Getting better all the time

An interesting group exhibition mounted to shore up 31 small ink-and-watercolor drawings by Bela Kadar, deals with biographical notes related to Hitler.

bela kedar art 88 (photo credit: )
bela kedar art 88
(photo credit: )
My praise for Smadar Eliasaf's talents in this column several weeks ago has been vindicated in The Cement Garden, her current show of selected works from 1994-2005. The six large canvases and a dozen smaller ones confirm that Eliasaf has developed into the principal proponent of non-objective painting in Israel, replacing, and in some respects, surpassing, the late Lea Nikel. Eliasaf begins her creative journey by placing canvas on her studio floor, which she then proceeds to wash, sponge and brush on diluted effervescent hues, while adhering crusted paper and bits of canvas to the surface. The ensuing planes, exceptionally well-composed with partial encrustations of pigment intermixed with gold-leaf bordering on soft transparencies, coalesce into what looks like a combination of geophysical maps and erupted lava flows. As a colorist, Eliasaf is exemplary. In the past year she has resorted to a Fauvist palette that combines, for example, organic shapes of mauve and turquoise with fragments of Chinese red, emerald green and a sharp peacock blue. Her compositions from the late '90s, however, present a greater fluidity of dense, yet unresolved, color schemes and are less adventurous. Giverny 3, an obvious homage to Monet's marvelous Water Lilies (The Clouds) from 1903, sparkles with the watery quality of the great impressionist's sonnet to his garden. It redefines his composition into a crusty, jig-sawed facade that echoes, edge to edge, the varied viridian foliage, ultramarine pond, pale violet-pink flowers and whitish shapes imitating the reflections of passing clouds. Nikel's preferred blend of dazzling oranges, magenta, sea blues and ochre are played against each other in Lea Nikel in Bleach. Using a similar palette against a pastel sand background, Eliasaf washes large fields of semi-transparent acrylics containing tints of linear arteries that seem to germinate within the runny shapes as they turbulently face-off against each other. Subsequently the colors create a vortex of secondary hues in the painting's center, to create a subtle analysis of Nikel's action-like playfulness. Eliasaf is a sensitive and self-confident painter. For lovers of abstract art, this exhibition is a must (Gordon Gallery, 95 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv). Till November 27. CELEBRATING 30 years of her country's independence, the Honorary Consul General of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Ms. Marie-Clare Adam Murvitz, together with the Dervish Gallery, has organized a display of traditional tribal art from the 1200 km.-long Sepik River region and outlying islands of Melanesia. Animism and ancestor worship were and still are the spiritual wellsprings of the very varied tribes of New Guinea. Today, although mostly Christianized, the tribes living on the banks along the many rivers, in the dense rain forests and in the mountainous highlands maintain contact with their animistic roots, practicing ancient social and religious ceremonies accompanied by hand-carved masks, shields, boat prows, weapons, drums, hooks and jewelry. A ferocious looking Tatanua helmet mask from the Malagan traditions of New Ireland is carved from lime wood and decorated with snail shell eyes, pendant ear lobes, a broad nose and a large, dramatic mouth showing a broad set of teeth. Topped by an arching regal plume of painted rattan, the headdress is decorated on one side with rows of variegated fiber and lime designs on the other. The colorful mask was created to portray the classic form of manly beauty and power, and was used to perform titillating dances to honor the dead. Hung from finely woven hemp embedded with cowrie shells and nassa shells is a special kina necklace, a large crescent-shaped, gold-hued shell that was once the region's currency. Originating in the southern highlands of Papua, the kina is used for bride price, blood feud paybacks and a display of wealth. The national currency of Papua is called the kina, an indication of its importance as a trading item. The two dozen pieces on view include a variety of basket hooks and decorated poles for storing lime and betel nut, all gathered from villages dotting the middle and upper Sepik River. Considering that much of PNG's tribal lore is based on the river and its hundreds of tributaries, much of the iconography recounts the ancestral crocodile and its mythology of creation and exotic birds, both carved and incised in a variety of reductive naturalistic forms. A roughly carved wooden kundu drum with a slick patina and reptilian tympanum, possibly from the Iatmul of the middle Sepik River region, contains simplified crocodile reliefs and concentric geometric carvings, and was used in clan singing ceremonies in the patriarchal spirit house (no women are allowed in the men's house). Stylized zoomorphic faces carved into totemic masks in dark wood, many containing the ubiquitous hooked, phallic noses and small, penetrating eyes are typical of each of the scores of tribes in the upper Sepik region. Several have been decorated with added fiber and grass, and others were painted in vibrant colors obtained from minerals, burnt shells, charcoal and plants and mixed with sap and water before being applied. The suspension hooks carved in the form of fish or human shapes are used to hang string baskets of food from the hut's rafters. These hooks, common to the entire region, prevent rats and other pests from reaching their lunch. This is a limited display but extremely interesting lore, and it's worth a visit (Dervish Gallery, 21 Dov Hoz, Tel Aviv). A NEW gallery, Elements, specializing in 20th-century art and design includes an excellent sampling of furniture, glassware, ceramic and porcelain china, lighting fixtures, metalware and jewelry in Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus and modernist styles. Currently on view, in addition to a quartet of sleek bakelite radios from the '30s, is a group of attractive renderings of furniture designs, dated 1930-1940, by an anonymous German architect. Meticulously sketched in watercolors and pen and ink in shades of brown and sepia on translucent parchment, these drawings epitomize the clean geometric lines and iconic embellishments that were part of the weightiness of eclectic European design in the mid-20th century. Also of special interest are a beautiful, art-deco, black lacquer cut glass wine decanter with glasses and a pink porcelain tea pot and matching cups, both from the Czech Republic, circa 1932. The gallery guarantees the authenticity of all its objects (Elements, 27 Gordon, Tel Aviv). AN INTERESTING group exhibition mounted to shore up 31 small ink-and-watercolor drawings by the Hungarian painter B la K d r (1876-1955), deals with biographical notes related to Hitler. Works include a small, dressed sculpture by Zoya Cherkassky; a familiar trio of drawings from Roee Rosen's graphic series Live and Die as Eva Braun; Tamy Ben-Tor's up-front video presentation entitled Women Talk about Hitler and a two-part installation by Boaz Arad encompassing a staged film scenario of Adolf the Painter at home in the Eagles Nest, with edited clips from Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, accompanied by two watercolors signed "A. Hitler." Actually, the contemporary works are rather woolly, divided between items we have seen before or just suitable in a passive mode. Imaginative as they may be, they seem detached from any content that would arouse either one's anger, biographical curiosity or deep emotional reactions. Similarly, the K d r illustrations, although extremely well-drawn, document vignettes in the Budapest ghetto from 1944-1945, rather than render with feeling the heroic subjects or factual atrocious incidents. The agony of ghetto life made intolerable by their dreadful oppressors is dashed off as capsulated descriptions of the factual incidents. One has only to be reminded of Goya's Disasters of War to appreciate how an artist, with the simplest of means, can express the manifestations of violence and the intensity of man's cruelty. The most interesting work in the show is by Ben-Tor, who acts the part of several different women as they use academic and commercial vernacular to demolish Hitler's persona. Having donned several different wigs, she represents, among others, a feminist publisher, a pharmacist and a doctor as they face the camera and spout their idiosyncratic words of wisdom. The seriousness of the subject is reduced to the level of a human resources survey and a woman's perspective on the ills of National Socialism. Not bad (Rosenfeld Gallery, 147 Dizengoff, Tel Aviv). Till December 12.