Era of the gimmick

If you ever thought British taste is variously old-fashioned, twee, or kinky, your suspicions will be strengthened by this collection.

Planning - or judgment - has gone awry at the Israel Museum. The new British-organized design show is spread throughout the Israeli Art pavilion, while the Palevsky Design Pavilion is closed and the Billy Rose Pavilion is padded with a slight conceptual effort by a visiting Belgian. Yet the fascinating prehistoric art presentation, the only really interesting recent show at the museum, is banished to the dreadful Weisbord Entrance Pavilion, which most visitors never get to see. This traveling exhibit was pretty much ready-made for for design curator Alex Ward. Pop Noir, which takes up more than half of Design for Thought - Contemporary Product Design from Britain, is replete with conceptual gimmicks, none of them slated for production. Many are designed by foreigners (not a bad thing in itself) who studied under selector Anthony Dunne at the Royal College of Art. Dunne's commercial partner, Fiona Raby, is listed as co-selector of the show. If you were ever under the impression that British taste is variously old-fashioned, twee, kinky or just plain weird, your suspicions will be strengthened by this collection. A few examples will suffice. Michael Anastassiades, a Cypriot who works in London, is represented with Anti-social Light, an unattractive hanging lamp that dims or switches off in the absence of absolute silence. Sufferers of visits from mothers-in-law aside, who needs it? Anastassiades, Dunne and Raby together offer prototypes and photographs of designs for people with particular anxieties. James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau offer a model of Audio Tooth, a tiny telephone implant possibly inspired by spy fiction that will not go into production. Tal Drori, an Israeli working in Italy, and Davide Agnelli, an Italian working in California, have designed Mass Distraction, three jackets with embedded cellular phones that can only be operated if coins are dropped into one of the pockets, or if the hood is completely closed, or if a video game in another pocket is handed to someone else. Danish-born Hanne Louise Loecke Foverskov and James Davis have thought up a vibrator that gives pleasure to the otherwise clinical recipient of a sperm donation. American-born Noam Toran, who works in London, offers an air hostess drinks trolley with built-in turbulence designed as therapy for a stewardess fired in the wake of a panic attack. There are 17 such projects, but need I go on? Like the queen, I was not amused. THE OTHER half of this presentation is quietly interesting, consisting of 102 objects from all over the world collected by Sam Hecht of the Industrial Facility studio of London. Some are found objects, others are in production and a third group offers the basis for ideas. You will need to consult the paper catalog provided to understand what many of them are about; most are both practical and innovative, like a double-headed nail to be used in temporary wooden construction. While the first head holds things together, the second head makes for easy extraction. A Heinz ketchup bottle supplied only to restaurants is of glass colored a more attractive red than the ketchup itself; this reminds me of the old butcher's trick of using only red fluorescent lighting. I liked many of these clever exhibits, like the knife sharpener with a handle, the disposable paintbrush, the vacuum cleaner fragrance pills, the compressed clothing pack and many others. But the soda bottle sealed with a glass ball is not new. Such bottles were popular in the 30s, when I drank ginger beer from them. DOWN IN the Billy Rose Pavilion, Belgian conceptualist Francis Alys is showing The Green Line, a record of his walk through the old border of Jerusalem holding leaking cans of paint which left a thin green line on the road. It is a reprise of a 1995 walk he performed in S o Paulo, then entitled The Leak. This time Alys used 58 liters of green vinyl paint to trace 24 km. of the former border line. Last February, a film of the Green Line walk was presented to a number of people, who were invited to react. The film and a selection of the reactions form the greater part of this show. The reactions of some the Palestinians in the film are occasionally hilarious. Alys acknowledges the intrinsic absurdity of the effort but states that, "Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic." To which one may add that sometimes doing something banal can also result in a banality. But the museum itself missed an opportunity to correct a huge misconception lodged firmly in the minds of most Israelis, Palestinians and outsiders, namely that the Green Line was a recognized international border. It could have added an introductory panel describing the origin of the Green Line drawn on the ordnance map of the Israel-Jordan Mixed Armistice Commission in 1949, shortly after the UN-sponsored Rhodes truce talks, which achieved a cease-fire between Israel and most of the Arab countries that had invaded it in May 1948. The cease-fire line was a reward for King Abdullah of Transjordan, the only Arab leader to successfully grab, by force of arms, a large part of Palestine and all of east Jerusalem. Neither the UN nor a single Arab state recognized Abdullah's annexation of the West Bank. The Green Line did not bring peace. For nearly two decades it had to be constantly guarded against incursions, mostly by Israeli reservists like myself. The line vanished in 1967 when Jordan again attacked Israel and as a result lost Jerusalem and the West Bank. King Hussein eventually abandoned all claim to Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank. A permanent border will hopefully be designated in an eventual peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, one that successfully separates the two nations.