Dov Feigin: cutting it thin

Veteran Israeli sculptor Dov Feigin died six years ago at the age of 93. For 70 years he was an active sculptor and educator but had only four solo shows during his entire career.

feigin art 88 298 (photo credit: )
feigin art 88 298
(photo credit: )
Veteran Israeli sculptor Dov Feigin died six years ago at the age of 93. For 70 years he was an active sculptor and educator but had only four solo shows during his entire career. Feigin produced just 30 massive outdoor garden sculptures and on-site installations for institutional, military and governmental locations. His current posthumous retrospective at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is rather thin, derivative and in many instances quite repetitive. Born in Lugansk, Ukraine in 1907, Feigin's childhood and adolescent years were fraught with the chaos and confusion of the October Revolution. In 1923 he joined the leftist Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, a decision that led, one year later, to his arrest and exile to Kazakhstan. Through the intervention of the Red Cross, Feigin's punishment was commuted to deportation and in 1927 he arrived in Palestine and joined the Hashomer Hatzair cooperative farm later renamed Kibbutz Afikim. Via his education and association with leftist groups Feigin the man, like Feigin the artist, developed an ethical world-view based on principles of collective justice, brotherhood and a belief that an individual's worth and welfare is dependent on a harmonious society. Except for several pieces in which Feigin promoted his principles of harmony by amalgamating two incongruent forms, the current exhibition, filled with non-objective and quasi-figurative works, does not demonstrate lofty ideals. One can discuss composition, materials, styles, forms, volumes, space and textures, but to attach the concept of social justice to steel, plaster and wood, as curator Irith Hadar attempts in her interesting catalog essay, is an almost impossible task. The show has been divided between two galleries; the first includes a waist-high presentation table stacked with several iron maquettes painted a fiery red and dozens of small studies in mixed-media works. This assembly, together with a slide projection of his public installations, provides the viewer with Feigin's sculptural ethos and his practical solutions to volumes, textures and planes in space. The adjacent venue displays a score of pedestal-size sculptures in a variety of media covering several modernist styles and a few major works including the sensitive and extremely poetic In Memory of Wonderful Children (Girl with Gazelle), a realistic bronze from 1944. Several years on Feigin carved from a single block of wood Seated Woman, a most seductive work that seems to implode into itself. Feigin was a deft figurative sculptor who was swept away by the tide of modernism. The majority of Feigin's works are minor reflections of surrealism, constructivism and minimalist compositions. The welded iron pieces from the mid-1950s, formalistic works cut and reassembled into sharp angles, open and closed arcs and spires, were influenced by the British sculptor Lynn Chadwick. A sense of originality is evident in several linear pieces entitled Tree-Sculptures. Laden with tension and a sense of entrapment these small preliminary works were made from scores of burred twigs. In the late 1950s, as a charter member of New Horizons, Feigin backed away from the overt expressiveness of welded iron and made a series of cutout flat geometric sheets. And works like Animal, Zigzag, Nest, Growth and Composition with Two Planes, all included in the show, are formed by upward escalating planes set on a trio of pointed legs, a continuation of Chadwick's signature. Animal, originally conceived in 1958, was four decades later further idealized, enlarged and painted a bright red; it is permanently installed at the Open Museum in Tefen. Feigin fully capitulated to abstraction. All he required at the time were several sheets of cardboard or a few iron plates, some steel rods and a bucket of red paint. Rectangular Structure with Round Opening, 1975, and several rectangular reliefs dated 1976, constructed from white cardboard, are pure exercises in countpoint influenced by Barbara Hepworth and her husband Ben Nicholson. Feigin's outdoor pieces are among his most successful. In Sculpture in the Garden from 1982 he searches for a universal solution by focusing on two basic elements: a square iron plane with a cut-out disc at dead center and a dozen parallel iron rods. Both units are tipped on their edges soaring upwards toward the sky, and beyond. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd.). CREDIT MUST b e given to the Gordon Gallery for providing exhibition space to four young artists, recent graduates of the Bezalel Academy and the Midrasha at Bet Berl College. And that, unfortunately, is where the praise ends. Except for a pair of acceptable canvases by Galia Pasternak the choice is rather dismal. Tomer Aluf's three muddy oils are slapdash attempts to portray radical subject matter that point up his inability to draw or paint; Avital Cnaani shows apocalyptic sculptures-cum-installations, raggedy surfaces of angularly cut cardboard draped on aluminum armatures; Atar Geva shows paintings that combine a maze of architectural drafting with an imaginary computer game worked around with bright industrial oils and colored chalks on a black field. Pasternak's sinister paintings convey a range of mystifying occult images. Embedded in a Douanier Rousseau inspired jungle setting, two eyeless black boys, or masked shamans, consider their fate, one riding a red zebra abreast of several birds of paradise, the second sitting placidly in the corner like a tribal carving. The second work, Girl in Heaven, possibly an allegory for Eve in the Garden of Eden, focuses on a full female figure playing a hunting horn, engulfed by the flora and fruits of dark apple trees as a suspicious donkey and male mask look on. (Gordon Gallery, 95 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv). Till August 22. AT 23, Igor Guelman-Zak (b. Moldova, 1983) has already had a handful of group shows and a couple of solo exhibitions. He presents himself as a painter, sculptor, installation and video artist - a veritable jack of all trades but master of none. The only redeeming feature in Change, a weird display of objects, films, canvases and works on paper, are precious little teeth, several with embedded hairs, whose importance is overly staged in large Plexiglas display cases. Other than these dental pieces, his illustrative figurative canvases and drawings try too hard to be chic by resorting to a grotesque exaggeration of color, rendering and composition. In the basement is an exasperating video installation in which Guelman-Zak sweats on screen playing with fake nipples, while being joined by a trio of videos in which three sets of three different people are kept busy devouring a chicken - in double time. (Rosenfeld Gallery, 147 Dizengoff, Tel Aviv). Till September 16.