Graduating art

The MFA program of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Tel Aviv has grown in int'l acclaim.

bezalel art 88 (photo credit: )
bezalel art 88
(photo credit: )
In the art world, youth and novelty are sometimes enough to excite critics, curators and collectors. Yet the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design is not new: it's the most respected art institution in Israel, celebrating its centennial anniversary this year. In this context, viewers interested in the future of Israeli art should visit "Salame 60:06," an exhibition of work by Bezalel's 2006 Master of Fine Arts graduates. While the institution is well-established, Bezalel's MFA program in Tel Aviv is only five-years-old. Before its creation, Bezalel offered only an Advanced Studies degree on its Jerusalem campus. There were no academic art academies in Tel Aviv at the time, even though the city is brimming with art. When the founders of the new program decided to revamp the school's graduate department to offer an MFA - the highest degree possible for artists - Tel Aviv seemed like the ideal location. Since the program began, 61 students have received a Masters and gone on to serious, sometimes international, careers as professional artists. The program has grown in international acclaim as well. Walking into "Salame 60:06," the artworks appear strange, even though they're often formally well-crafted. Each artist seems to have obsessed over a particular theme and its visual expression, even if the viewer might wonder why. In some cases, such as Michael Sperer's "I'm Losing My Hair" - a series of close-up charcoal drawings of potatoes against a flat white background - the answer might be: "Just because I think it's beautiful." The installation of several of Sperer's drawings, together with a giant potato sculpture on the floor, are oddly sublime and minimalist, yet closely observed from nature. The contours and textures of these tubers are tangible; the delicate dimples in the potato skin are expertly shaded and very convincing. However, Sperer's work, while successful, is primarily a formal exercise. Elad Sarig's photographs are also noteworthy for purely formalist reasons. This artist captured images of deserted basketball and racquetball courts, focusing on the pattern of curved lines on the floor in the first and the sensation of being within a cube in the latter. It's eerie and interesting to visually enter a vacated space that is normally full of motion and noise. The artists shared ideas and their time in the MFA program, but there is no central theme in "Salome 60:06." Some of the pieces are frankly mediocre, but the context makes the strong pieces even more exciting to see. For example, artist Maya Attoun's artwork is a welcome relief at the end of a largely banal hallway. The viewer is immediately enticed by the entrance to her installation, where she covers the walls in a pattern of blood-red, bat-like stencils, creating a distinctly hand-made, site-specific kind of wallpaper. In fact, the idea of wallpaper and the concept of hidden, internal structures are creatively and profoundly developed throughout her work here, in both flat and three-dimensional pieces. Attoun's work effectively and beautifully reveals her interest in systems, as well as the artist's desire to deconstruct patterns as a means of understanding them. The exhibition will be on view through June 24, open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 60 Salame Street, Tel Aviv. Details: (03) 682-4082.