On view in Tel Aviv

From constructivist abstractions to cabaret dolls.

Young Woman paint 88 224 (photo credit: Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv)
Young Woman paint 88 224
(photo credit: Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv)
A vest-pocket retrospective dedicated to the paintings of Avraham (Natanson) Naton (1906-1959) is an important event despite the limited number of works on view. His artistic career, cut short prematurely at the age of 53, was one dedicated to a strong belief in Zionist principles often illustrated in an energetic range of landscapes, social genre and portraits. His major contribution to the local art scene, however, a display of constructivist abstractions took place only during his last two years of his life. Born in Bessarabia, Naton began his studies in Bucharest but came to Palestine in 1935 as a member of the Youths of Zion movement, where he embarked on a life that combined a vision of building a pioneering proletariat society infused with a modern cultural foundation. These ideals led him to function as secretary and coordinator of art-related events at the Milo Club for Writers and Artists and, in 1948, a founding member of the avant-garde New Horizons group. Teacher, painter and lithographer, Naton could be considered the quintessential Israeli painter. His paintings run the gamut from early, academically rendered, landscape with proper perspective and an exceptional application of darkish local colors to a series of reductively drawn figurative canvases and drawings, the best being Fishermen and David and Saul (both painted in 1951) and finally to his late non-objective compositions. According to Irith Hadar, curator of the exhibition, Naton's need to draw and sketch was probably as central to his oeuvre as his painterly mission. The score of pencil and pen and ink drawings on view transcend his desire to create studies for eventual translation into oils and gouaches. They are stand-alone finished compositions. One can only surmise what the rationale was or influences were that provided Naton with the wherewithal to take a giant leap from figurative genre scenes to the purity of geometric abstraction. Whatever, the viewer can easily trace the stylistic evolution of shape, line and color from recognizable forms to compositions that show a balanced design of colorful rectangles and squares. On the way to his final statements the viewer must notice several panels that point to mannerisms absorbed from Miro, Braque and Ozenfant in which simply rendered still life objects and figures are embedded into flattened surfaces divided into alternate sized and muted colored rectangles. Naton's final canvases from 1957 to 1959 are not only a confirmation of his intelligence and creative enthusiasm but, despite his illness, they are a tribute to constructivist and neo-plastic painters, from Malevich and El Lissitsky to Soulage and Mondrian. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd.) Till end of July. IT HAPPENS every spring. And this year is no different as a string of exhibitions of works by recent undergraduates and graduate students of local art schools are being scoured by gallery directors and museum curators searching for the next year's luminary. Except for a few displays that rise above accepted standards, a review of Salame 008, incorporating photographs, paintings, installation art, video and sculptures by 16 graduates of the Bezalel MFA program, shows a lack of pizzazz and is short on the professional skills one would expect from artists who have been subjected to advanced studies for the past two years. Large C-prints by Aviram Valdman contain the basic elements for enabling a photograph to hurdle its medium and turn it into an aesthetic experience. His subjects, the remnants of a Purim Adloyada (festooned parade floats) basking in evening light or bland trees isolated on pillars of rock carved from a Negev quarry, is connected to a critical eye for composition and excellent illumination fashioned by patience and time. Efrat Kedem has organized her space with an installation constructed from bits and pieces of exterior and interior building materials. What looks like arte povera is actually a realistic assessment of an invented place in the throes of change. Chopped chunks of furniture, cracked walls and plumbing fixtures being extracted from brittle plaster board provide a microcosmic allegorical statement of destroy and rebuild as the viewer leaves the space only to be captured on video moving down a carpeted corridor. At the heart of Michal Erez's installation is her flouting what one would term high art as she descends into a world of mischievous, ornamental drawing, cutting and adhered fragments of colorfully decorated paper in a linear fashion along the walls of her studio. The addition of several delicate objects of a feminine nature along her design line adds a dose of hedonism that is decidedly gratuitous. The painters in the group include over life size portraits in a defined graphic manner by Maya Yisrael and abstractions by Chagai Luria that explode off the wall without concern for harmony or aesthetics. They are raucous, delirious and crammed with the buoyancy of youth. (Bezalel Tel Aviv, Rehov Salame 60, Tel Aviv). Till June 28. ONE ASSUMES that realistic figure and portrait painters like Yossi Mark (b. Israel, 1954) are continually confronted by a critical question: How rational should my anatomical descriptions be? Or should pragmatism be thrown to the wind in search for pictorial alternatives as well as painterly techniques in the fields of melodrama, poetry or the bizarre. Coming from a background of philosophy and social sciences at Tel Aviv University, it is understandable why Mark has chosen a middle ground. His academic training has boiled over to his art. By placing a female nude seated on a simple bed in an undecorated room, she has been transformed into the unmitigated castaway from the painter's life while simultaneously sited at the center of the viewer's world where he or she is asked to complete the narrative. The obvious intimacy and singular loneliness of the model is a compositional scheme used traditionally in one form or another from Courbet and Bonnard to Edward Hopper, Philip Pearlstein and Lucien Freud. What separate Mark's paintings from others painted in a similar style are his schematic definitions and an outstanding underpainting technique. His forms, rendered in a non-aggressive range of local colors, are clearly defined and rock-solid especially a charismatic Self-Portrait as a Cat (2007) and an elderly portrait, Abuna (2004). (Chelouche Gallery, Rehov Chissin 5, Tel Aviv). Till June 28. ANIMATION STUDIES in the early 1990s have undoubtedly provided Christoph Ruckhäberle (b. Germany, 1972) with a foundation for the images in his current paintings - dolls and puppets which appear to be humans. Associated with the New Leipzig School formed after the Berlin Wall came down, Ruckhäberle's pictures couldn't belong to any other source other than northern European painting. He has absorbed narrative elements from German folklore, art history and an expressionist palette and amalgamated them with illustrations of tribal and other ethnic forms to create vibrantly colored pictures that are as often as frightening as they are entertaining. Looking at the transformation of stiffly carved dolls into humans acting out myths on large colorful stages, some with Magritte-like clouds in the background, is like peeking into an underground cabaret where sex and politics are fused into garish vignettes. Ruckhäberle's use of color in combinations of chartreuse and pinks, ultramarines, ochres and olive greens can be attributed to the early 20th-century expressionists, notably Jawlensky, Kandinsky and Nolde. (Sommer Contemporary Art, 13 Rothschild, Tel Aviv). Till July 5. TAL FRANK recently completed her MFA degree at the University of Haifa under the tutelage of ace sculptor Eli Gur Arie. And it seems her standing sculptures and wall reliefs, personal as they might be, attest to his influence. Most notable is Geff's Dog, best described as a canine skeleton whose tail continues to wag and whose appetite for playing ball has not waned. This major piece, molded and carved from acrylics and vinyl, confirms Frank's investigation of duality in art. As Rex sits on his hind legs, both dead and alive, he waits patiently for his reincarnation. Other works include a crushed face mask that could very well be a Francis Bacon portrait or black tar oozing down the wall. Each piece proposes a duality of purpose: then and now, inert and active, life and death. (Rosenfeld Gallery, 147 Dizengoff, Tel Aviv). Till June 21.