A round of applause for nostalgia

An exhibition entitled 10+, The Ten Plus Group - Myth and Reality, curated by the erudite collector Benno Kalev, is a trip down memory lane.

Batya Apollo 88 224 (photo credit: TAMA)
Batya Apollo 88 224
(photo credit: TAMA)
Nostalgia is a complex feeling. As a term used to describe perceptions of what was, when and where, it in most cases provides historical references, both factual and imaginative. But from a psychological angle, not the dry facts of history, it brings on a sweeping melancholia and reminds one of other, if not better, times. And for those who are easily grasped by the nuances embedded in its presumptions, nostalgia, and its wistful connotations, can only be good for the soul. An exhibition entitled 10+, The Ten Plus Group - Myth and Reality, curated by the erudite collector Benno Kalev, is a trip down memory lane. Well-researched and hung with the consistency and intent of the original Ten Plus exhibitions, the current sampling unfortunately looks somewhat tired and only just projects the radical concepts put forward almost half a century ago. After surveying the hundreds of paintings, sculptures, assemblages, collages, drawings and prints, one can deduce what Ten Plus was for and not what it was against. The charter group, rebels one and all, broke with the conventions of the established New Horizons lyrical abstract style of painting and offered up a mixture of works influenced mainly by the Pop and Conceptual artists active in the United States and Europe. Ten Plus introduced a new wave of creative possibilities by advocating works by young, Israeli-born and-educated artists. The attitude of the reigning few in the Israeli art world at the time, expressed by curators and artists alike in the Tatzpit and Autumn Salons of the mid-1960s, as well as the help of several critics and journalists - also pushed the younger generation to establish the rebellious, anti-establishment, position that led to Ten Plus. The initial gathering of the Ten Plus Group members on August 8, 1965, decided there would be neither manifesto nor ideological motivation for the group's actions so as not to impair or hinder various individuals' creative directions. The current exhibition is one of eclectic mannerisms ranging from realistically rendered portraits of a mystical bent by Batya Apollo to stenciled texts and linear drawings by Henry Shelesnyak and a trio of concrete tondos by Reuven Berman Kadim. Guided by the late Raffi Lavie (1937-2007), Ten Plus remained active from 1965 until 1970 when, after 10 groundbreaking exhibitions, each member went his own way and the group effort became an important page in the collective memory of Israeli art as the '60s' most influential avant-garde movement. During its five active years, Ten Plus organized a number of thematic exhibitions (Red, The Circle, Miniature, Flower, The Nude, For and Against, 10+ Triumphs Over Venus) in which several charter members including Ziona Shimshi, Pinchas Eshet, Buky Schwartz, Mati Bassis and Tuvia Beeri, with more than 75 invited participants, were required to submit works that reflected the subjective premise. Kalev has attempted to relive those times by segmenting the gallery into the original subjects enacted by Lavie's influential personality and by installing works he was able to resurrect from the artists themselves, collectors and museums around the country. Kalev's choices soundly reflect the spirit of an age. They indicate a rough, and in many instances an arrogant, youthfulness that was fundamental to the group's search for innovation, trends that moved past lyrical abstraction and a deformularized approach to creativity. Fifteen years after 10+ ceased as a group phenomenon, Sara Breitberg-Semel confronted several of these issues in her landmark exhibition The Want of Matter at the Tel Aviv Museum. Of the several thematic corners, the two that struck reflective chords were The Circle and Triumphs Over Venus. The former included classic works by Lavie, Shelesnyak, Michael Argov and Alima while the latter was highlighted by Michael Druks's iconic wood and polystyrene sculptural installation of Botticelli's masterpiece; a characteristic Yair Garbus filled with a plethora of grotesque figures and sexual encounters; Aviva Uri's pre-abstract figurative rendering of the goddess and a humorous, mixed-media, work on paper by Oded Feingersh entitled Venus and her Embarrassed Parents. For this writer, the exhibition's surprise is several painted iron sculptures by Aron Doktor, a talented artist whose clearly-defined, pedestal size shapes and volumes encompass a gathering of styles from geometric abstraction to Dada and concrete art. Kalev has not only put together a thoroughly interesting and evocative visual assessment of the past, but also documented the times with an incisive catalog essay that not only addresses the art but the social and political events that created its wherewithal. Ten Plus is an exhibition not to be missed. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd.). LIKE BONNARD'S female nudes and interior views and Diebenkorn's Ocean Park abstractions before her, Smadar Eliasaf's (b. 1952, Haifa) large, non-objective, canvases employ a broad range of beautiful violets, oranges, vermilions and calamine hues and tints applied in a blustery expressive manner. Embedded in the canvases is an unruly distribution of these pulsating colors that become the mechanism by which Eliasaf activates a number of tar black clots. This quality of hide-and-seek between color, black and unpainted space in a variety of sizes characterizes the compositional method in most of her recent pictures and is new to her painterly course. A different application of black, this time monochromatic, can be seen in the lower gallery. Retaining an abstract modus operandi, these smaller formats nevertheless somehow relate to Chinese landscape paintings. By using a stain and calligraphic technique, Eliasaf creates illusionist spaces that advance and recede as the gestured brush strokes change direction, scale and proportion. If the exhibition's title, Looking at the Sun Through Sooty Glasses, has anything to do with the actual compositions, it probably relates to the spotty fragments of acrylic pigment in large fields of unprimed canvas. Seeing these chips and flakes of color or black floating in space without relating to their surroundings is a common physical reaction when one squints at the sun - here, transformed into a poetic statement. Nevertheless, as in the past, Eliasaf's paintings are a tour de force of abstract painting. Each canvas, large and small alike, jumps from the gallery walls with vibrancy and a chromatic animation that grabs the viewer's attention and holds it fast. (Gordon Gallery, 95 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv). UNTIL 2005 the Nathan Gottesdiener Foundation Israel Art Prize, awarded to artists under 40, was presented to an individual, who received both a monetary award and a solo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In 2006 the prize format was changed to a system whereby a number of short-listed artists display their works before an independent judge (Suzanne Landau of the Israel Museum) announces the winner. This year, Talia Keinan (b. 1978) and Shai Zurim (b. 1972) are competing for the top spot. Keinan is a multi-faceted artist who moves back and forth between installations and drawings to conceptually-oriented photographic pieces. In Moonlight Music, her figurative drawings are personality driven in that they at once are happily urbane and sadly oppressive. By contrast, Keinan's installations and video works are simultaneously monotonous and hypnotic as she removes herself from the personal involvement indicated in her graphic oeuvre. Composed of wall-size black-and-white book illustrations, obviously transcribed from projected images, and a handful of baroque-fashioned combine sculptures, Zurim's Worms and Lions is a journey to the imaginative world of storytelling and the carnival of the metropolitan bizarre. Produced from a mishmash of plastic, plaster, fabric, ceramics, wood, metal, polyurethane, clay and industrial paint, his Rauschenberg-cum-Duchampian inspired assemblages, like "Umm Rashrash," project a sense of a galactic apocalypse. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd.).