The last Schatz

The son and daughter of Bezalel founder Boris Schatz graduated from his school in their early teens and were never lacking in talent as artists and designers.

zahara art 88 2398 (photo credit: )
zahara art 88 2398
(photo credit: )
The son and daughter of Bezalel founder Boris Schatz graduated from his school in their early teens and were never lacking in talent as artists and designers. They soon became modernists, but were not to make a lasting mark; few Israelis today have ever heard of them. If they lacked a spark of originality, they had plenty of drive, personality and striking looks, all backed by their flawless sabra Hebrew, still something of a novelty among artists here back in the 1950s. The current memorial show of paintings, sculptures and designs by Zohara Schatz (1916-99) is the last of three devoted to the Schatz saga, each with its own book catalogue (Hebrew only), all organized and mounted by curator-historian Gideon Ofrat. The first show was devoted to Bezalel (Lilik) Schatz, the second to the outstanding abstract watercolors of his wife, Louise McClure Schatz. Boris Schatz had a daughter from a previous marriage (who later settled here), but his Jerusalem daughter, always known as Zahara, was the princess of the family. A remarkably beautiful child who in old age came to resemble the Hollywood image of an Indian chief, she was always bursting with enthusiasm and had a deep concern for the well-being of others. Living where she had grown up, in her parents' original apartment at the rear of the Bezalel complex (and where she looked after Louise when Lilik died), she was in later life a positive presence at the Jerusalem Artists' House, always on the lookout for ways to help Artists Association members. All three young Schatzes trained and worked in the United States (following the death of their bankrupt father, Boris, who tried to raise money there after his school closed), but Zahara had the additional benefit of training in Paris before settling in America. The trio returned to Jerusalem in 1951 and soon made their presence felt as applied art designers as well as artists. While the two previous shows of the trilogy did something to restore the reputations of Lilik and Louise, the incomplete retrospective of Zahara's oeuvre is a rather dismal affair, ranging meagerly across the '30s to the early '60s. Zahara married a Californian artist-architect in the late '60s and spent nearly two decades with him in America, returning here only after his death in 1978. There is nothing in the show from the large slice of her subsequent life. Like Lilik, Zahara was born in the Bezalel art school run by her father and attended classes there even before she entered high school. She was barely 18 when her father died and her mother, the art historian Olga Pevsner-Schatz, took her and Lilik to Paris. Zahara stayed there for over four years, studying art at the Chaumiere, but in 1938 joined her brother in California. From then on, Zahara spent all her life designing and producing artifacts, while constantly exhibiting and propounding her mission as an artist devoted to enhancing the lives of the hoi polloi. Within a few years of her return to Israel in 1951, she was appointed design consultant to the Ministry of Trade and in 1955, she was awarded the Israel Prize. Other Israeli and American prizes and awards followed. Looking at this show, one wonders how it all happened. Only the catalogue (Hebrew only) reflects the large number of projects that Zahara designed, many in Zim passenger ships. Initially, the Schatz name worked like magic, even though Boris had never found fame as either painter or sculptor. But Zahara not only had drive but a shrewd belief in her role. The state had just been successfully launched and both Lilik and Zahara were sure they could help keep it afloat. Both Lilik and Zahara were at times influenced by each other; both appear to have been influenced by the American modernist watercolorist John Marin: Among Zahara's earliest works in this show are two minimalist abstract watercolors that attest to this. Her early static paintings of the '30s and '40s are pretty derivative; one even evokes Diego Rivera. Her best and most original painting on view is an idiosyncratic little self-portrait in the foyer that is uncannily like her without being literal; it is also entirely unflattering. It makes one regret that the rest of the show is devoted largely to her artifacts, panels and jewelry made of patterns of leaves or wires sealed like a fly in amber between two sheets of laminated perspex, some of them formed into bracelets. Also on view are her variations on the hamsa, one of them humorously shaped not as a hand, but a foot. All these pieces barely rise above the level of tourist kitsch. Early Israel was poor in raw materials. Zahara tried to make a virtue out of using inexpensive resources to form minimalist sculptures in sheet metal; and mobiles and balanced sculptures from cheap rods. The heavy mobiles on view are too derivative of Calder and lack his light touch and handmade charm, while the semi-kinetic balance sculptures are all derived directly from the ideas and designs of American sculptor Harry Bertoia. Why aren't there any of her subsequent pieces in this show? Perhaps curator Ofrat did not want to embarrass her memory. IN THE mezzanine gallery of this venue are some Jerusalem landscapes by Bruria Mann; down in the entrance gallery is a performance video by Shelly Nadashi. (Jerusalem Artists House.) All shows till August 19.