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The changes that transpired from a rational reflection of reality in form and light via Courbet and Monet, and through a further dissection by Van Gogh, C zanne and eventually Picasso, provided a sweeping change in the arts that began with the trampling of Symbolism in late 19th-century Europe. More than a hundred years down the road, art forms are rather static now, but nature is waving a red flag. We can view with trepidation the disastrous consequences of the planet's ecological conditioning and, for some, a loosening of man's moral fiber that has infected the global village.
But a combination of modern technology and communication media has presented artists with the means to create socially conscious works with a distinctive personality that offer imaginary solutions for the key objective of the human race - an ecological reversal.
One such artist is the Israeli sculptor of techno-hybrid reliefs and installations Eli Gur Arie. His fascinating pieces are transcendental to the core, for they not only go beyond the boundaries of our comprehensible world but also invent new ones that are both startling and beautiful, set in locations where imagination replaces sight and thoughts are substitutes for reality.
Essentially, Gur Arie is a social-minded artist. His sculptures relating to environment, ecology, mass markets and media are often bewildering but never trivial. His invented battery of images is simultaneously emblematic and enlightening. Hidden beneath these often-curious objects and life forms are deeper meanings that require the spectator to inspect and interpret, and if necessary look again.
For the past several years Gur Arie has been creating enlarged three-dimensional artifacts for marketing communications, an activity that has put him in close contact with agencies and corporations that sell potions and dreams to consumers. His work on products like perfume bottles and specialty foods have had a direct influence on his current exhibition entitled "Aphrodisiac and The Wealth of Nations" (after Adam Smith, 1776).
At the heart of the display is a work Gur Arie has labeled Andromeda, a curious installation in which he probes the essence of marketing unnecessary, often pointless, products to women by combining several sculpted forms that are succulent, sexual and violent and, at the same time, intimidating and gracious.
Following the mythological legend of physical splendor, sacrifice and redemption, Gur Arie has molded a monstrous pink squid, with overtones of pulsating female genitalia, resting in the center of an enormous scallop shell on a bed of delicate pearls. Andromeda, chained and vulnerable, takes the form of a betrothal ring whose diamond has been replaced by a geometric metallic form activated by electrodes that emerge from the belly of the squid. Supported by a flaming hand and a display case showing forms echoing the centerpiece, this startling installation is filled with the visual energies central to Gur Arie's entire body of work.
Three smaller scallop shells, decorated with a combination of foodstuffs, some realistic, others reduced to abstract forms, are assembled to promote his dismay with the marketers of edible produce. Contained within one is a plat du jour of an abnormal piece of pink mucus, an extremely viscous monster set on a bed of lettuce and held in place by a arched nail piercing two bombastic pearls. Alongside this shell is an ersatz chunk of fresh salmon sprouting elongated threads of vegetation and decorated with a bed of saffron rice and lumpfish caviar, while a precious red snail affectionately has attached itself to the main body of the work.
These marvelous vignettes are almost too appealing to be considered anti-social statements. Gur Arie is not interested in creating pretty sculptures; he is a dedicated social and environmental critic who uses motor skills, talents for fabricating and assembling and a keen intellect to deliver his messages.
Other works include a colossal makeup brush from Helena Rubinstein (a jibe at both the corporation or the Tel Aviv Museum's Pavilion for Contemporary Art) whose fine hairs have been replaced by a wacky Rube Goldberg apparatus of menacing metallic scissors and clippers. A large, electric blue splash of liquid, driven by a pair of miniature jet engines attached to its side, is skillfully designed and deftly fabricated.
To create his fantasies Gur Arie first sculpts and polishes his variety of forms in polystyrene, then continues to make several polymer molds from which the final volumes emerge and amalgamated into one work. The final and most rewarding stage is the application of several layers of alternating opaque and transparent thinner-based lacquers that result in slick patinas, both seductive and enchanting.
In a recent catalog essay, Doron Rabina indicated that Gur Arie's sculptures are more of a phenomenon, a kind of appearance or apparition than a mass of material that takes up space. He goes on to say that the luminous works are anti-sculptural and closer to the art of photography and language.
A polarity between the political and the fantastic and the erotic and the ecological are some of the foundation stones upon which Gur Arie builds all his sculptures. His exploratory visions of man's destiny with the forces of nature and its flora and its fauna touch on the basics of survival and, if one were to carry the concept a bit further, a contact with spiritual redemption.
The Symbolist poet Mallarme once said: "To depict not the thing but the effect it produces." This could be applied to much of Gur Arie's sculptures. Despite the surrealist and symbolist influences, his pieces are nurtured by the worlds of science fiction and commercial work developing models for promotional activities. The end result is that, taking all the elements into consideration, his sculptures evoke and provoke as well as describe a battery of brilliantly crafted forms in what some might describe as a pagan language for the 21st century.
COVERING THE foyer and downstairs gallery, an exhibition of photographs by Iris Nesher focuses on nude women - portraits and full figures. Labeled "Tempered," the posed images are, like the title indicates, mostly restrained, but several, however, show a definite impression of physical angst and an undercurrent of psychological anxiety.
The compositions are not the conventional frontal pose of head and shoulders. Each print includes a single individual; several showing the entire body and others compressed details. Most of the photographs present the sitters in a series of acrobatic acts, contorted, bent limbs and twisted heads. All the models emerge from the darkness of a flat background into a foreground of a strong single light source to increase the drama of the visual effects and elevate the subject's anatomical descriptions.
Each undulating form, perhaps inspired by baroque painting, is handled in a very deliberate manner, carefully posed, composed, illuminated and printed in a grainy sepia tone. On occasion Nesher calls upon design aids to add a spark of interest to the skin tones. These include translucent fabric, mask, X-rays of teeth and rubber straps or cord, the latter wrapped around the figure's legs, head and torso revealing in her hands a segment from a cat's cradle.
Despite Nesher's exceptional approach to photographing the nude, the illumination harks back to the master Edward Weston and his school. And her symmetrical composition that includes a frontal view of a woman holding a mask cannot but remind one of Man Ray's iconic photo, Kiki with an African Mask, dated 1926. (Rosenfeld Gallery, Rehov Dizengoff 147, Tel Aviv).