The face of the nation

One exhibition, 20 artists, 64 artworks, 1,000 expressions.

Flag in Formaldehyde (photo credit: Dudi Dayan)
Flag in Formaldehyde
(photo credit: Dudi Dayan)
On April 26, Israelis will come together for what could well be a barbecue so large, it might be visible from outer space. The parades, the fly-bys, the picnics and parties, the din of matkot percussively ringing all along the seafront in Tel Aviv – all these things are commonplace on Israel’s most popular of secular holidays.
When David Ben-Gurion read out the declaration of independence at the Tel Aviv Museum on Rothschild Boulevard 64 years ago, could he have imagined that the middle classes of his great-grandchildren’s generation would be camping outside in the summer heat, protesting against the domestic impact of the global economic situation in something that became dubbed “the cottage cheese revolution”? I can’t imagine his response, but I am sure it would have fueled as much debate and opinion then as it has proven to do now. The old expression “two Jews, three opinions” rings true for the Israeli passion for setting the world to rights.
The debate, however, has shifted from the chattering narrative of the city’s cafes and park benches to the contemplative form of the gallery in a new exhibition at the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv called “Face of the Country.” Set in a neighborhood famed for its immigrant communities, the exhibition is already well placed to pose the questions of identity and self-reflection.
Presenting the question “What is the face of the country?” a group of artists provide their own individual answers. The exhibition comprises 64 works of art to celebrate 64 years by 20 Israeli artists using a range of mediums, set in a purpose-built gallery space of 400 square meters. Sculpture, painting, installation and photography are all represented as vividly as the spectrum of the opinions. Paper, cardboard, oils and glass add yet another dimension of texture, and the end result is a collection that three-dimensionally encompasses the diversity of expression in modern Israel. Art can be interpreted as many things to many people, but almost all agree that however enigmatic the dictionary definition of the word is, “art” should be evocative.
True to form, the political themes abound as the economic situation dominates. In fact, it towers above the exhibition in two statues in particular by sculptor Reuven Bracha. One, entitled The Economic Situation, is a parody on the Statue of Liberty, where the skin of the figure is adorned with headlines and articles from the height of last summer’s economic crisis. The other, called Cactus, is a figure whose ridged long lines resemble the iconic Saguaro Cacti of the American 1950s western films – rough, tactile, superficial on one level, and deeply ridged on another. The work is taken from a collection of Bracha’s work exploring relative themes of beauty where each form has a quality uniquely its own.
Moving from heterosexual to homosexual perceptions of love and beauty, a work by painter Rafi Peretz celebrates love across ethnic and gender divides. Peretz’s painting Gay Love of an Israeli and an Eritrean is a character piece harking back to the 1980s, with references to American artists Jean- Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. To some, this may seem to be a provocative work until one takes into account that to many people, Tel Aviv is regarded as one of the world’s most liberal cities, with its annual Pride festival considered the world over as a highlight on the LGBT calendar.
Moving the debate back to social protest, artist Ami Leibowitz has compiled a work in blown glass, capturing and bottling sentences from the transcript of a radio debate that dealt with issues of social protest. Each phrase uttered has been almost frozen in its own space, each one becoming its own speech bubble.
Seventeen other artists join in the debate, but what does the exhibition say? Where are we now? What are the faces and sides of this country Eretz Yisrael? It is fair to say that it isn’t all things to all people but is, in fact, many things to many different people.
The debate may have shifted from the narrative to the abstract, and everyone has his own opinion – sometimes two of them.
The exhibition opens on April 22 at 8:30 p.m. at the Main Gallery, 5th Floor 108, Central Bus Station, Levinsky Street, Tel Aviv and continues until May 20.