Heroines, whores and harpies

Victor Arwas: At the heart of the femme fatale concept is a male fear of impotence coupled with a violent fear of female superiority.

aroch flowers painting88 (photo credit: )
aroch flowers painting88
(photo credit: )
The "femme fatale" is described by Dr. Doron J. Lurie, curator of the Old Masters Department at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, as a fateful, calamitous or destructive woman. Victor Arwas, Lurie's associate, goes one step further by stating that at the heart of the femme fatale concept is a male fear of impotence coupled with a violent fear of female superiority. To give credence to the notion, Lurie has organized a display of 85 paintings, bronzes and works on paper from the 15th to the 20th centuries that address the idea of the femme fatale in all its gory, passionate, seductive, violent and mysterious manifestations. Arranged by subject, from biblical and mythological episodes and unattached sirens to recent temptresses, the exhibition, although meant to be a serious study of the subject, is just a rather amusing melodramatic review of all those women, apocryphal and factual, who have made men reconsider their superiority. All neatly framed or placed on pedestals, the chosen include Eve, Delilah, Lilith, Bathsheba, Judith, Salom , Helen of Troy, Circe, Lucretia, Cleopatra, Mata Hari, Greta Garbo and Brigitte Bardot. Their reprehensible though sometimes heroic deeds are described in narrative, symbolic and metaphorical works by such notables as Lucas Cranach the Elder, Rembrandt, Abel Pann, Munch, D.G. Rossetti, Chagall, Aubrey Beardsley, Goya, Burne-Jones, Frank Martin and Andy Warhol. Worth a visit. Hebrew-English catalog available. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd.) Till January 5. IF ONE were to chronicle the history of abstract art in Israel, Moshe Kupferman (1926-2003), an Israel Prize laureate, would receive the highest esteem. Noted for a very specific visual language based on grid and plane and a particular violet, green and black palette that he systematically developed over several decades under the marker of "process art," Kupferman was a moving force in the generation immediately following the New Horizons movement. But until Kupferman found the mannerisms that he became associated with, he spent years trying to break away from the push and pull dynamics of abstract expressionism. Those years are displayed in Moshe Kupferman: Paintings from the Beginning, a score of canvases from the early 1960s that indicate a painter agitated by unsuccessful solutions to basic problems of color, line and form. Although crammed with a nervous energy and graphic signs of things to come, the majority of canvases, never shown before, are compositionally unfocused and lack a chromatic schema. They certainly do not project the touch and feel of the exceptional painter he was to become. (Givon Art Gallery, 35 Gordon, Tel Aviv.) Till December 1. FLOWER PAINTINGS in Israeli Art spans 70 years and contains more than two dozen works, most of which are pretty standard fare. But several eyeopeners make viewing the exhibition worthwhile. Among the surprises are a tightly composed naturalistic study by Arie Aroch from 1930; Moshe El Natan's sturdy Flowers in Vase, dated 1960; an interior-exterior composition, Vases and Landscape by Leon Englesberg; Yohanan Simon's familiar yet striking panorama Summer Day in the Kibbutz; two watercolors, one an unusual Anna Ticho and the other an unfamiliar Yosef Zaritsky, and an apocalyptic Self-portrait and Flower by Naftali Bezem. (Engel Galleries, 26 Gordon, Tel Aviv.) Till December 7. DIVIDED BETWEEN colored pencil drawings on paper and oils on perspex, works by Ruven Kuperman manage to distance themselves from the emotional baggage his sitters must have brought with them. His large frontal portraits and isolated life-size renderings of both men and women are cold and calculated ultra-realistic renderings in which he captures the minutest anatomical details, from surface veins and strands of hair to the shifting colors of skin. The portraits are diligently constructed from a multitude of vivid, clearly identifiable, pastel-colored strokes that are built up in layers to form facial planes while the figures, unnaturally rigid, negate the illusion of body and soul by being reduced to illustrations closer to bio-anthropological specimens describing the human presence in the 21st century. Kuperman is a classic example of a talented artist creating objective items from live subjects. Spectators can only marvel at his facility for creating an illusion of life while walking away thinking about the banality of it all. (Rosenfeld Gallery, 147 Dizengoff, Tel Aviv.) Till December 9. HAVING GONE through two world wars and several major regional conflicts from Vietnam to Darfur in the previous century alone, it is fair to say that, after countless attempts, protest art just doesn't work. Yet, once again, two Israelis and two Palestinians have formed an anti-establishment camp that has created the obvious, unsympathetic, illustrative and allegorical images of human misery without hope. Nasrin Abu Bakr shows austere black drawings on canvas of graphic subjects ranging from hooded terrorists flashing Kalashnikovs to a veiled woman carrying the torch of either destruction or freedom. In a symbolic wall piece, Ruti Helbitz uses oversized cutouts of black and white paper butterflies, mosquitoes, mushrooms and snakes adhered to the wall to create a phantasmagorical garden in the throes of demise, complete with hanging dead larvae and grenades that look like pomegranates. A two-part display by Adva Drori includes a floor installation and a series of framed, mixed-media collages. The former, Am I a Murderer, contains an awkwardly reclining bride-doll, surrounded by a decrepit rocking horse and an infant's bath together with a muddled array of forgettable items stuck into plastic sheeting covering an oriental carpet, that all look like a recycled Ed Keinholz. Manal Mahamid is a video artist whose film, projected on a wall of correspondence written in Arabic, reveals a person with no ethnic attributes plucking a bright yellow flower (she loves me, she loves me not?). Lacking translation of the letters, coupled with no identification of the video's protagonist, the work falls into a pattern of total neutrality, unquestionably the opposite of the artist's intent. (Julie M. Gallery, 7 Glikson, Tel Aviv.) Till November 23. STAGED PHOTOGRAPHS by Boaz Tal of an elongated female nude (and a few close-ups) emerging from the deep recesses of ultra-dark backgrounds are dramatically lit to increase their anonymity and mysteriousness. Tinted in a range of orange to sepia, Tal's grainy prints are highly stylized and often labeled a homage to such notables as Francis Bacon, Giacometti and Georgia O'Keefe. The references to these artists are overly esoteric and the only true semblance to a historical figure is, to my mind, George de la Tour, the 17th-century French painter whose theatrical compositions and flamboyant illumination made him special among his peers. (Gordon Gallery, 95 Ben-Yehuda, Tel Aviv.) Till November 18.