When is a mess not a mess?

Sensory deception and the gap between visual perception and reality are the focus of this year’s annual exhibition in the Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education.

July 10, 2013 14:06
Einat Arif Galanti, 2001

Einat Arif Galanti, 2001. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Settling the above conundrum could come in handy for any youth faced with the vexed entreaties of a parent to sort out their bedroom. But that is not an issue at the ArTricks exhibition currently running at the Israel Museum’s Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education.

The prime example of the above is on display on the upper level of the ArTricks illusion- based show, in the shape of Youngman, created by British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster. The work comprises a seeming higgledy- piggledy assortment of carpentry detritus, complete with sawdust scattered around the base. What makes the apparent mess a bona fide and appealing artistic creation is the fact that the light projected onto the work casts a fetching silhouette of a tall young man with tousled hair onto the wall to your left. It seems improbable for the hodgepodge of waste to produce such an attractive end result, but the proof is there for all to see.

And there is plenty to see and ponder across the exhibition. The ground-floor display has a pleasing number of items by Dutch master of illusion M.C. Escher, which are getting an airing from the museum’s vaults. They made for a natural launching pad for the whole project.

“The museum has around 200 works by Escher and [Israel Museum director] James Snyder said that they haven’t been shown to the public for 30 or 40 years,” notes ArTricks curator Daniella Shalev. “I thought there wasn’t much point in just putting on an exhibition of Escher works, that’s been done many times before, but I said I could use his creations as the basis for an exhibition with a wider subject – ta’atuim.”

The latter word in Hebrew means something akin to “illusions,” but Shalev felt that the direct English translation was a bit limiting – hence ArTricks. “I like that, because it’s not just about showing people visual tricks,” says the curator, “these are all serious works of art.”

The is-it-isn’t-it spirit is further enhanced by the fact that the pillars on which the Escher and other pictures hang end before they reached the floor. “That also gets you wondering, doesn’t it?” notes Shalev. “And the pillars are a bit like trees, like you are walking through a forest.”

For Shalev it is about aesthetics but, possibly more important, about inducing some brow buckling. “The element of doubt, or a question mark, about what you are looking at is what interests me,” she says. “You know there is the story in Greek mythology about a competition between two painters, called Zeuxis and Parrhasius, to see who could paint the picture that was the most realistic reflection of life.” Zeuxis’s work, when the curtain was drawn back for the judges to examine, featured a bunch of grapes which, apparently, was so lifelike that a bird flew into the room and pecked at the fruit. Suitably impressed, the adjudicators moved on to Parrhasius’s offering and tried to pull the curtain to one side, only to discover that the “curtain” was the actual work. The latter duly won the contest. “Parrhasius’s was so real that it deceived the judges themselves,” explains Shalev. “It is one thing to fool a bird but it is another thing to deceive the human eye, and brain.”

The eyes and brains that come to see and consider the ArTricks exhibits hail from all age groups. “This is an exhibition for the whole family,” says the curator. “I want adults and children to enjoy this. I want this to be a cross-generational experience. I want people to take in what they see, and only after that to analyze it. It is a sensory thing.”

A good sensory entry into ArTricks, with a suitable thought-provoking message, suggests Shalev, is offered by the Elevator from the Subcontinent work by Indian artist Gigi Scaria. The “elevator” faces the entrance to the exhibition and, when the regulation-looking doors slide open, you find yourself in a cubicle with images on the walls doing the moving. Although the elevator is stationary the video images on the walls convey a sense of ascending and descending through “floors,” each reflecting a different social stratum. “This is a statement about the caste system in India,” Shalev explains. “Here, the artist uses illusion to get a message across about the gap between the super-rich upper class in India and all the rest.”

The upper level of Ar- Tricks is a more tactile and “real” affair. That becomes abundantly clear as you climb the steps only to be shown a somewhat mind messing view of your own back on the wall in front of you. “You don’t normally see that, do you?” Shalev notes somewhat superfluously, and it sets the tone for the wonderful array of works upstairs.

One of the items that invites the public to get in on the act is Girl to Gorilla, by Tamar Harpaz. The work comprises two chairs placed opposite each other on either side of a large plate of glass. The white chair is illuminated by a strong light, and when the chairs are occupied the person in the illuminated chair sees his own reflection superimposed on the image of the occupant of the black chair. When I tried it out with the curator, I suddenly took on a luxuriant mane of black hair “provided” by Shalev.

Other striking perception-manipulating works include Niv Moshe Ben-David’s Red Grid, which appears to be moving laterally and vertically, and Tourists by Maurizio Cattelan, featuring a bunch of stuffed pigeons perched on a wall splattered with droppings, while Talia Keinan’s Untitled (Horses) invites the spectators to employ their audio and visual senses to foresee the arrival of a galloping horse.

One of the last slots in ArTricks is a large spotlit circle projected onto what appears to be a classic red velvet theater curtain. “I have seen children waiting for the curtain to be drawn back so the show can begin,” says Shalev. “You see, it really works.” 

ArTricks closes on February 15, 2014. For more information: (02) 670-8811 and www.imjnet.org.il

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