When craft becomes art

Ceramicists today are not resolute about molding functional wares but appear to be more interested in sculpting and creating pure three-dimensional designs.

By GIL STERN STERN GOLDFINE
October 11, 2007 11:15
art Necklace 88 224

art Necklace 88 224. (photo credit: )

For more than a decade or two craftspersons have been exploring options that extend far beyond the traditional, time honored forms and techniques in the fields of ceramics, fiber art, glass blowing and jewelry design. More often than not, the practical aspect of a crafted item has been discarded and replaced with abstract or decorative motifs. Ceramicists today are not resolute about molding functional wares but appear to be more interested in sculpting and creating pure three-dimensional designs. The ceramics museum Beit Aharon Kahana in Ramat Gan, under the curatorial leadership of Ina Aroetti, has masterfully established a middle ground that pleases both classic potters and contemporary sculptors. Regardless of the outcome as witnessed during the past few years, working with clay remains the common material denominator for both, while the technical summary and the level of inventiveness are defined by an individual's learned skills and inherent creative aptitudes. Aroetti's current exhibition entitled "Necklaces" consists of 14 marvelously crafted pieces by ceramicist-jewelry designer Or Riter-Rachevsky. Essentially, each piece has been hand crafted and fabricated by Rachevsky from assorted sections of painted and fired porcelain that culminate in a large, stunningly designed decorative pendant akin to a regal talisman. These cameos are not only beautifully shaped but contain female images and mystifying icons painted on the porcelain or embedded in translucent stone and harnessed from diverse cultures, including Nefertiti's Egypt, French Art Nouveau and Italian Rococo. Rachevsky's range of ornamentation is also quite astonishing. In addition to the delicately glazed hollow porcelain strips stippled with floral motifs, her necklaces contain brass fittings, gold filigree, chunks of crystal and tiny sea pearls. A poster describing Sarah Bernhardt in costume by the Czech Art Nouveau printmaker and painter Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) shows the actress wearing a dazzling turquoise, gold and deep ultramarine choker that has been reproduced by Rachevsky, cryptically labeling it "I Have to Die in Order to Live." A second poster portraying the attractive 16th-century royal courtesan Diane de Poitiers, friend to King Henri II of France, was painted by François Clouet, a minor artist of the period. On her naked bodice, Clouet has carefully rendered a sparkling gold and multicolored necklace that was the inspiration for a second Rachevsky gem viewed adjacent to the poster. A special exhibition and worth a visit. (Beit Aharon Kahane, 147 Rokach, Ramat Gan.) Until end of October. PREOCCUPIED with those little furry things with long tails and sharp teeth that we know are there but rarely see, the sculptor Yaakov Chefetz has created two installations, one large and one small, both dedicated to the rodent - and his menace the human counterpart. In the larger of two halls, Chefetz has constructed from strips of wood and butterfly screws the frame of a flying rat, possibly his cousin the bat, festooned with flaming red cloth flowing on its upper struts. To bring us back to reality, Chefetz has placed a handful of ready-made and loaded mousetraps around the tiled floor panels. The small hall contains a monumental axe with broken handle hovering above a TV monitor on whose screen we are partnered with a white lab mouse scurrying to and fro in search of an allusive morsel of leftovers. Like most challenging works, after battling with the undercurrents of Chefetz's sculptures, the viewer will realize that his installations are not really of mice and men but are crammed with political allegory. His message, like the Capricio etchings by Goya, is confrontation as it refers to issues of giant versus small, mighty versus the elusive and the hunter seeking the hunted. Sound familiar? The obviousness of Chefetz's iconographic idioms and the simplicity with which they are presented raises the question why devote time and energy to such an unresolved presentation. These works should be labeled sketches, preliminary studies for greater things to come, and ought to be approached and evaluated as such. (The Constant Sculpture Gallery, Rehov Smadar 42, Ramat Gan). Through November. FOR SOME strange reason the Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art has resurrected works by Michael Gross (1920-2004) an artist whose varied oeuvre makes it difficult to place him in the country's pantheon of painters or sculptors. From figurative paintings of the 1940s, crusty and emotionally charged, Gross slowly adopted a minimalist manner, reducing people, landscapes and still life to basic shapes and forms and, in most cases, completely eradicating the essence of what they were and how they looked. The display here covers, in fairly equal quantities, paintings, drawings and sculptures, the latter mostly ready-mades tidied up, painted and reassembled into new, sometimes innovative but not very enigmatic, configurations. Too often, for those who are familiar with late 20th-century art, it becomes apparent that Gross was overly influenced by modernist favorites. Looking at Motherwell, whose palette of white, black and ocher is repeated endlessly by Gross; Newman whose Vortex series' insistence on verticality seems to have overtly impressed Gross; and Giacometti's walking figures led Gross to create any number of paintings and three-dimensional works inspired by the bronze's elongation and gestured simplicity. Probably the most accomplished and truly original works in the exhibition are a dozen black-and-white drawings depicting personalities and friends and a few excellent self-portraits that not only define but project human qualities in a few understated lines. Amid the endless panels of reductive canvases, mostly boring without enough content to hold one's attention, curator Meir Ahronson has installed four white maquettes that were eventually completed as monumental outdoor sculptures. In addition to Broken Line and Drawing in Space, there is a sketch for Stool, a geometric design from 1981 that would become a signature piece for the sculptor. On display in the museum's mezzanine gallery is a portfolio of prints by Shimon Tzabar (1926-2007), a self-styled ultra-left anarchist, revolutionary and Haaretz journalist. Mostly local Tel Aviv-Jaffa genre scenes from the 1950s and 1960s in black-and-white line, and mostly pedestrian, Tzabar renders the usual suspects: fishing boats in harbor, mother and child, laborers and street scenes, salted with the occasional landscape and portrait. Uninspiring and passionless sums it up! Tzabar left Tel Aviv for London after the occupation of Arab lands following the Six Day War, where he lived until his recent death. A series of black ink drawings and abstract washes, sketched and blotted on small individual pages torn from a volume of poems by Yehuda Halevy are by Roni Somek. The selected verse by Halevy includes his famous introductory lines "My heart is in the east, but I am in the west." And why Somek chooses to obliterate portions of these passionate lines is a philosophical question that will, someday, deserve a philosophical answer. The upper galleries contain a display of black-and-white photographs of Israel's mottled seashore shot by Ariav Craig and tricky landscape paintings by Avi Ezra. The former are not especially beautiful nor inspiring as each print contains a single element - flag, house, stele, abandoned wharf - in addition to water and sand. The muddiness and basic compositions of the prints complement Ezra's canvases entitled Look Ahead, See the Rear. Plunked down on a brittle pale yellow surface is an image of an automobile's rearview mirror embedded with a clumsy landscape painting of an indefinable place. Ezra's smudges and palette knife renderings are as insignificant as his sullied self-portraits. Ezra's paintings are a poor finale to Gross's mediocre prelude. (Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art, Rehov Abba Hillel 146.) Through November.


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