme, but unless you are familiar with the story or myth that inspired each work, the element of love is often far from readily apparent.
Amusingly enough, Pigalle has lent his name to that seedy quarter of Paris once famous as the haunt of prostitutes and girlie shows. Pigalle's marble cupids are actually quite small and look far less monumental than they did in the museum's closely cropped newspaper advertisements.
Steinberg's texts make up for what is not immediately discernible in many of the works, beginning with the myths of Venus, Adonis, Eros, et al. She points out the love between husband and wife and parent and child; the mystic love between man and his God; narcissistic love between man and himself; and love for sale. There is even a reference to the love between David and Jonathan, depicted by the virtuoso Ferdinand Bol, who was perhaps Rembrandt's most successful pupil.
The biggest oil is The Death of Adonis, allegedly by Peter Paul Rubens, 1614, but largely, I suspect, the work of his apprentices.
Other works are not entirely by the hand of the artist. Francesco Vanni's 16th-century oil Sacred and Profane Love is also from the hands of assistants; the same is true of a piece of sly Dutch genre by Frans van Mieris the Elder, Sleeping Courtesan, c. 1669. An anonymous oil after a 16th-century Parmagianino, Amor Carving His Bow, perhaps the work of several hands, looks as though the head is not attached to the body.
A pair of flattering portraits by the accomplished German-Jewish painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882) marked the impending marriage in 1836 of Baron Lionel de Rothschild and his radiant cousin Charlotte de Rothschild.
There are dozens of works, some by Goya and Hogarth. But the show is simply overcrowded and all the 20th-century works - led by Robert Indiana's by now hackneyed bronze Love - look very much out of place in this somewhat claustrophobic classical gallery. Less would have been more.
The Israel Museum is currently host to a large exhibition of work by artists awarded prizes by the Minister of Education and Culture for the year 2005. Seven of the laureates, all over 50, got NIS 67,000 each. These prizes have been awarded annually for the last two decades by the Minister (guided by panels of artists).
A prize to encourage creativity was awarded to 10 artists, some of them no longer young, who got NIS 18,000 each. A Young Artist prize of NIS 10,000 was given to each of 10 artists. A newly instituted Lifetime Achievement Award of NIS 67,000 was given to Pinhas Cohen Gan, 64. All in all, the prizes amounted to NIS 816,000, but cost the ministry at least $1m., money that could have saved the jobs of a number of teachers.
I have no objection to artists, even mediocre or ailing ones, receiving awards of money to help them along. I do strongly object to them getting public money.
I have been paying serious amounts of tax on my income for over 55 years. Ever since these prizes were first announced, I resented the idea that my taxes were being given to individuals who were either well established or very minor talents. Why, I asked in these columns again and again, were the ministers and their cronies - and certain artists and their cronies - involved in this sort of handout peddling from the budget of the cash-strapped Education Ministry? Nearly 20 years ago I suggested that even if the very best of Israeli artists were to get these prizes, our supply of deserving giants was severely limited.
Actually, I'd be delighted if these monies were used to support educational institutions, rather than individuals. This is the case in other Western countries; Holland was the last to do away with government subsidies to individual artists over two decades ago, when it found itself lumbered with thousands of mediocre paintings that nobody wanted to buy.
Israel has long had a fine award-giving institution in the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, which takes care to help only the young and promising in various fields of art and music. It does this without preying on public money. The state also rewards lifetime achievements by awarding Israel Prizes every Independence Day.
The Minister's Prizes of NIS 67,000 went to Etty Abergil, Deganit Berest, Yehudit Guetta, Maya Cohen Levy, Pnina Reichman, Eli Shamir and the Tav Group.
The 10 who each got NIS 18,000 were Edna Ohana, Yehoshua Borkovsky, Aya Ben Ron, Dani Bak, Farideh Golbahar, Nadav Wissman, Oriel Meron, Reut Furster, Alice Klingman and Merav Shin Ben-Alon.
The 10 Young Artists awards of NIS 10,000 went to Boaz Aharonovitch, Dror Daum, Maya Zak, Daniel Habif, Yanai Toistar, Maya Lerman, Peter Ya'acov Maltz, Dani Silver, Yosef Krispel and Tali Shochat.