Harmony on the edge

His ability to render forms in space without the slightest hesitation is incontestable.

shpilsher art 88 298 (photo credit: Janco-Dada Museum, Ein Hod)
shpilsher art 88 298
(photo credit: Janco-Dada Museum, Ein Hod)
His ability to render forms in space without the slightest hesitation is incontestable. His sensitivity linked to the dynamics of composition is unquestionable. And his understanding of the authority that light and dark tones play on the creation of a painterly reality is undeniable. If all of the above are true, why is Meir Appelfeld a difficult artist to put a handle on? First and foremost, Appelfeld is more of a draughtsman than a painter. He actually draws with a brush and sustains monochromatic palettes throughout his work. Second, color as an expressive tool does not function as an element in his narrative map. Third, Appelfeld's pictures seem to be pre-planned to the extreme - too perfect without the slightest consideration for inaccuracies or coincidence. A number of windowless interiors, dark and brooding, smack of a theatrical set design where every item is positioned to harmonize with the rise and fall of diminishing artificial light on sharply defined edges, an angled chair or the folds of carefully ruffled bedding. These lonely geometric spaces and solid rectangular shafts generate an air of Hopperist expectancy, as if someone was about to enter or has just exited the room. Because drawing is primary to Appelfeld's work, he is inclined to critically observe each and every item in his still lifes and interiors and alter them to satisfy compositional objectives of balance and stability. An example is a shuffled set of opened doors of a bedside table and cabinet, perfectly angled to line up with a foreground chair to create a sharp diagonal that, when added to a rhomboid lamp shade, cuts the picture plane into two triangular sections, an illuminated lower section and a shadowed upper one. This ploy repeats itself in Interior, 2005, where he merely reverses the triangles; and Still Life, 2005, in which the picture plane is divided along a vertical line down the center of the canvas, throwing the left hand portion into near total darkness while the two pitchers on the right maintain the painting's reality. Appelfeld's decidedly reductive figure paintings, angular and puppet-like, are failed attempts to describe the veracity of human anatomy. A charcoal drawing entitled K. Reclining reveals with a few simple strokes a stylized, sculpted female figure believable in her pose and nudity; an oil, Call it Sleep, painted in a range of umbers and a shining sepia, is an unconvincing appraisal of a sleeping, or daydreaming, femme fatale whose legs, one stockinged and one bare, are slightly opened revealing a genital triangle surreptitiously hidden by a coverlet. What would Balthus say! Pears with White Cloth is probably the most inspiring work in the exhibition. Devoid of elaborate additions, one can enjoy this panel for its crusty simplicity. The dozen ochre and yellow fruits, rhythmically tumbling along a horizontal divide in groups of three, like soldiers in the midst of battle, are simultaneously apparitional and solidly brushed without pretense. (Gallery 33, 33 Yehuda Halevi, Tel Aviv.) Till December 20. FOR SEVERAL years, Raya Zommer-Tal, director of the Janco-Dada Museum, appealed to Aviva Margalit-Mambush (1919-2004) to mount an exhibition of her work. The request was always refused. As a founding member of the museum and an influential figure in creating its conceptual framework, she always said, "I didn't participate in the establishment of this museum in order to exhibit in it." Now, on the first anniversary of her death, Margalit-Mambush is being honored with a presentation of her life's work as an artist as well as an exceptional personality in the public domain. The show traverses her achievements in photographs, printed documents, anecdotes, paintings and the applied arts. Born in 1919 in the United States, Aviva Margalit came here with her parents and two sisters in 1928. After commencing her art studies with Haim Gliksberg and soon after at the Avni Institute, she continued with New Horizons notables Streichman and Stematsky. Eventually, like many of her generation, Margalit-Mambush landed in Paris in 1950 to absorb the history of art and round off the cultural edges. Her marriage to artisan Itche Mambush, the founding of Ein Hod artists village and workshops in 1953 with her mentor Marcel Janco and the construction of the museum in his name in 1983 were additional high points in her active civic life. More important than her paintings, weavings and ceramic arts, which in the main are stylized and one-dimensional (although she was awarded the Dizengoff Prize in 1954), the bromides and texts tell the story of a vibrant and dedicated personality who, with quiet humility, somehow made things happen. A devotee of Janco's ideology related to multidisciplinary art, her creativity in the service of society and a search for something beyond the mere formulation of painterly values, as well as the ceramic and weaving workshops established by herself and Itche Mambush, have all become legendary. According to Zommer-Tal, this exhibition tries to return a wonderful artist to center stage and perpetuate her life's work. STARTING IN the museum's entrance foyer and wending its way up the stairs into a small mezzanine gallery is a robust installation by Keren Shpilsher entitled The Popular Girls, in which she has painted and drawn a biting mural of the physical manifestations, mores and dress codes of a child's social environment. Described as delicate, pretty girls who are able to rule the classroom with a flutter of their eyelashes, these soon-to-be full-bodied teeny-boppers are actually transcribed in raucously colored acrylic paintings, graphite illustrations and comic book sketches on a variety of supports as malicious bullies who not only quietly abuse chosen peers, but manage to magnetize a phalanx of admiring sycophants. Shpilsher admits she always wanted to be one of the popular girls but, to her dismay, lacked the physical characteristics needed to achieve their haughty rank. Central to her idealized image of a Popular Girl are broad, heavily made-up eyes and excessively large, fiery red, pouting lips, whose fleshy fullness projects a salaciousness that rejects any form of authenticity. These two elements, one of outright seduction, the other of burning pre-pubescent desire, weave their way in and out of Shpilsher's profusion of graphic portraiture, classroom vignettes and personalized graffiti. THE SEA with its endless horizon, a metaphor for freedom and independence, is played out against the walled city and crammed alleys of ancient Acre in Raida Adon's captivating video, The Other Side of the Wall. Following a group of would-be clerics dressed in white-hooded cassocks from a seafront assembly to the congested inner sanctums of the old city, Adon, an Israeli-Arab, presents a highly confrontational picture of the Palestinian cause, albeit in shadowy symbols. From the tranquil chanting of ritual background sounds to the inner city ersatz carnage and destruction (as indicated by an overturned chair and dispersed dolls), the entire episode takes on a ceremonial surreal look. With an abundance of overlapping black and white images tied to an outstanding sound track and excellence crosscutting, Adon's film is well executed and definitely worth crawling down into the museum's crypt for the showing. (Janco-Dada Museum, Ein Hod.) All of the above exhibitions till December 17. IMAGINARY AND real portraits in concert with several graphically designed mug shots are by the hand of the late Jean David (1908-1993). Having spent much of his career at the design board, David's pictures are infused with a delicate, illustrative manner rather than a hearty, painterly one. On the heels of his retrospective at the Open Museum in Tefen, Faces is an amusing accumulation of drawings, collages and two paintings, a self-portrait and his celebrated canvas entitled Nun. Using a Rapidograph pen, David was able to maintain a singularly graceful contour line for defining his shapes and a mixture of hatching techniques to create the illusion of solid forms. This is especially true in Memento Mori, several beautifully rendered panels incorporating the skeletal structure of facial features with the reality of additional muscle and skin. The whimsical sketches of Saul Steinberg come to mind when looking at David's inventive collages. Their reductive descriptions are packed with both wit and absurdity and devoid of any sentimentality or schmaltz. Buttons, feathers, nails, mosaic tiles and an assortment of found objects, laid out on various textured surfaces, all go into making clever reductive studies of the human face. IN AN attempt to be more hip and politically correct, the Rubin Museum is showing several video clips on the subject of Yisraeliyut, roughly translated as Being Israeli. Songs and social commentaries transformed from popular culture and light entertainment attempt to express the nature of Israel's cultural heroes, Jewish-Arab relations, segregation and tensions. (Rubin Museum, 14 Bialik, Tel Aviv.) Till February 15.