Craft into art

Israeli ceramists have all but abandoned their status as crafts persons.

It started several years ago, but with the Fourth Biennale for Israeli Ceramics it is now confirmed: Israeli ceramists have all but abandoned their status as crafts persons, creating utilitarian objects to practice the fine art of sculpture and installations. This vast biennale of works by more than 125 artisans, entitled Territory and Identity: Between Ceramics and Architecture, examines once again Israel's cultural identity and where it is positioned in light of a changing geopolitical and social environment. If anything is learned from the plethora of pieces stacked side by side, it is that the country's remarkable creative spirit, inspired by imagination and ideas and here given the opportunity to shine, continues to flourish. Although there are no direct links between ceramics and architecture - as one deals in monumental functional space and the other in intimate, disposable objects - participants have gone far past their training to create symbolic and ideological presentations that are often quite confrontational. Curator David Knafo, himself an architect and author of the catalog's lead article, Regionalism in a Era of Globalization, has managed to harness a complex subject and turn it into an exploratory artistic enterprise. Distributed on the floor and walls of a gallery not large enough to esthetically absorb the 100 or so pieces, the viewer must devote sufficient time for navigating the content and comprehending the artists' intent. Many works incorporate video, film, photography and found objects with the clay, while others rely on a strict adherence to the basic material. Some deal directly with the subject, while others are more obscure and attempt to circumvent the exposition's stated issues: boundaries and identity. Nevertheless, this is an important and interesting exhibition, and worth a visit. Rothschild Center, Eretz Israel Museum, Rehov Haim Levontin 2, Ramat Aviv. Daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays till 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 2 p.m. Tel. (03) 641-5244